Tue June 9, 2015 8:24 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

New Gang In Town

In the late summer of 1977, I was working for the Beaumont Enterprise and living with two other journalists in a termite-ridden rent house beneath a street overpass. Only a high row of hedges separated us from the clanging of the railroad switching yard next door. For a generation of journalists who came and went from renting there, the home was known as the Troll House. Parties started when the newspaper went to bed at midnight and ended with the dawn. Freight cars don’t complain about noise or call the police to intervene.

A major career move that September dictated that I leave the Troll House behind for a relocation to Florida, but before I departed, my September issue of Texas Monthly arrived. The cover depicted Houston police as a motorcycle gang. The article inside by Tom Curtis, titled Support Your Local Police (Or Else), was a stunning tale of police brutality – and not just because of the murder of Joe Campos Torres Jr., a prisoner who was thrown in a bayou to drown. The story stuck with me through the years.

Torres’ death is just the most spectacular example of a recent deluge of violent police incidents. After the Torres killing, Mayor Fred Hofheinz, obviously anguished, said: “There is something loose in this city that is an illness.” Criminal lawyer Percy Foreman called Houston “a police state.” Today, he says, the Houston Police Department is worse, and its officers more violent and unchecked, than any comparable police force in the country.

The story out of McKinney this week about a white policeman pulling his service weapon on a group of African-American teenagers in swimsuits did not involve a shooting or throwdown weapons to mask unnecessary police brutality. It did renew questions about whether police in America are more apt to react violently toward African-Americans than whites. The question of police force and race in America is not an easy problem to solve. However, a problem that can be solved is how police are trained – especially since 9/11 – to be an occupying force rather than as our protectors.

The Dallas Morning News today has a profile of the McKinney officer involved in the incident, Cpl. David Eric Casebolt, who taught executive self-defense in his off hours: 

“During his career in Law Enforcement, he has received in-depth training on impact weapon deployment and expandable baton, firearms, electronic control devices (ECDs), ground fighting, Positive Assertive Control Tactics-Dynamic Threat Response (PACT-DTR), handcuffing, joint locks and pressure point compliance, armed and unarmed self-defense.”

His biography also listed his police certifications, and ended with his specific skills: “He has trained in several different disciplines of martial arts, but now exclusively trains in Krav Maga combat arts, Arnis, and ground fighting.”

Police deserve respect for risking their lives in the line of duty. Eleven died in Texas in 2014. It is not easy to determine, though, how many Texas civilians were killed by police and whether it was justified.

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Thu June 4, 2015 7:36 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

With his good hair and new horn-rimmed glasses, Rick Perry woke up this morning hoping Republicans will give him a second chance at making a first impression. Perry has an announcement scheduled at the Addison Airport north of Dallas. He is surrounding himself at the event with so many former Navy SEALs that if he’s not announcing for president, then he’s flying off immediately in a C-130 to stop a Bond villain a la You Only Live Twice — and “Twice is the only way to live.”

I’m betting on a run for president.

Perry told Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News that he is a different man than he was when he entered the last contest in 2011 and then stumbled in a series of debates.

Perry has healed from the back surgery that hampered him through 2012. He has spent two years studying with experts in foreign relations, military preparedness and economics. He has traveled dozens of times to early primary states to establish a beachhead. He has ditched the cowboy boots and added glasses.

“It’s real different from last time,” Perry said in a recent interview. “You know I’m a different candidate than I was 3 1/2 years ago.”

The question before him is whether it’s too late.

In a crowded field of candidates at a time when Americans are disgusted with both major political parties, Perry’s first challenge is to break through the noise just to make the case that he is smarter than the 2011 campaign seemed to proclaim.

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Wed June 3, 2015 1:39 pm By R.G. Ratcliffe

With legislation to block county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses dying in the Legislature, it is not surprising that social conservatives are asking Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on the issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected later this month to rule on whether state bans on same-sex marriage are constitutional, and the conventional wisdom is the court is going to say the bans are unconstitutional. Social conservatives had hoped to block implementation in Texas by passing a law that banned the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, giving the state a means for continued litigation. The conservatives hope to use Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980) to argue that the federal government cannot force states to spend local money to enforce a federal policy; i.e., issuing licenses for same-sex marriage.

After a legislative session where Abbott can claim a level of success, I find it difficult to believe he would call a special session on such a divisive issue, especially while he is still signing and vetoing bills. But on a single-issue special session, the only thing to stop a bill such as this from passing quickly would be a quorum break by Democrats.  

The petition to Abbott is posted below.

 

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Tue June 2, 2015 9:55 am By R.G. Ratcliffe

The national Investigative Reporters and Editors committee has nominated the Texas Department of Public Safety as a finalist for its 2015 Golden Padlock Award Golden Padlock Award “celebrating the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States.”

Drumroll, please, the official nomination:

The Texas Department of Public Safety for attacking the media rather than releasing information on the costs and effects of border security. The Texas Observer was unable to obtain records about the company behind the state’s border security plan. The Wall Street Journal couldn’t get answers on how many state officers had been deployed to the border. The Dallas Morning News was unable to learn key facts about a now defunct policy requiring that Texans give all 10 fingerprints, rather than just one, when applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses. Documents recently made public by the Austin American-Statesman show how the agency also sent memos to lawmakers attacking reporters’ stories before they ran. After the state Attorney General’s office intervened, the Houston Chronicle got data from the agency about crimes in border-area counties before and after National Guard troops were deployed. The newspaper concluded: “Much of the narrative that Texas officials have used to justify their surge of state police and National Guard troops to the southern border has been wrong.”

Other nominees include the Colorado Judicial Brach, the Massachusetts State Police, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

Incidentally, I learned yesterday that DPS Director Steve McCraw was so intensively watching the Texas border for undocumented immigrants, drug smugglers and terrorists that he was surprised to learn that American Phoenix Foundation operatives were intensively confronting members of the Legislature in the Capitol. Only after confronted by the legislative leadership did McCraw assign plainclothes officers to follow the foundation operatives wherever they went in the Capitol, including when they were eating lunch in the Capitol cafeteria. 

Tue June 2, 2015 8:56 am By Paul Burka

To the extent that there was competition among the state’s top leadership this session, the clear winner was Governor Abbott. He achieved most of his objectives: tax cuts, pre-kindergarten, an expansion of gun rights. And he avoided a direct confrontation with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. He appears to intend to wield a targeted veto pen (SB 359 and HB 225, for example), which will further remind legislators that he’s in charge. His only shortcoming was his comments on Jade Helm and an ill-chosen confrontation with cities over local control. Why he took umbrance at municipal ordinances concerning bag bans is hard to fathom, but it no doubt has something to do with his pre-session blast about Texas becoming “California-ized” which, as far as I’m concerned, is a silly concept.

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