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.