The State of Texas: December 18, 2015
State’s troubled foster care system violates constitutional rights of children, Texans seem to be buying less guns this year, and Sandra Bland’s family lawsuit gets scheduled for trial.
The Force Friday
The entire country is going gaga for the new Star Wars movie (seriously, it seems like every local newspaper’s homepage is about fans attending opening day showings). Texas cops in particular have really gotten amped for the release. The latest example comes from Fulshear, where the police department released dashcam video of a recent stop in which they detained some surprising suspects. Feel free to insert your own joke about these not being the perps they’re looking for.
Problem, Child — The state’s foster care system is broken. And that’s not, like, the opinion of some pontificating politicians or catty columnists, but rather the official ruling from a federal judge who said the system violated the constitutional rights of foster children. In a decision that was “hotly anticipated,” as the Texas Tribune put it, the judge did not mince words: “Years of abuse, neglect and shuttling between inappropriate placements across the state has created a population that cannot contribute to society, and proves a continued strain on the government through welfare, incarceration or otherwise.” More than just castigating the state for failing to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens, the judge issued a list of reforms, including hiring more caseworkers and the appointment of a “‘special master’ to ensure compliance.” As the Associated Press notes, the state oversees the care of about 30,000 foster children and things have not gone over well for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, “which has cycled through seven leaders in the past decade” and has seen shockingly high turnover and burnout rates of its poorly paid caseworkers. Not that that’s stopped the agency from assuming they’re doing a fine job already. “We are obviously disappointed with the ruling, because great progress has been achieved improving the Texas foster care system. Texas performs comparably with other states in this area, and has steadily improved,” said the agency’s spokeswoman, according to the AP. The Tribune says the state is likely to repeal the decision, though no statement has yet been made in that regard.
Gun Crazy-ish — Is it possible that Texas doesn’t love guns as much as previously thought? Or perhaps we have all the guns we’ll ever need? Yeah, right. But there is some fresh and interesting data that shows gun sales could be dropping. Despite what appears to be an increase in stories related to gun attacks, terrorism, and/or general fear mongering, gun sales haven’t spiked like they have in the past. “Texas gun dealers requested a total of 146,982 background checks from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System in November, the highest monthly total this year. But it was a more modest increase, about 6 percent, than the 24 percent spike seen nationally from November 2014 to this November,” according to the Dallas Morning News. What’s more, though “this year’s Black Friday broke background check records across the country — 185,345 checks, about two per second — Texas reported only 16,287 requests, down from last year’s 17,828.” There could be myriad factors contributing this, though one guess is that President Obama hasn’t pushed for stricter gun laws in the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino (such a call-to-action usually elicits something of a gun frenzy). So as long as no one tests gun lovers, everything’ll be just fine.
Bland Lawsuit — The Sandra Bland controversy is far from over. “U.S. District Judge David Hittner set trial for Jan. 23, 2017 for the lawsuit filed by the family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman whose death July 13 was ruled by a medical examiner to be a suicide. Her family disputes the finding and is seeking’s unspecified damages from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the white state trooper who arrested her, Waller County and two jailers,” writes the Associated Press. Lawyers for the family seemed to indicate that they’re going to be taking a pretty wide (and maybe unwise) swipe at the various agencies, particularly with regards to the classification of Bland’s death as a suicide. The family’s lawyer told the judge that “we’ve not had occasion to assess fingerprints on the ligature. A lot of information we frankly don’t have. We’re not able to finish our own medical investigation.” That seems to indicate that they might argue Bland was murdered, as opposed to her death being the result of neglect (a tad easier case to make). It wasn’t a slip with the judge, either. The lawyer repeated his comments about questioning the true nature of the death with reporters outside the courtroom.