Op-Ed by Alec Johnson – Democratic Candidate for Texas House District 11
As our Nation mourns 100,000 lives lost during the Trumpandemic, I want to take a moment to address why I’ve taken a controversial strong stand against state-sponsored killing here in Texas.
I’m writing this on Memorial Day, which always brings back the memory of my uncle, Lieutenant Richard Boyce Johnson (picture below).
My uncle gave the last full measure of devotion in WWII just shy of his 21st birthday. Having never met him, I try to imagine what he was like. This much I’m certain of: he probably had not planned on becoming a B-29 pilot. He likely hadn’t thought he’d ever be responsible for the lives of nine others every time he led them on any of the 28 bombing missions they survived. Uncle Richard didn’t hesitate to volunteer when the opportunity to serve our Nation was presented to him. He was prepared to take the risk and he made the ultimate sacrifice.
The Meaning of Sacrifice
The word ‘sacrifice’ comes from two Latin roots that together mean “to make sacred.” The sacrifices my uncle made make his memory sacred to me. Sacrifices that others have made to defend our nation we honor on Memorial Day. They rest in peace in sacred places across the country.
It isn’t just the fallen heroes we celebrate on Memorial Day who have made important sacrifices for the Nation. Sacrifices were also made to increase voting rights, to increase civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and so on. Indeed, many bloody sacrifices were made in these and related political arenas. The results of these successes are likewise sacred to me.
For me the best way to honor people like my uncle, and all those who made important sacrifices, is to rise to the occasion as they did. Take risks as they did. Earn the dignity and self-respect that must be yours if you’re willing to fight for people you don’t know – to risk yourself for the greater good of the community. To make sacrifices for sacred gains.
Having said this, I want to be very clear here. Dying senselessly from COVID-19 because of reckless, ill- considered state sponsored killing is the opposite of this. Those suggesting people be willing to “Die for the Dow” are either ignorant fools or craven ghouls.
As I’ll detail below, far better and safer alternatives exist. We need to stand together, be prepared to make sacrifices, and fight for our future.
On Being Good Ancestors
While COVID-19 has our attention riveted today, when I was born, our nation was in the grip of a Polio epidemic that was hugely frightening. It afflicted mostly children and there was no cure. Along comes Dr. Jonas Salk who invents a highly effective polio vaccine.
Given the circumstances, Dr. Salk could have sold the rights to his discovery for a vast fortune. Instead, he gave it away. Not only that, he went out of his way to help create international organizations to aid in the free distribution of the vaccine. Polio has largely been eradicated from the face of the earth because of Dr. Salk’s discovery and his determination to share the blessing of it for free.
When asked why he parted with such a fortune he answered, “Our highest duty is to be a good ancestor.” I’m sure my Uncle Richard would agree. I surely do and I strive to earn my place among good ancestors. I highly recommend this calling.
Good Ancestors and the Trumpandemic
Some years into Trump’s presidency, but before the Trumpandemic, I found myself wondering what might happen if Trump had to deal with a serious crisis. After all, he showed how woefully he handled the many crises generated by his own ineptitude, pettiness, and the malignant narcissism that colors everything he does. Like many, I feared what would become of us with Dangerous Donald at the helm when it really mattered. And here we are in nightmare territory beyond imagining just a few months ago. Those striving to be good ancestors have our work cut out for us.
Strategy vs. Tactics
On May 18th, I issued a press release declaring my intention to attempt a Citizen’s Arrest of Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton for manslaughter by COVID-19, should they set foot in the three counties of District 11: Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk Counties. Unsurprisingly, I have received some push back about my choice of tactics. Before addressing those concerns, I’d like to first consider what is shaping my strategic considerations.
What’s happening in Texas cannot be regarded separately from the Trumpandemic nationally. The continued hostility to public health and the recklessness pouring forth chaotically from the White House is eagerly consumed by Governor Abbott and the Texas GOP. It is fully reflected in their effort to reopen Texas prematurely.
Once I realized that far better pandemic responses existed, responses that saved lives and set the best stage for economic recovery, the hideous politics driving Abbott’s plans to reopen Texas became starkly apparent. I called up a friend of mine who is an accomplished criminal defense attorney and asked him if a case could be made that murder was happening. He thought manslaughter was the more appropriate charge. He pointed me to the statues involved and I made my decision supported by the Constitution and Texas Law.
While deliberating, I remembered this observation from the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow: “The obscure we learn to see, eventually. The obvious, it seems, takes much longer.” What had become obvious to me is that Governor Abbott and hench-creatures like Attorney General Paxton and my opponent Travis Clardy were advancing or condoning state-sponsored killing as sound policy. That manslaughter by COVID-19 was being widely discussed as a seemingly reasonable approach to the Trumpandemic in Texas made it clear to me we couldn’t wait for the obvious to finally register with punditry and the public. As is so often the case, action was required. In acting my goal was to change the conversation, the terms of the debate, to declare what’s really going on: state-sponsored killing, manslaughter by COVID-19.
I do know reasonable and otherwise supportive people may question my decision to attempt a Citizen’s Arrest of Governor Abbott and Paxton in District 11. I firmly believe justice would be served if they were apprehended. If not by me then whom? Law enforcement perhaps? We’ll come back to that question below.
At a minimum, given the stakes, I believe Abbott and his gang must be firmly confronted and every effort should be made to halt them from promoting their lethal and misguided agenda. Whether anything I can do might accomplish this is a long shot for sure. I can accept appearing like a latter day political Don Quixote if doing so inspires others to take strong stands protecting their communities. Given that lives are being squandered each passing day there is no time for delay. I’d prefer taking a few faltering steps in the right direction to taking no steps forward at all. Regardless of the tactic I’ve employed my strategic goal is to shift the conversation. Returning to tactics, let’s ponder what we can learn from the laws of Texas.
Relevant Texas Law
Texas Penal Code § 19.04 has this to say about Manslaughter:
(a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.
(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree.
Regarding “Citizens Arrest,” Article 14.01 (a) of the Texas Criminal code reads:
A peace officer or any other person, may, without a warrant, arrest an offender when the offense is committed in his presence or within his view, if the offense is one classed as a felony or as an offense against the public peace.
Boiling this down then, if I establish that Governor Abbott’s actions are causing reckless death of individuals in my “presence” or “within my view,” then I would be justified in arresting him without a warrant. Given that what Abbott is doing dominates the media across the state, I believe that “in my presence” and “within my view” is well established. I have a case against the Governor of Texas.
The U.S. Constitution protects my right to declare my intention to effect a Citizen’s Arrest. I was reassured on this point by my lawyer several times and thus far, no one has tried to take me into custody. I’ve committed no crime. The same cannot be said of Governor Abbott.
Governor Abbott’s Deception
In Abbott’s attempt to justify the further reopening of Texas, he cited that we were experiencing a declining positive test average. That and the report that Texas has yet to exceed ICU capacity were the sole justifications. In both graphs below, each sourced from Chris Tackett, we can see that Texas had been enjoying a declining positive test rate. Now, however, testing seems to have fallen off a cliff.
Ignoring for a moment that Abbott’s favorite metric is heading in the wrong direction – the yellow line falling off a cliff below in the graph below – it’s important to note that it is a very weak measure of our success against COVID-19 in the first place. Putting this into perspective Chris Tackett writes:
1,000 and rising new cases a day. That is the reality for Texas. If you test 10,000 (a 10% positive rate), 20,000 (a 5% positive rate), or 30,000 (a 3.3% positive rate) you still have 1,000 new people sick each and every day. And that’s nothing of the asymptotic who aren’t getting tested.
Governor Abbott seems to be counting on widespread mathematical illiteracy to sell his dangerously ill- conceived reopening plans. What we need to see, and are not witnessing in Texas, is a sustained declining average death and case rate.
In the figure above, we see that for a time the 7 Day Positive Case % Average (red line above) was declining, until it went through the roof. The 14 Day Case Average continues trending upwards.
What Winning Looks Like
The image below was taken from a 50 state comparison showing 14 Day Case Averages and 7 Day Death Averages. Both New York and Vermont show what turning the corner on the virus looks like, what winning looks like. Texas and other states shown below are losing the battle. Reopening is premature and will backfire both medically and economically.
How Winning Happens
My case against Abbott, et al, relies on my claim, which I can substantiate, that plans exist for successful pandemic responses that are clearly superior to the plan Governor Abbott is insisting on inflicting on us here. They are superior precisely because they focus on saving lives. Turns out that this emphasis also lays the best foundation for future economic recovery which is already beginning to emerge in some of these successful countries. What these successful responses all share are these features:
- They lock everything down.
- They wait for cases to peak.
- Then they freeze debt.
- They guarantee personal and business incomes.
- They offer people no-strings attached hard cash support for the duration.
- Once the peak has clearly been reached, they reopen slowly, and cautiously while carefully monitoring for COVID-19 flare-ups.
Let me be very clear, these successful solutions are not secret nor hiding somewhere. In fact, their success is the stuff of headlines in international news. Nation’s like Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and others have figured out the best approach. It isn’t possible that the Great State of Texas, even with our grossly misled state government, would be unable to discover these successful plans – unless, of course, they simply weren’t looking for them.
The People vs. Governor Abbott: Manslaughter by COVID-19
Abbott is not only choosing to ignore proven successful approaches; he’s reopening Texas even though we’re averaging over 1,000 new cases a day. We’re setting records for COVID-19 deaths. While testing has increased considerably, Texas only ranks 40th in the nation in tests per capita we’ve tested less than 3% of the state’s population. That means we don’t know anything about 97 out of 100 people. We’re flying blind! This is sheer recklessness. Innocent people will forfeit their lives because of Abbott’s dereliction of duty.
By choosing an approach driven by politics rather than science, Abbott’s Reopening of Texas will kill people who would otherwise survive. This state-sponsored killing is a mathematical certainty. Paxton and others are aiding and abetting this crime in broad daylight. I rest my case.
Whither Law Enforcement?
Given the weight of the evidence I’ve presented I think one can reasonably ask why the various Texas Law Enforcement institutions have collectively managed to ignore this. Of course, folks would be quick to mention that the State’s highest law enforcement officer, Attorney General Abbott, remains under indictment on felony charges.
Of course, Abbott is the governor and it likely strains the common sense of many to consider that he might be committing serious crimes in broad daylight. Perhaps, as Murrow suggested, this reality suffers from being too obvious. In any event, I cannot get the truth of it out of my mind. Without an appropriate response from Law Enforcement, my declaration to attempt a Citizen’s Arrest strikes me as the best recourse available. Texas has a bounty of law enforcement organizations. We have the famous Texas Rangers, state police, local police, sheriffs, and constables that I’m aware of. I remain hopeful that my act might inspire some of them to let the scales fall from their eyes while their sense of civic duty rises to the occasion. Until then, I will continue along the path I’ve set for myself.
A Final Word
Some have suggested that I took the action announced May 18th for personal or narrow political gain. The bitter and cynical world we live in can easily lead people to see things through such a jaded lens. I hope I’ve made it clear that what drives me to take risks, to think outside the box, is my determination to be a good ancestor, even if that means risking ridicule, arrest, or curb-side vigilante justice. Others have made far greater sacrifices and have set an example for public service I strive to follow. My earnest wish is to be inspired as others across Texas find clever, courageous, and more imaginative ways to resist state-sponsored killing here. Only together do we stand a chance of saving the innocent Black, Brown and White lives that Abbott’s cruel calculus is determined to cut short.
Alec Johnson is running for State Representative for Texas House District 11. Alec believes and is fighting for authentic democracy, which still exists. He aims to inspire a new generation of activists dedicated to winning everyday, not just on Election Day.