Op-Ed by Patrick Henry – Democratic Candidate for Texas House District 25
Flag Day’s Live at Five
Good Sunday evening on this warm Flag Day. I hope you are flying a flag today as a symbol of what our country can be. We have been examining what we are these past few weeks and have come up wanting. We must root out racism in our economic system, our educational system, and especially in our criminal justice system. I want to focus on community policing and funding tonight.
What I saw as a mayor and a teacher.
As a Mayor and City Council member, I rode along with police once or twice a year. I saw what our police in Angleton, Texas dealt with, and most of HD25 has similar sized departments and challenges. Just as teachers are called on to be all things to all students, officers are called on to be social workers, marriage counselors, substance abuse counselors, experts on child discipline, and a host of other duties that do not entail what the public sees as their primary function. Because it is cheaper to pay overtime than hire officers, many departments are over worked and short staffed. Policies and procedures may be vague or overlooked. The mental health of officers is often only addressed when there is a complaint or use of force. It is time to reimagine community policing.
Defund or Reimagine Police?
Now don’t go out and buy up the rest of the toilet paper because you heard the term “defund the police” and Aunt Ethel said there would be no help when you dial 911. In some large departments with powerful unions that have used political clout to shield egregious abuses, drastic action is needed, but that isn’t most departments and certainly doesn’t apply to HD25 and probably to most of Texas communities. Reimagining the policing of our communities would be a better term but that doesn’t grab headlines. So, what does this reimagining look like?
Legislation is needed, but also we need more on a local level.
There was submitted this week a US House Bill (7120) that contains a number of provisions to reimagine policing. Similar ideas have been presented in many states. Understand that most funding for your local police is local. Legislation at the federal level would use grants given or removed to accomplish changes. At the state level, legislation can be written to address specific changes to licensing and policy for law enforcement.
At the local level, citizens must demand oversight of their police departments.
HB 7120 addresses a wide scope of reforms. Of particular interest to me are the proposals for independent citizen review boards. We’re talking diverse groups with subpoena power to investigate complaints and use of force and to have policy making powers. Let that soak in for a moment, real civilian oversight and involvement. The bill calls for uniform standards of accreditation among the states, a national misconduct registry, and more state oversight of local agencies. It seeks to end racial profiling through better reporting and training. Qualified immunity would be limited and civil action against officers and departments could occur. Ending no knock warrants, choke hold restraints, and mandating body camera usage is included.
HB 7120 calls for programs to aid officers so they do not have to be all things to all people. It would provide grant money to expand mental health programs, juvenile intervention, substance abuse services and more. This is not an anti-law enforcement bill and by now you can see that with it, more money will be spent. Some money can be shifted, and we all will be safer, especially our African American and other minority populations. These reforms are also crucial to the well- being of our officers.
We need to have the discussion.
Our Republican Governor stated there would be no discussion of criminal justice reform in the next legislative session. We don’t need a representative that rides Abbott’s coattails. His views are tremendously short sighted in a number of ways. Since the GOP’s heart is in its wallet, let’s consider the revenue positive aspects of Criminal Justice Reform: legalize and tax marijuana—revenue, reform drug laws and sentencing—revenue, diversion courts—revenue, reform parole procedures—revenue, fewer incarcerations in prisons and jails—revenue. The increase in revenue will provide funds needed for policing reforms in a session where money will be in tight supply. Money that is needed to continue education reform. Money that is needed to rebuild a shattered state economy.
Let me be more charitable about our GOP brothers and sisters hearts because I know that most of them too want peace and justice for our African American population. I think we have all wept these last few weeks. We can no longer turn our backs, tune out, pretend to forget our society’s inequities. We must address these issues now and understand that we will never finish the job. Just like laundry, every day, every week, every month, every year, no end to the work.
Let me close with this. It has never been more important to vote. Vote by mail if you can. Mask up, sanitize, be ready to distance, take a bottle of water, and do what you have to do. Our country and our lives are as threatened by this election as by any virus. Stand up, Rise up, and Vote!
Patrick Henry is running for State Representative for Texas House District 25. HD 25 encompasses Southern Brazoria County and all of Matagorda County. Patrick and his wife Kathy have been married 34 years and live in Angleton. They have two grown sons, Sean and David.
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