September 17, 2007

Nothing Good Comes Out of Texas

By David A. Love
Published in
September 13, 2007

Eddie Murphy once said, "My friends always told me: 'You better not go to Texas! They'll f*** you up!'" For African Americans in particular, that state has a troubling legacy of racism and violence.

In recent years, there was the dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, and the mass arrests of the Black population of Tulia, Texas on bogus drug charges.

These days, it seems that the individuals and ideas that are doing the most damage to America come out of Texas. Is it something in the water? The air, perhaps? Sadly, the people of Texas are determined to scrape the bottom of their state barrel, collect whatever it is they have scraped up, and present it to the rest of the country as a cruel and tasteless gift.

Of course there was Karl Rove, the "dirty-tricks" Nixon protégé who masterminded the criminal enterprise that is the current White House.

There was attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, crony extraordinaire who placed loyalty to the president above all else, including the Constitution. There was Tom Delay, exterminator and former G.O.P. congressman who gerrymandered the Texas electoral map into a Republican majority, and was indicted for money laundering and conspiracy to violate election laws.

There was No Child Left Behind, a sham program based on smoke and mirrors, a Texas model for high-stakes, corporate-style accountability in the schools that cooked the books, Enron-style, and covered up the high dropout rates of Black and Latino students.

Most of all, there is the Decider himself, the commander-in-chief who arguably was elected to the presidency twice through theft, and appealed to some people, at least initially, because he was the type of person with whom you wanted to have a beer. Of course, and not surprisingly, history already has been written on the worst presidency in American history, before the repudiated Bush presidency has even ended.

As governor of Texas, Bush presided over a killing machine that is the state's death penalty system. Recently, Texas executed its 400th person since reinstating capital punishment in 1982. And the state, while only 10 percent of the U.S. population, has been responsible for one third of the executions. We will never know how many innocent people have been sent to their deaths under the hick town justice of the Lone Star state.

A direct descendant of the extrajudicial lynchings so popular in the Jim Crow-era South, the death penalty in Texas is a product of frontier justice: racist, expedient, and arbitrary. And it is particularly popular among conservative evangelical Christians. It is no accident that 41 percent of death row inmates in Texas are Black, or that 79 percent of Texas executions involve a white victim. And a public defender system is a new concept in Texas. Remember, this is the state where a court once upheld the conviction of a man whose lawyer slept during trial. And they had no trouble executing juveniles and the mentally retarded until prevented from doing so by the Supreme Court.

The case of inmate Kenneth Foster is a good example of all that is bad about the death penalty, and the way in which Texas metes out its curiously arbitrary, sketchy and racially-tinged form of punishment. Foster was sent to death row under a questionable Texas law known as the law of parties. Under that law, the death penalty is imposed on anyone involved in a crime where a murder took place. This means that you don't actually have to kill anyone in order to receive a death sentence. As for Foster, who is Black, he was driving a car with three passengers, one of whom left the car, got into an altercation and shot a man to death in 1996.

Apparently, the law of parties was too problematic even for the current manager of the Texas killing machine, Gov. Rick Perry. Foster's state-sponsored murder was scheduled for August 30, 2007, amid statewide protests and calls from the European Union that Texas enact a moratorium on the death penalty. Perry responded to these outside agitators: "230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas."

Then, days later, despite his tough talk, the governor stopped Foster's execution, the first such intervention of his seven-year tenure. This happened following a 6-to-1 vote by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, recommending a commutation of his sentence to life. An unusual occurrence, to be sure, but it shows that even a backward state such as Texas is susceptible to public pressure and international outrage.

Sparing Foster's life is a step in the right direction, but it can't stop there. Texans must resist the stranglehold that its regressive forces have on their state. The Texas Republican Party runs Texas. The state party's platform, which can be viewed as a blueprint for Bush's policies, proclaims that "the United States of America is a Christian Nation," and that "Our party pledges to exert its influence to...dispel the 'myth' of the separation of church and state." It also states that "We reject the establishment of any mechanism to process, license, record, register or monitor the ownership of guns."

Further, "[t]he Party supports the termination of bilingual education programs" and "urges Congress to repeal government-sponsored programs that deal with early childhood development, and phase them out as soon as possible." The Texas GOP platform also prohibits reproductive health care services in high schools, opposes the Endangered Species Act, and hopes to rescind U.S. membership in the United Nations.

To be sure, there is a long tradition of great Texans who have dared to speak truth to power and fight to make things right. The late Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland and Molly Ivins, as well as Bill Moyers and Jim Hightower are but a handful of people who come to mind. However, it seems that the generous spirit these people represent is being forsaken. The good people in Texas need to have their voices heard, and must refuse to allow the state's bottom feeders to speak for them. Come on Texans, prove me wrong.

Copyright © 2007 by David A. Love

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