Today my 7- year-old daughter told me she wants to be a police officer. Her announcement came just 20 minutes after viewing the latest shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer, this time in Oklahoma.
Her statement highlighted for me how complicated my own emotions are about the job performed by those who keep us safe. Fear for their safety, fear for my own safety, fear that a second of human misjudgment can haunt someone for the rest of their lives and fear that unreasonable stereotypes can lead to an unnecessary blood bath.
But when it comes to perspective, often much of what we hear and read gets lost in outrage. So, today we have two columns about policing. One from the perspective of those asked to do this difficult job and one from someone who carries the fear that comes with loving someone who does such a dangerous job.
We have the most educated and well-trained police force in the history of the country, and they are more than qualified to be a part of the solutions to the problems that we face. They are equipped with the knowledge and training to step in and assist and work to make the city safer from the front lines.
But our officers, no matter how well-trained and qualified cannot do all the things of which they have been asked. They want to serve our community, and they want to do it by working alongside city leaders who unfortunately seem unwilling to make the tough decisions necessary to find real solutions to solve our social problems. So the men and women who proudly wear the badge are tasked with the repercussions.
Tiffany Whoolery is the 26-year-old daughter of a 27-year veteran of the Travis County Sheriff’s office, who has been a sergeant on the SWAT Team for 15 years. She writes about growing up with the reality that accompanies being in a household where a parent is called to some of the most volatile incidents in the county.
I wish the world could see police officers the way I do and not just how much of the media portrays them. Police brutality is a very serious matter and I hold those officers accountable, but there are way more good officers than bad. We have to understand they are here to protect us. Trust me, a police officer didn’t pick this career path for the crap pay, long hours, countless missed birthdays and volleyball games, or the constant lack of respect. No. They chose this career path because they value human life and our safety.
I want my daughter to be that kind of person — the thought is both terrifying and humbling. Here’s hoping by the time she’s old enough to make that choice that our society has made more progress of the knotty questions around police, public safety, use of force and race. Law enforcement is an incredibly difficult job, and we need those who answer the call to be willing and able to do it.
Politics aside, the desire to do something — really anything — to prevent the senseless shootings of police officers trying to serve the public is a reasonable and appropriate human inclination.
However, Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest push to codify such killings as hate crimes might be good political theater, but it will do little, if anything, to settle this summer’s turmoil over the relationship of law enforcement and those whom officers are charged to protect.
Let us review: Killing a police officer in the state of Texas is a capital offense, punishable by life in prison or execution. In fact, any action against a police officer is subject to a higher level of punishment or “enhancement” than an ordinary citizen. The state is quite proficient at dealing with criminals who kill cops. For anyone looking for an express train to the Texas death chamber, that is certainly the ticket. Designating it as hate crime would not change any of those facts.
Abbott said Monday: “At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities.”
Do we stand by law enforcement? Absolutely. But if a shooter is depraved enough to target officers, knowing that the consequences could amount to being blown up by a robot, dying in a shootout or a quick trip to the execution chamber, it’s unfathomable that the hate crime label would have any effect.
Abbott’s proposed “Police Protection Act” would also ratchet up the stakes of lesser charges involving officers. (Assaulting a police officer is already a higher-level offense than assaulting anyone else: a 3rd degree felony as compared to the misdemeanor.)
Removing the judiciary’s ability to consider circumstances in lesser cases, even in cases against officers gives me reason for pause.
Cornyn’s bill would expand the use of federal grants to improve relations between law enforcement agencies and their communities, and allow officers to carry firearms in federal buildings. I would need to know more about the limitations on appeals, but the rest of the provisions appear to be solutions to real weaknesses in federal law. And as Dallas Police Chief David Brown and other police leaders faced with the pressures of keeping their communities and cops safe have stressed, the answer to stopping and preventing police shootings or more violence is more complicated than heated rhetoric from any side. Brown called on people who are protesting police to apply for jobs with his department so they can be part of the solution.
Which brings me back to Texas. What is Abbott’s aim?
If it is to prevent tragedies like Dallas and Baton Rouge, his efforts are misguided. Those willing to ambush and shoot someone in cold blood are typically ready to die for their so-called “cause.” Chief Art Acevedo has stressed that the best way to prevent police shootings and violence between police and the people they are sworn to protect is through efforts that bring both sides together.
If it is to signal to officers that we recognize the dangers of their work, there are other — better — ways to do that, including rolling back open carry legislation that law enforcement has said makes their jobs harder not easier. Or additional mental health support for officers, not just those who have already been involved in an incident. Or salary stipends grants for departments who may not work for metro departments with better pay scales, but also face danger day-in-and-day-out.
I do not pretend to know how we stop this childish merry-go-round of “black lives” versus “blue lives.” Policy makers like Abbott are acting as though this unpleasant chapter will be resolved if enough people just pick “the right side.” In fact, choosing sides is part of the problem. This is not an elementary schoolyard dispute where the person with the most people on their team wins.
We have to properly identify our adversary before we can change this dangerous and destructive dynamic. This is not black lives versus blue lives. This is America versus injustice and fear.
The attack on police in Dallas has left many speechless and fearful. Others, however, are putting voice to our worries and fears. Here is a sampling:
“There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are fall in that category. Body cameras help; better training helps; community policing helps; but these are not complete solutions. Ridding ourselves of these senseless shootings requires a degree of honesty about cultural bias, white privilege and perceptions about black and brown people that I’m not confident our society can muster. And as long as the immediate — and human — instinct is to draw a weapon in the face of fear, it is inevitable that an officer will eventually shoot to kill without cause.” — Tara Doolittle, Viewpoints editor
“(Dallas) Mayor Mike Rawlings’ assessment was tragically correct: ‘Our worst nightmare happened.’
Now we must wake up and unite. If we lead with anger, nobody wins.” — Dallas Morning News Editorial Board
“Because it’s what the heart demands when it aches, we tend to search for brightness among unimaginable darkness. Sometimes the darkness is so dark the search is unimaginably difficult.” — Ken Herman, American-Statesman columnist
“Yes, the good guys need our support. And I, for one, still believe in good guys. They are the ones who ran toward the gunfire, who scrambled to get innocents out of the way, who stood in salute of fallen brethren outside the Parkland Hospital ER. They are the only thing standing between us and the cowards who attack from comfortable perches on a peaceful Dallas street.” — Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle columnist
“Dallas knows what comes next. People will talk about guns, and hatred, and race, and Texas. Everyone will have a hero, and a villain, and a solution, and a way to blame some political opponent. And none of that will mean anything at all. Because what happened Thursday night in Dallas will leave us with no easy solutions — just nightmares to haunt us for years after a bloodthirsty ambush attack on police officers of all colors who were guarding peaceful protesters of all colors.” — Bud Kennedy, Ft. Worth Star Telegram columnist
“This horrendous attack on the police and the two killings this week demand sober reflection by the nation’s political and law enforcement leadership….with killings happening in cities, suburbs and rural communities, there needs to be leadership in every police department in the country that insists on cultural and attitudinal change. Credible civilian oversight of the police has to be a factor if community trust is ever to be restored. The latest ghastly images show how much has not been done, two years after Ferguson.” — New York Times Editorial Board
“Brown commands more than 3,500 sworn officers, who patrol Dallas’ 1.3 million residents spread over 385 square miles. He knows, day after day, that his department is one gunshot, one overreaction, one dubious decision from becoming the next national story.
And even when they don’t, when they do their very dangerous jobs with skill and professionalism, when they run toward the gunfire to keep the rest of us safe, it might not matter. It didn’t Thursday night. And that’s the world we now live in.” — Mike Hashimoto, Dallas Morning News editorial writer
I promised myself that I would not watch the video of Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of a Baton Rouge police officer. Even in the still photos of Sterling in life, I see the face of every black man I know — my 39-year-old brother, my male cousins, my college classmates, my friends.
Then to be greeted this morning by news of a second police shooting death, even more egregious than the first. A black man stopped for a broken taillight in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., shot with a 4-year-old in the back seat and his girlfriend sitting next to him. By witness accounts Philando Castile had a license to carry a handgun — a fact that he disclosed to the officer as he had been trained to do. His girlfriend streamed the aftermath on Facebook Live, which has received more than 2 million views by Thursday morning.
Just as Roxanne Gay in today’s New York Times writes, I am also “so very tired.” I am distraught that two years of videos and outcry seems to have made little difference in the outcomes of these cases. It is one thing to talk quietly among family about how to be cautious in your dealings with police because you know the threat is real; it is entirely another to be bludgeoned month after month on social media by graphic images of case after tragic case with seemingly no end in sight.
We know what happens now because this brand of tragedy has become routine. The video of Mr. Sterling’s death allows us to bear witness, but it will not necessarily bring justice. There will be protest as his family and community try to find something productive to do with sorrow and rage. Mr. Sterling’s past will be laid bare, every misdeed brought to light and used as justification for police officers choosing to act as judge, jury and executioner — due process in a parking lot.
While gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association sanctimoniously argue about preservation of their Second Amendment Rights and their recent victories in Texas over campus carry and open carry, I know that I will never carry a firearm any further than a gun range. I also know that I will tell my daughters to never ride in a car with a firearm, whether the owner is licensed or not. Why? Because the “hero” image in the fight for open carry and gun rights in Texas is a white man in boots, not a black man in a hoodie.
There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are in that category. Body cameras help, better training helps, community policing helps, but these are not complete solutions. Ridding ourselves of these senseless shootings requires a degree of honesty about cultural bias, white privilege and perceptions about black and brown people that I’m not confident our society can muster. And as long as the immediate (and human) instinct is to draw a weapon in the face of fear, it is inevitable that an officer will eventually shoot to kill without cause.
I watched both shooting videos this morning so that I could write this column. With each viewing I feel a small sliver of hope and optimism about the future for my daughters and my nephews being sliced away. But this is my job, so I can only hope that one day there are no more videos to watch, not because no one is brave enough to film, but because there is no longer anything to see.
The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is likely rolling over in his grave at the news that his esteemed colleagues decided 4-3 to uphold the University of Texas position in its fight to keep its race-conscious admissions policy.
Had Scalia been alive (or a similarly inclined justice appointed in his place), the chances of a definitive win for UT would have been slim. However, despite Scalia’s and others’ attempts to portray the university’s policy to diversify its student body as a mechanism for letting in unqualified minority students at the expense of qualified white students, the majority of the court on Thursday recognized the inherent value of a diverse university environment and the narrow role race plays in UT’s admissions process. At the same time, the majority acknowledged the great impracticality of creating a college admissions system that relies solely on class rank as has been suggested by Fisher’s lawyers.
It’s important to note that Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin was never an affirmative action case in the classical sense.
“Affirmative action” conjures images of quotas and admissions officials stamping applications until they have enough black and brown faces to fill out their classes. That is a practice that has been deemed unconstitutional in higher education since 1978. Since then, the court has continued to deem constitutional the idea of using race and ethnicity as one among many factors in admissions, a practice that the UT policy followed when it denied admission to Abigail Fisher and a practice that it continues to use today.
This is probably where I should disclose two facts. First, I worked at the university for two years and helped craft its media response to the last Supreme Court decision in the Fisher case in 2013. Second, I have long personally objected to affirmative action as a matter of public policy, which is notorious for causing as much harm as good — casting a pernicious shadow of doubt on the abilities of minority students and professionals and, in some cases, setting up students who have been failed by our public education system for greater failure.
It’s the false suggestion of enduring quotas that feed narratives like the one being pushed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in response to Thursday’s ruling: “The University of Texas is one of the finest educational institutions in the world. The opportunities it offers should be available to all students based on their merit, not the color of their skin.”
Exclusion or acceptance based on race alone is inappropriate in government. But recognition of institutional inequities in access to education and placing a value on a multicultural and heterogeneous enrollment is not only constitutionally valid, but essential to the future of higher education and this state.
As I found myself at the age of 17 unwillingly defending affirmative action saying in a classroom of mostly white high school seniors: “What do we replace it with? The playing field is far from level.”
The answer is policies like the one used at UT Austin — policies that give value to our differences, whether they be race, socio-economic status, language of origin, family responsibilities, work experience and relative SAT score compared to others at their school. Taken holistically, there is value in having a student body that is heterogeneous and not allow the fact that one semester of having to work to support a family or discrimination that kept a student from being placed in an honors class for a semester would keep a student out of the University of Texas.
“A university is in large part defined by those intangible ‘qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness’….Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.”
Interestingly, Kennedy used the arguments of Fisher’s lawyers against them. Led by her attorney Edward Blum, the team had suggested that if greater numbers of minority students were the university’s aim, then UT should just extend the Top 10 percent rule to the entire student body. (At UT, the top 10 percent is really the top 7 percent, but that’s a whole different discussion.) Of course the upshot for the University of Texas whose enrollment would quickly be 100 percent filled to Top 10 percenters would mean the university would have to decline admission to immensely talented musicians, dancers, athletes, scientists and academics, who in their devotion to a single area of accomplishment would be denied admission if they were in the Top 10.5 percent of their class rather than the Top 10 percent.
“Class rank is a single metric, and like any single metric, it will capture certain types of people and miss others. This does not imply that students admitted through holistic review are necessarily more capable or more desirable than those admitted through the Top Ten Percent Plan. It merely reflects the fact that privileging one characteristic above all others does not lead to a diverse student body.”
While Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. may thrash in his dissent, accusing the university of deception and railing that Thursday decision is “affirmative action gone berserk,” the reality is that a university charged with training leaders is not well-served by using a single measuring stick for access and the value of diversity is greater than simply measuring melanin.
Studies abound about how black and Hispanic children are less likely to be evaluated for gifted and talented programming, more likely to receive harsher punishments for classroom behavior, less likely to be recommended for honors classes, are less likely to participate in summer enrichment programming, are less likely to be steered by teachers to math and science. I could go on.
Abigail Fisher has spent the better part of the last eight years arguing that her spot had essentially been taken by an unqualified minority. In fact, court documents show that one African-American and four Hispanic applicants with academic and personal achievement index scores lower than Fisher’s were accepted into a provisional admission program, but so too were 42 white students with scores equal to or lower than Fisher’s. Meanwhile, 168 black and Hispanic applicants who had scores equal to or higher than Fisher’s were denied admission.
The Supreme Court landed on the right side of this case, which should have never gotten this far. Although with the failure to replace Scalia one wonders if this ruling will become an asterisk, or if his fiery, anti-affirmative action rhetoric would have compelled Kennedy to come down on the opposing side.
But I can accept UT’s admissions policy as a constitutional bridge for affirmative action until the day we don’t have to have this conversation about the role of race in educational and economic opportunity. Unfortunately, I fear that will be a while.
In an increasingly gentrified city, even well-intentioned projects can have a negative effect on existing communities if the overall needs of a specific population aren’t taken into consideration.
So then, how can policymakers avoid overlooking obvious solutions? Members of the League of United Latin American Citizens District XII say they have an answer: Read the recommendations in its recently released “State Of Latinos Austin Texas 2016” guide.
The report, which was presented last month, is a summary of best practices, existing projects and other initiatives already underway in various sectors in Austin. The compilation of so much information offers valuable insight. With a still new 10-1 Austin City Council structure, it makes sense to have a resource that council members can use to familiarize themselves with many of these initiatives as they work on new policies and programs.
The document, LULAC’s District XII members say, aims to “provide some guidance on deliberate steps toward ending persistent racial outcome disparities in specific policy areas.” There’s no way around it; because of Austin’s history of discrimination, disadvantages associated with race remain deeply embedded in the city.
As a solution, LULAC’s report lists three reminders for social change. They are:
Include equity as a criteria for inclusion and prioritization of policies.
Target benefits to Latinos and other vulnerable populations.
Prioritize the provision of resources where they’re most needed.
Currently, the catch-all term that addresses much of the inequalities that persist is “affordability.” But as we all know, affordability doesn’t have the same meaning for everyone. For many low-income individuals and families — of which the majority are Latino and African-American — affordability can equate to the ability to meet basic necessities. And, as history shows, helping low-income residents has rarely been a priority for Austin’s leaders and policymakers.
But things are changing.
Today, local leaders and organizations are increasingly partaking in crucial conversations about affordability and inequality in Austin. Much good work is already being done – including in the business, health, housing and education sectors – to address the issue. However, many of those efforts are fragmented.
That’s bad news. When policymakers don’t have the whole picture, it’s easy for things to get lost in the cracks, members of LULAC’s District XII say. That’s why they created the report.
“The guide is a reminder, and a starting point in some cases, for city leaders to focus attention on specific details and to identify core issues and introduce the vocabulary of racial equity into conversations,” Cynthia Valadez, a member of the group, told me.
The concerns outlined by the document align with the city’s Hispanic Quality of Life initiative, which aims to determine what the city can do to improve opportunities and living experiences for Hispanics, a historically underserved community. Since launching the initiative in 2008, the city invested in demographic research and analysis, collected community feedback and had an oversight committee in 2013 – the Hispanic Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission – present a final report with recommendations.
Following the recommendations of the 2013 report, the city has made some changes, like increasing funding and expanding programs at the Department Health and Human Services, as well as creating a Hispanic/Latino Leadership Program at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.
What about all the other recommendations made in the report? What’s the status of those?
As David Green, the city’s media relations manager, told me, “there isn’t a single master list of the myriad actions the city has taken in regards to the recommendations from the June 2013 report.” It makes sense to have a master list to reference, which could act as a reminder of what else needs to be done.
What’s next for the Hispanic Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission is presenting a summary later this year that will outline actions and more recommendations, Green said in an email.
It would be wise for the committee to take a good look at LULAC’s guide to ensure the best outcomes for all present and future initiatives targeting low-income Austinites.
Looking forward, the LULAC guide will not only benefit city leaders and policymakers, it could become a vital instrument for the person who serves as the city’s chief equity officer – a newly created seat that has no official start date. That post will lead the newly formed city of Austin’s Diversity and Equity Office. The creation of the office was a direct result of the requests made by Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Advisory Commission members. Currently, the city is searching for a candidate for the job and has scheduled community forums for feedback about which qualities Austinites would like to see in this new leader.
With so much work still left on the affordability front, the LULAC guide would be a useful tool of reference for all city leaders.
The fact that Muhammad Ali is remembered for both his radical rhetoric and his humility is a testament to his greatness.
The civil rights legend and boxing champion will be laid to rest on Friday in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. But the outpouring of remembrances of his humor and his accessibility highlight the rarity of his larger than life personality.
Remembrances have poured out from all corners of the globe: Basketball star Kareem Abdul -Jabbar in Time, photographer Neil Leifer in GQ, President Barack Obama in USA Today. The theme in all of the tales, whether from Ali’s youthful days in the 1960s to his softer, more subdued years as he fought Parkinson’s, is his remarkable ability to talk to anyone anywhere.
Obama refers to it in his commentary this week in USA Today:
“And we admire the man who, while his speech has grown softer and his movement more restricted by the advance of Parkinson’s disease, has never lost the ability to forge a deep and meaningful connection with people of all ages.
Asked why he is so universally beloved, he holds up a shaking hand, fingers spread wide, and says, “It’s because of this. I’m more human now. It’s the God in people that connects them to me.”
The magic of Ali is that you didn’t have to be famous to partake of his humanity. Upon hearing of the legend’s death, Austinite and marketing and brand consultant Kanwal Sharma posted a series of photos over the weekend on his Facebook page highlighting his decades long friendship with Ali, his wife Lonni Ali and Ali’s official photographer Howard Bingham.
In 1996 Sharma was a marketing manager for Apple in California. Apple was in bankruptcy, yet to be saved by Steve Jobs. Sharma’s mission was to develop a global campaign to showcase how Apple products made a difference in the world with the help of 100 extraordinary people around the world with varying areas of influence — entertainers, athletes, scientists, astronauts. Sharma’s job was to persuade them to lend their names and time to the project without a budget to pay for endorsements. The campaign had a cause marketing element, uniting the participants with inner school children to break down barriers.
That is how he met Ali.
Sharma walked into the room for the first meeting and Ali and Bingham, who was nearly always at his side, were passing whoopie cushions back and forth for the entire meeting. And from that moment on a friendship was cemented, including pranks for which Ali was notorious, continuing even after Sharma left Apple and moved to Austin.
“[Ali’s] persona and cut across the cultural and generational gap,” Sharma said. “We all gravitated to him. All the athlete at the Olympics wanted to be with him. Little kids wanted to be with him, and he — the world’s most famous human being — wanted to be with him.”
That Olympics, of course, is most memorable for the moment with Ali lighting the torch in Atlanta. The stories, Sharma says, are too many to tell. But a few include: Being invited to the LA Marathon and Lonni and Ali put Sharma up in their suite for the night; performing with Ali in a powwow at Taos Pueblo, celebrating Sharma’s birthday; being at the Sydney Olympics and seeing how all the world’s young athletes wanted to be with him; being invited to walk the red carpet for the premier of the Ali movie; getting various prank calls, the best one being a call from Bo Derek who was with them for the Fight Night Gala in Phoenix.
Through it all the fun and good times, Sharma also recalls the deepness of Ali’s faith, even in relation to his Parkinson’s diagnosis which was already taking a toll.
“‘It is what God gave me,’ he told me,” said Sharma. “He said it “makes me observe life in a different way.” It is the kind of thing that has been written before in newspapers, but to see it first-hand was awe-inspiring.”
My family’s path crossed with Ali 26 years before Sharma. If anything the continuity proves that the warmth that Ali exuded was not a product of age or illness, but an extension of his true self.
My mother and father met at Virginia Tech in 1969 when the African American student population was still tiny, but extremely tight knit. My dad left Tech and joined the Air Force, but my mother still attended the events thrown by his fraternity Groove Phi Groove.
When black celebrities came to campus, they often stopped by the Groove house, which was also a general gathering place for black students. Ali stopped by one night in 1970 after speaking on campus. My mother was there that night, as was my godfather Jim Watkins.
Watkins, who was one of the founding members of the campus chapter, was interviewed about that night for for the Virginia Tech Black Alumni Association. The picture, at right, was taken that night with Ali on the telephone changing his flight plans — the plane was supposed to leave at 11 a.m. and Ali stayed with the students until 2 a.m. Watkins is standing next to Ali.
Here’s my godfather’s recounting:
I don’t know what group got him on campus to come speak but after he spoke, and everybody went on stage he was talking to people and these other white fraternities were talking to him trying to convince him to come to their parties they were having. Just three of us, the Groove brothers went right up there, everybody spoke, and he just looked like he couldn’t wait to speak to us. And when he spoke to us we were like we have this house in town, and we would like to have a get together. We weren’t even having a party that night because we were going to hear him.
But he came over and we got some brothers to come over to the house and he sat in the chair in the house and we all sat on the floor listening to him talk about the Muslim faith and different things that has happened to him over the years and he kept talking and he just kept talking answering questions. Next thing you know his bodyguard said we have this 11 o’clock flight and he said no I want to continue to talk….I gained more respect for that than from anything he’s ever done. He could never do wrong after that as far as I’m concerned. There were a lot of things he could have done that night instead of talk to us.
At the time critics called the president’s executive order “revolutionary and politically reckless.” National polls showed that his “civil rights” program was wildly unpopular. State leaders in southern states railed against his executive overreach. They insisted that following the executive order would make Americans fundamentally unsafe.
The year was 1948. The president was Harry S. Truman. His order began the slow and painful process of systematically desegregating the nation’s military and is credited with helping to break down racial segregation in all facets of American life.
“…We must protect our civil rights so that by providing all our people with the maximum enjoyment of personal freedom and personal opportunity we shall be a stronger nation — stronger in our leadership, stronger in our moral position, stronger in the deeper satisfactions of a united citizenry.”
Last Friday’s temper-tantrum by Texas state leaders over President Obama’s instructions to schools about accommodating transgender students is strikingly reminiscent to the outcry generated in response to the federal government’s march to equality during the Civil Rights Era.
Friday’s federal directive specified that under the Title IX federal civil rights law, schools must treat a student — using proper pronouns and names, for example — consistent with the student’s gender identity. Schools cannot require transgender students to produce a medical diagnosis or a birth certificate or other identification document, nor force them to use bathrooms inconsistent with that identity.
Gov. Greg Abbott has indicated that he is interested in introducing a law similar to the one in North Carolina that requires transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. He told thousands at the GOP convention last week:
“Obama is turning bathrooms into courtroom issues,” Abbott told thousands of delegates at Dallas’ convention center. “I want you to know, I am working with the governor of North Carolina, and we are going to fight back.”
Cries of “blackmail” and labeling the President a “bully” is the best the likes of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton could muster. They say they would rather do without federal funding — which pays for books, lunches for the state’s poorest children, early childhood education, special education services, tuition-assistance and educational programming for at-risk groups.
Never mind that Patrick’s concern about the “vivid vigor that every 15-year-old boy has” is tantamount to the “boys will be boys” defense for sexual assault of all kinds.
And never mind that sexual assault is not about sexual attraction, it is about power over the victim regardless of gender.
Conservatives would like to draw an imaginary line between the guiding principals of the Civil Rights Era and the extension of rights to the LBGT community. It cannot be done. This country does not discriminate based on inherent traits. And the fact that the country is now agitating for rules that have been in place for years is proof that this is about political gamesmanship, not protecting or education our children.
Truman was not the last president to leverage what authority he had outside of Congress to urge the states to clean up their record on civil rights. Much has been comparing Obama’s performance to Truman’s legacy. This latest chapter on civil rights, will only add to the case.
Celebrating Black History Month is more than just participating in feel-good events, where people hold hands and sing, “We Shall Overcome.”
It’s about educating people about the contributions as well as the struggles of African Americans during times when people and their local governments relegated black people to second-class citizenship — if that. It’s a dreadful, but beautiful, history of a people who have overcome, but not yet arrived, it seems, considering the unequal treatment and decisions by city of Austin officials in too many matters.
Among the things at the top of that list is the city’s disparate treatment of Rosewood Courts in denying it historic landmark status. Rosewood Courts in East Austin clearly meets the city’s criteria for such, but was rejected by Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission based on a negative recommendation by the city’s Preservation Office. Those organizations have a long history of granting historic landmark status to properties of dubious historic value, but not to the Rosewood Courts housing project, which meets and exceeds city criteria for historic zoning.
Austin was a segregated city when Rosewood Courts opened in 1939 as the nation’s first federally funded housing project for African-Americans. Along with nearby Santa Rita Courts, initially for Hispanics, it is among the country’s oldest public housing projects constructed under the 1937 Housing Act, research shows.
City preservation officials have looked the other way to accommodate the local Housing Authority, which has its eye on Rosewood for redevelopment, which would increase gentrification in an area already suffering from massive displacement of black and Latino families. The housing authority is using its political influence in Austin and in Washington with the federal Housing and Urban Development Department to have its way, and in the process, run over many Austin elected officials, community leaders and clergy who represent African Americans.
The Austin City Council has an opportunity to right that wrong on Thursday by approving City Council Member Ora Houston’s resolution to initiate historic zoning for Rosewood Courts. It is co-sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Leslie Pool. This would be a fine time, during Black History Month, to finally acknowledge and affirm Rosewood Courts’ historical relevance.
Local Austin resident Bob Ozer, a leader in the fight to preserve the Lion’s Municipal Golf Course in West Austin, detailed equally important reasons to grant historic status to the Rosewood Courts in a letter to Mayor Steve Adler and the Council:
Dear Mayor Adler and Council Members Houston, Tovo, Pool, Renteria, Zimmerman, Kitchen, Troxclair, Garza, and Casar:
I am writing in support of Agenda Item 48, the resolution supporting the nomination of the Rosewood Courts housing site to the National Register.
For me, of particular interest in reading the nomination for the National Register listing was the role Rosewood Courts played in bringing modernist housing design for workers originating in the Bauhaus in Germany to the segregated black community of Austin in the late 1930s. The Bauhaus, of course, was closed in Germany under pressure from the Nazi regime shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933. The modernist style exemplified by Bauhaus was considered “degenerate” and many members of its faculty were exhibited in the “Degenerate Art Exhibit” held by the Nazis in Munich in 1937. In contrast, in this country the style was being adopted by an important New Deal agency of our federal government, the United States Housing Authority (USHA), to promote affordable housing for African Americans who had been displaced from West Austin largely through the power of local real estate interests as implemented in the 1928 Austin Master Plan. Aside from Lyndon Johnson, one of the principals in this process was Nathan Strauss (the son of a German Jewish immigrant and co-owner of Macy’s department store empire) who was the administrator of the USHA.
Hence, in Rosewood Courts you see in microcosm the marshaling of our national will to respond to the destitution of the depression and racism as a precursor to the national will and might we marshaled to defeat Hitler’s racism and fascism in Europe. This history represents a past we should be reluctant to forget and eager to embrace today: That of a nation resolved to forge a path of decency, fairness and equality for all our citizens now just as we tried to do over 75 years ago with Rosewood Courts.