Abbott’s hate crime proposal misses mark

Governor Greg Abbott speaks before signing his new book 'Broken but Unbowed' as he launches his book tour at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Governor Greg Abbott speaks before signing his new book ‘Broken but Unbowed’ as he launches his book tour at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

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.”

July 14, 2016 - Austin police officers stand at attention during the playing of Taps during a vigil held for the slain Dallas police officers held at the State Capitol Texas Peace Officer Memorial in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, July 14, 2016. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
July 14, 2016 – Austin police officers stand at attention during the playing of Taps during a vigil held for the slain Dallas police officers held at the State Capitol Texas Peace Officer Memorial in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, July 14, 2016. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

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.

I am interested in Sen. John Cornyn’s and Sen. Ted Cruz’s “Back the Blue” bill. Although I object to the death penalty, it would seem that if anything in this country qualifies as a capital offense the intentional targeting and killing of officers or federal judges would top the list.

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.

 

 

Dallas’ deadly shootings: What others are saying

A Dallas police officer covers his face as he stands with others outside the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas on Thursday night, killing some of the officers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
A Dallas police officer covers his face as he stands with others outside the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas on Thursday night, killing some of the officers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

be a peaceful gathering to protest the recent deadliest incident for law enforcement in the U.S. since 9/11. Two civilians also were injured.

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:

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“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

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“(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

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“As Thursday night melted into Friday morning, Facebook began to send messages: So-and-so is wondering if you’re OK during The Violent Crime in Dallas, Texas.
No, I’m not OK.”  — Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Morning News city columnist

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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

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“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