By Breanne Holley
NDG COntributing Writer
“What the people want is very simple, they want an America as good as its promise,’ (says the quote from Barbara Jordan) and that is our mantra for the work that we do here at ACLU”, said Darryl Ewing as he introduced a Wednesday evening discussion on systemic equality in Texas with a quote from a famous Texan herself.
Ewing highlighted the work to be done on preventing House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7 from become law as he sys they would further suppress votes in communities of color. Ewing mentions that the two “a” words for brining change to Texas are aspiration, the big vision that all see for Texas that will create a better Texas. The other word is action which is backed up by aspiration. He adds that the big picture must be put into action.
At the start of the program a survey had been posted that had some surprising results and it involved three questions.
Do you believe you have a basic understanding of racial justice?
What does a racially equitable Texas look like for you?
What are some of the barriers that are keeping you from being fully engaged?
The results were that a lot strongly agreed they had a basic understanding of racial justice and that dismantling laws and policies and stopping voter suppression were among what was needed for a more equitable Texas. Most said they would become more active if they had more information about the campaign.
Rebecca Robertson hosted the two panelists who are leaders and had a lot to say about systemic equality. Gary Bledsoe, President of Texas State Conference of NAACP Units, who chairs the NAACP criminal justice committee as well as a lawyer himself, and former County Clerk Chris Hollins of Harris County, Texas, lawyer, activist and community leader.
Robertson posed the first question to set the tone on the importance of voting in America in general and Bledsoe opened the discussion with a powerful answer “… if I got a guy wearing a sheet and a hood out there trying to stop me from voting I need to understand that I need to be voting, it is intuitive. It is essential for citizenship, to have a voice.” At the state capital “it is a desire to maintain power, what is being undertaken is an effort to create an apartheid regime … It is about making the white majority powerful throughout.”
Hollins said, in Harris County of Houston, the goal was about making sure all 2.5 million people could cast their vote and be heard that they could cast the votes safely during the pandemic and that their votes counted. He says the voter suppression laws that are being proposed are taking rights away from Americans. He said voers should not accept that as politics as usual. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. He believes if you are citizen and have that right to vote you should be able to exercise it and it should be easy, no poll tax or intimidation should prevent that.
“How do these voter suppressions tactics target people of color the most?” asked Robertson.
Bledsoe mentioned that there has been a problem with poll watchers who disrespect African Americans at the polls. What these laws do is make the poll watcher outside the jurisdiction of the elected official. They were ugly and nasty to voters and voting officials. One thing that was happening was people would go in without a mask during the pandemic and get up closer to African American voters. He suggested this one now says they have a right to kill you, that’s what this law says. The poll watcher provision is designed against the African American community, as a provisions that prohibit voting after 9 p.m. or assisting a voter.
Hollins added on to Bledsoe’s remarks, saying “there long standing election law in Texas saying you can’t bring cameras but now poll watchers and poll watchers only can bring in cameras, saying people can bring firearms into the polls … There are aspects of these bills that say if you bring someone to help you vote they would have to fill out additional paperwork identifying yourself.”
How will it impact urban communities as opposed to rural communities? The density of bipoc people in urban communities is more that rural communities. These laws will affect those more,according to Bledsoe. There are various barriers such as public transit that affect the accessibility of voting in urban communities.
“There is still time, though short, to be able to do whatever we can to put pressure on state legislatures to do the right thing,” Bledsoe said “Because of the consequences they will face otherwise. This is why corporations have gotten involved.” He urged listeners to put their voices out there as social media connections amplify these messages.
Bledsoe says what is fundamentally true is that the people who are in control won’t listen to organizations, and that there is a specific group of people that they listen to. Ever since the election of president Obama in 2008 there is a nucleus of people, 10% of the electorate so upset they believe that there are problems with illegal immigration and the ascendency of the African American vote and president Obama. Those are the kind of people that would be upset if the legislation voted to say they respect black veterans. Anything related to black or brown people they would oppose.
A question presented was “Is it time to get rid of the Electoral College?”, and Hollins said yes, it is time because it sets up minority rule.
The conversation did move on to policing and Hollins, who comes from a family of police officers, began that discussion. He says his father, who was a police officer, even had to have a talk with him on what to do if he is stopped by a police officer and behind the wheel of a vehicle; what he needed to do to not be assaulted by a police officer. He mentions how traffic stops are used intentionally to try and entrap minorities. With his work with state and local uniformed agencies, he hears from the blue lives matter crowd “don’t let everything be ruined by a bad apple and such.”
There are so many good cops and bad ones too and the problem is when the good ones are defending the bad ones. Well intentioned officers who don’t have proper training cn also end up shooting unarmed people of color. Hollins added that just because a person is a good guy or gal doesn’t mean they need to be a police officer.
“Not everybody is cut out for that,” Hollins said. “There needs to be much more rigorous in the selection training and accountability of our police officers.”
Bledsoe said that after seeing the murder of George Floyd in full view in front of the world, the things that African Americans have been saying for many years has been shown to be true. Bledsoe is a lawyer who has even represented police officers and yet in his experience says that although he has had good police officers help him, he has also had guns pulled on him for no reason. He says the fundamental issue with policing is the culture intended to proliferate a biased system, some say an extension of the old plantation idea; a way to have control over African Americans. The code of conduct in blue silence allows for any kind of conduct against an African American to be upheld even against the Latino community.
Hollins said, “A number of police forces have an independent oversight lore. In Houston those recommendations have no teeth whatsoever. They have no authorities but need to have some authorities to hand down penalties for officers that are involved in wrongdoing.”
He talks about how we should be policing and protecting our own to catch these wrongdoings.
In regards to police reformation Bledsoe mentioned that, “Since we know that individuals are getting involved in police departments that are biased that members of hate organizations we need to have a way of actually looking at that. There are departments that are doing that such as one in Oregon that has been doing that for a while, their psychologist thinks they have screened out a large percentage of the applications who were bigoted and etc. That is another thing we really need here.
“Where should we be putting our resources for systemic equality?” Rebecca asked the panelists, a question from the Q&A section.
Hollins said that “to secure equality in this country we need free and fair elections plain and simple.”
Bledsoe said people should join towards pushing for racial reconciliation commissions on a local level, all of these issues could be enveloped when local authorities come and sit together whether they be far left or far right.
Robertson ended the conversation by thanking Bledsoe and Hollins for their wisdom and insight into these system equality issues, adding they need everybody to get involved and share things that cn be done, COVID safe, to get involved in the issues discussed. Shape the campaign.
More information on this and other ACLU issues is available at aclutx.org.