Houston needs a civilian review board – but Texas needs much more!

by Keith H. Washington, bka Comrade Malik, NABPP Prison Chapter

For the past four years, community activists and civil rights leaders in the Houston area have been fighting hard to establish a civilian review board with prosecutorial power over local police. The board would oversee the activities of a Houston Police Department which has had a “love affair” with the use of excessive and lethal force on Houstonians.

As public and legal pressure mount to save prisoners from dying of the heat this summer, Texas officials announced June 23 they’ve bought a new kind of fan, but insist the purchase was not in response to the pressure. Texas houses many of its prisoners in metal buildings. – Photo: Bob Daemmerich
As public and legal pressure mount to save prisoners from dying of the heat this summer, Texas officials announced June 23 they’ve bought a new kind of fan, but insist the purchase was not in response to the pressure. Texas houses many of its prisoners in metal buildings. – Photo: Bob Daemmerich

Many residents have viewed this as only a Black or Brown issue. It is true that a disproportionate number of the human beings beaten up, mistreated or outright murdered by HPD officers are people of color from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nevertheless, the problem with HPD is much larger than it appears and affects everyone in Houston.

In light of the recent flaws exposed within the HPD Homicide Division, as well as the ballooning budget of HPD that is heading towards a billion dollars, having doubled over the last decade to a proposed $800 million, I think all of us have a vested interest in seeing effective and meaningful oversight of the Houston PD.

When questioned about the lack of accountability, transparency or fiscal responsibility that exists in HPD, Chief Charles McClelland stated that the department has “meted out discipline in appropriate measures.”

This statement is an outright lie and I have facts to back up my charge. When the HPD officers who kicked and stomped teenager Chad Holly were reinstated, was that an appropriate measure?

Last year, Emily DePrang, a staff writer with the Texas Observer in Austin, did a two-part series that highlighted the gross inadequacy and impotence of HPD’s Internal Affairs Division, which is supposed to investigate police criminality. Time and again, bureaucratic red tape, cronyism and a police officer union with little integrity have kept sadistic, unethical police officers from being held accountable. These are not appropriate measures! I’m tired of being lied to; aren’t you?

These are not appropriate measures! I’m tired of being lied to; aren’t you?

Our heroes and sheroes

We should all know their names: community activist Quannell X, attorney Jolanda Jones, Sister Krystal Muhammad, chairperson of the New Black Panther Party, student Minister Robert Muhammad of Mosque 45, brother Kofi Taharka, chair of the National Black United Front, and Elder Deloyd Parker, director of the SHAPE Community Center in the Third Ward of Houston.

This drawing depicts Comrade Malik and the struggle against police brutality. - Art: Steve Settles, 1372886, Wynne Unit, 310 FM 2821, Huntsville TX 77349
This drawing depicts Comrade Malik and the struggle against police brutality. – Art: Steve Settles, 1372886, Wynne Unit, 310 FM 2821, Huntsville TX 77349

They are just a few of the men and women who stand up against abusive and murderous police officers. The question I must pose is why do Black people have to apologize for protecting Black people when they are murdered by those whose mandate is “protect and serve”?!

There seems to be a lack of will in the upper echelon of Texas state government as well as in the Texas Legislature to create or craft a piece of legislation that would mandate transparency and accountability in law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

The question I must pose is why do Black people have to apologize for protecting Black people when they are murdered by those whose mandate is “protect and serve”?!

Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott fought vigorously to obtain legislation that infringes on Black, Brown and poor people’s right to vote or on a woman’s right to choose, but we haven’t seen him fight at all for people of color getting murdered in Texas by cops! And this racist is aiming to occupy the governor’s mansion next.

Just killing us for the sport of it!   

Alfred Wright, a father of three, was found murdered in the woods near Hemphill, Texas, in November 2013. Hemphill is close to Jasper, Texas, where we all remember the racially-charged murder of James Byrd took place.

Like Byrd, Wright was a Black man. However, in the eyes of many of the residents of Hemphill and Jasper, Alfred may have committed the “unforgivable crime.” That crime was to offer his unconditional love to a white woman and their beautiful children. A daddy was murdered, yet Sabine County law enforcement officers conducted a less than enthusiastic investigation. Why? Why did Quanell X and Sister Krystal Muhammad have to go there in order to demand justice for another murdered young Black male?

Why did Quanell X and Sister Krystal Muhammad have to go there in order to demand justice for another murdered young Black male?

Pearlie Golden was a 93-year-old Black woman murdered by a white police officer on May 6, 2014. Pearlie was a life-long resident of Hearne, Texas. That’s the same town that made national headlines by conducting racially motivated drug sweeps, in which a movie was made, “American Violet.”

The white male officer who murdered Pearlie, Mr. Stephen Stem, had earlier been cleared by a grand jury in December 2012 for the shooting death of another Black human being, 28-year-old Tederalle Satchell.

Pearlie’s husband had served for a long time as a police officer for the city of Hearne. I wonder if Mr. Stem considered the decades of public service Pearlie’s husband gave to the people of Hearne before he shot and killed her?

In November 2013, Michael Blair, another young Black male, was shot to death by a Fort Bend County deputy sheriff. Another grand jury decided not to indict!

A video of the barbaric murder of Michael Blair has surfaced. The family has given the video to the U.S. Department of Justice. Why can’t Texas provide justice for Texans? Why does the DOJ always have to force Texas law enforcement to respect the rights and lives of people of color?

Why can’t Texas provide justice for Texans? Why does the DOJ always have to force Texas law enforcement to respect the rights and lives of people of color?

Michael Eric Dyson, writing in Ebony magazine, said: “I have come to face the facts there is nothing we can say or do to change the minds of white people who believe that Black folk are a threat to them. We can’t be smart enough, good enough or humble enough to please them.”

A solution

I do not believe in spending my time highlighting the numerous problems that exist within the criminal justice system and not devoting energy toward finding solutions. Given that, I offer this example.

Michael Bell, a 21-year-old unarmed man, was shot in the head on Nov. 9, 2004, by police officers. They were cleared of any wrongdoing by their department. Sounds like something that might have happened in Houston, Texas.

But this wasn’t Texas; it happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Bell’s father, Michael Sr., fought hard to expose the injustice that took his son from him. Recently, his persistence paid off. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a Wisconsin law that requires all police departments in the state to bring in investigators from outside their agency when officer-involved deaths occur.

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 409 requires that at least two outside investigators, one of whom will lead the effort, look into such cases. And if the district attorney chooses not to charge officers, the investigators must release their report about the death to the public.

Will there be a significant amount of public outcry here in Texas to urge legislators in Austin to craft such a bill for the residents of Texas? Maybe Sen. Rodney Ellis, Rep. Sylvester Turner or Dr. Alma Allen, or the much respected “Miss T” – Rep. Senfronia Thompson – will lead the way in 2015.

Will there be a significant amount of public outcry here in Texas to urge legislators in Austin to craft such a bill for the residents of Texas?

The deaths you don’t see

Comrade Malik recently wrote, “Prisoners are suffering horribly in prison cells where temperatures reach 130 degrees F!” So this letter is welcome.
Comrade Malik recently wrote, “Prisoners are suffering horribly in prison cells where temperatures reach 130 degrees F!” So this letter is welcome.

Many have heard of the wrongful death lawsuit against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in connection with the 14 heat-related deaths of Texas state prisoners housed in TDCJ facilities since 2007. However, there are numerous deaths that occur in Texas prisons that the public never hears about.

One such “incident” is the murder of prisoner Christopher Woolverton. On Oct. 22, 2013, on the Bill Clements High Security unit in Amarillo, Texas, Woolverton, a known asthmatic, was murdered by pepper spray utilized by TDCJ correctional officers. Prior to his murder, Woolverton lay in his own feces and urine, virtually unresponsive for three days without treatment. No indictments, no accountability, no transparency – and no justice!

Texas State Sen. John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says he is against providing air conditioning in Texas state prisons. He claims it is fiscally irresponsible. Furthermore, the senator has a list of things which he thinks take priority over the heat in Texas prisons, which is killing human beings.

I understand the complex dynamics of fiscal responsibility, but I am trying to figure out why Sen. Whitmire continues to ignore the outright murder of prisoners by sadistic and brutal correctional officers? You don’t want to pay for air conditioners that might save some lives? OK then, why not hold TDCJ officers accountable when they take lives?

I am trying to figure out why Sen. Whitmire continues to ignore the outright murder of prisoners by sadistic and brutal correctional officers?

And let me be clear: This is not a race issue. Mr. Woolverton was a white man! This is a human rights disaster that Sen. Whitmire continues to downplay, minimize and ignore.

Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Comrade Malik” Washington, 1487958, Wynne Unit, 810 FM 2821, Huntsville TX 77349.