- Associated Press - Monday, April 26, 2021

Austin American-Statesman. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: Lawmakers must pick up where Chauvin’s jury left off

The jury did its job. Now lawmakers must do theirs.

The Minnesota jurors who convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin this week of murder affirmed the truth we all saw in the video of George Floyd’s last moments. Floyd’s death, senseless and brutal, resulted not from lawful policing but a criminal act.

The jury’s verdict provides accountability in one appalling case of police misconduct. But so much work remains. Texas lawmakers and members of Congress need to pass laws that improve police practices, strengthen the avenues for holding bad actors accountable and prevent unfit officers from surfacing at new departments.



Floyd’s death fueled the largest protest movement in U.S. history not because it was a singular tragedy, but because it typified police abuses directed against Black people for far too long. These abuses continue, and not only in faraway communities like the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, where Daunte Wright was killed last week during a horribly botched traffic stop, and Columbus, Ohio, where an officer this week shot and killed Ma’Khia Bryant instead of de-escalating the tense situation involving the knife-wielding 16-year-old foster child. Our community remembers Michael Ramos, who was killed by an Austin police officer last year, and Javier Ambler II, who died in 2019 after Williamson County deputies repeatedly jolted him with a Taser, among others who needlessly died during encounters with police.

Many police officers are dedicated public servants, putting their own safety at risk during each shift in order to protect our community. And in some cases, force - even deadly force - is necessary for officers to protect themselves or others. But our nation has seen too many deaths that could have been avoided, too many families whose grief should have been spared.

This week the Texas Senate passed a bill compelling police to intervene if a fellow officer is using excessive force, as well as another measure requiring police to provide or request immediate medical attention if a suspect is injured. Both measures, which await votes in the House, mark improvements. But more sweeping legislation bearing George Floyd’s name remains stalled, as lawmakers are at odds over lifting the shield of “qualified immunity” that protects police officers from lawsuits.

This is a difficult issue, but lawmakers must strive for a solution that balances the interests of officers and the public. Families deserve a better avenue for recourse when a loved one dies at the hands of police, especially because allegations of police misconduct are so rarely prosecuted in the criminal courts.

Nationally speaking, officers face criminal charges for less than 2% of the fatal police shootings each year - a figure experts say is very low, even accounting for the fact that many shootings are justified. Police officers are often reluctant to testify against a colleague, and prosecutors are often reluctant to go after an officer in a police department they largely collaborate with on other cases. Add in the reluctance by many juries to second-guess officers’ split-second decisions in the field, and only a fraction of the officers who are charged are actually convicted. Sometimes it is for lesser offenses, such as official misconduct, that do not entail jail time.

Another Texas bill - this one bearing Michael Ramos’ name - would give a state agency broader authority to revoke the licenses of law enforcement officers engaged in serious misconduct. As we’ve noted before, such a reform is badly needed to ensure unfit officers don’t remain on the force or resurface at a new department.

As it is now, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement can’t yank a license unless an officer has been convicted of a crime or received deferred adjudication; has failed to complete required training; or has been fired from two different departments. That is hardly sufficient, considering the range of misconduct that might not be criminal but would be clearly unacceptable in a sworn officer of the law.

In fact, investigative reporting by KXAN showed how nearly 450 officers since 2015 have voluntarily surrendered their law enforcement license, often as part of a plea deal in a criminal case that allows them to avoid jail time. The state’s inability to yank these licenses before a conviction leaves officers with a powerful bargaining chip that serves their interest, not that of the public.

For now, though, the Michael Ramos Act (House Bill 3654 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Senate Bill 1472 by Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, both of Austin) is still pending in committee.

President Joe Biden noted this week that Chauvin’s conviction came about through “a unique and extraordinary convergence of factors.” The incident happened in broad daylight, in front of witnesses. A teen recorded anguishing images of Floyd’s death with her cell phone. Some officers testified against Chauvin. And jurors weighed the evidence in this “extraordinary moment, under extraordinary pressure,” Biden said.

“For so many, it feels like it took all of that for the judicial system to deliver just basic accountability,” Biden said.

And in that sense, we cannot be satisfied. We shouldn’t have to hope for the stars to align in order for justice to be served. We must strengthen our laws to ensure justice is the order of the day.

___

Houston Chronicle. April 23, 2021.

Editorial: Dan Patrick, kill Texas’ ‘permitless carry’ bill before it kills us

Visualize for a moment the worst drivers you’ve encountered on the road lately, the ones who swerve in and out of lanes and can’t be bothered to use a blinker, the ones who treat I-10 like Texas Motor Speedway, the ones who can kill you and your loved ones in the back seat with one errant turn of the wheel.

Imagine how much worse those people would drive if they weren’t even required to take a class, or pass a test or obtain a license to operate that hunk of menacing metal. Thankfully, no lawmaker is reckless enough to propose that idea.

Now picture those same folks - the careless, the clueless and the just plain dangerous - operating a loaded pistol instead. And imagine that there are indeed Texas lawmakers reckless enough to argue they shouldn’t have to take a single safety class, or demonstrate any level of proficiency with the weapon, or make any effort to obtain a license at all.

You don’t have to imagine. To the horror of many Texans, including responsible gun owners, firearms trainers and law enforcement officials, the Texas House has passed for the first time legislation allowing Texans over age 21 to carry a handgun in public without a permit. It excludes those already prohibited by law from owning a firearm.

Why this “permitless carry” bill, HB 1927, has even gotten a hearing in a session that should be focused on life-and-death issues of power grid failure and health care access we cannot say.

How lawmakers chose to align themselves with the radicals peddling it, including one who threateningly showed up at a former speaker’s home last session and another affiliated with the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, is beyond defending.

That House members are embracing this legislation amid a hail of deadly shootings and pandemic-related crime spikes across the state is unconscionable.

Supporters who call the legislation “constitutional carry” in their effort to argue it merely removes needless barriers to a right enshrined by the Founding Fathers conveniently omit, as they always do, that the late Justice Antonin Scalia insisted reasonable regulations were allowed even under the most robust reading of the Second Amendment.

For years, gun owners in this state have worked to distinguish themselves as law-abiding and responsible - and the vast majority no doubt are. But what responsible gun owner can’t be bothered to take a four-hour class on firearm laws, safe gun storage and conflict resolution?

Untrained gun owners pose untold risk to everyone around them, including their own families.

Firearms instructor Lon Krieger summed up the situation best at a press conference last week to oppose the bill:

“What’s the downside of being trained?” he said. “There’s a downside of people walking around with dangerous weapons who don’t know how to use them.”

Where past efforts to weaken the state’s gun permitting requirements were blocked by House speakers, Texans who favor common sense gun laws will find no help from Speaker Dade Phelan, a former author of “permitless” legislation. Instead, we find our hopes rest in the unlikeliest of hands: those of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the Senate.

A reliable champion of red meat GOP causes, Patrick surprised many when he announced after the House vote that the Texas Senate didn’t have the votes to take up the bill. He had expressed reservations before in 2015 and again in 2017 when he referenced concerns among law enforcement about “anyone being able to walk down the street with a gun and they don’t know if they have a permit or not.”

Officials with police and sheriff’s offices across the state, including Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia, gathered at the state Capitol last week to tell lawmakers the bill only makes them less safe.

“Police labor and police executives have spoken out loud and clear,” tweeted Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and former Houston police chief. He challenged Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott directly, writing, “Do you back the blue enough to push back in the fringe. Most Texans do not support this nonsense.”

He’s right. A recent poll by the Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler showed 58 percent opposed to permitless carry, compared with 26 percent in support.

Of course, many Republican lawmakers don’t care about what most Texans want. They care about what their potential primary opponents would say and what their primary voters will do.

That’s why those who have also pledged to “back the blue” face a dilemma.

“Think about it,” state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told the editorial board. “When this came up before, law enforcement was totally against it, totally. And usually when law enforcement is against something in the Texas Senate, it fails.”

He said the bill’s fate comes down to one thing: “how many arms Patrick can twist.”

Patrick has shown a willingness in the past to stand up to the NRA and has indicated support for expanded background checks. Beyond the politics, he understands how dangerous this legislation would be for Texas and that it couldn’t come at a worse time.

We urge sheriffs and chiefs to keep the pressure on. We implore senators who oppose unlicensed gun ownership in Texas to stand strong, and for Patrick to stand with them: kill this bill, lieutenant governor, before it kills us.

___

Texarkana Gazette. April 20, 2021.

Editorial: One Step Closer: ‘Constitutional carry’ may have a chance this time around

The Lone Star State is one step closer to what many call “Constitutional carry.”

The state House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would allow any citizen age 21 or over, who is not disqualified under federal law from owning a handgun, to carry a gun without having a concealed handgun license, undergo handgun training or pass any additional background check.

Gun rights advocates have long been pushing for such legislation. And some in the Legislature took up the cause in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Didn’t get very far.

This year was different, though. Despite several recent mass shootings - or perhaps because of them - the 84 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill. They were joined by seven House Democrats.

Now the proposal goes to the state Senate. And its fate will largely be determined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has never shown much support for “Constitutional carry.”

Still, this time around it’s going to be hard to bury the bill. And if it does come up for a vote, it will be harder still for state senators to explain to pro-gun constituents why they voted against it.

So it might not be long before the decision rests with Gov. Greg Abbott.

___

Victoria Advocate. April 24, 2021.

Editorial: Now is not the time to not get vaccinated

Have you gotten yours?

This is one of the most important questions being asked nowadays.

It is even more important if you can honestly answer “Yes.”

The question is inquiring about whether you have gotten your COVID-19 vaccination.

Now that the Victoria County Health Department has suspended the weekly vaccine clinics it is not the time to ease off the urgency of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

People can still sign up for the vaccine on the county’s website. They can also go to the health department in the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center to receive the vaccines.

They can also go to local pharmacies to register.

The vaccines are also available at times at doctor’s offices and medical clinics.

In the region, clinics are hosted by the emergency management offices as well as hospitals and medical clinics.

The clinic hub was so convenient to get vaccinated. You registered online or on the phone, when your name was selected, you showed up at your selected time and a few minutes later you were vaccinated and sitting in the community center’s dome waiting out the required 15 minutes downtime to watch for possible reactions to the vaccine.

But when the number of people signing up started dwindling, the county decided to stop the clinics – for now. If the need arises - meaning if enough people sign up on the waiting list – the county will have additional clinics.

Based on the numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the need for vaccines to be administered is still there. As of Thursday, 26.90 % of Victoria County’s population 16 years and older is fully vaccinated. Of that, 57.71 % of residents 65 and older are vaccinated.

If we ever want to get back to any normalcy and safely shed masks, more people need to be vaccinated.

The only way we are going to beat this horrible deadly virus is through vaccination.

Some people don’t trust the vaccine and want to see if long-term health side effects occur. While others, because of pre-existing health conditions cannot take the vaccine.

Others believe herd immunity will protect them, but that is a false sense of security. Some experts have estimated a threshold of 60–70% of the population gaining immunity, either through vaccinations or past exposure to the virus, to achieve herd immunity, but that too is still being studied.

As we begin to travel more, the herd immunity theory will be strongly tested. When we are in a new area or out of our ”safety herd” there is no way of knowing who has been vaccinated and who has not.

With Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, graduations and Fourth of July quickly approaching and people wanting to gather with loved ones from across the country, it only makes sense that those who gather be vaccinated for their safety and that of those they are with.

COVID-19 and its variants are not going away any time soon, but experts agree, the more people who are vaccinated and who continue to take precautions, we can slow it down. The most important thing we as residents can do is get vaccinated – it will protect ourselves and our families.

So we ask again, Have you gotten yours?

END

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