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What’s next for the now-canceled white nationalist rally at A&M

The legal experts are weighing in.

Saunie Schuster, an attorney for The NCHERM Group, which provides consulting for schools on First Amendment issues, said that was the organizer’s big mistake.

“You can be here and you can speak even if we hate what you’re saying, but you can’t disrupt the function of Texas A&M,” Schuster said. “Because a person was killed and people were seriously injured in Charlottesville, the potential for harm is not just speculative. If he’s linking the two events together, he’s seeing that as an outcome.”

Southern Methodist University constitutional law professor Dale Carpenter said the school’s position — that the rally presents a huge public safety risk and could disrupt normal activities on campus — is “legitimate,” but the school may face some legal backlash anyway. On Monday evening, rally organizer Wiginton said as much: “I guess my lawyers will now be suing the state of Texas.”

Carpenter said the university “can’t simply ban a controversial speaker because others might react violently.” He said blocking speech is an absolute last resort to prevent violence, not a first resort. He suggested the university may be able to negotiate a different time or place for the rally but said he doubts A&M will “succeed in simply prohibiting this event and its subject matter on campus.”

“That billing is too vague to constitute a true threat of violence, in my view. Indeed, the fact that Texas A&M specifically cited that billing as a justification may weaken its claim that the cancellation was for content-neutral reasons,” Carpenter added.

Meanwhile, Schuster said, “if the people coming to do a ‘White Lives Matter’ rally remain in a public area or do so in a manner that doesn’t disrupt the educational function of the institution, the school is going to be highly unlikely to be able to shut it down or restrict it.”

See here for the background. The racist organizer had talked about having a march on campus instead, which might be harder to restrict, but in the end decided to call it off, at least for now. He’s still talking lawsuit, however. My layman’s opinion of what A&M did was that it was defensible on public safety grounds, but that is no guarantee they would prevail in court if it comes down to it, which it may yet do. Other legal experts were less sanguine.

“If all it took to shut down a speaker was to threaten a riot, we would all find ourselves with very little free speech at all,” said Ari Cohn, the director of the Individual Rights Defense Program, a campus civil rights watchdog group. “Allowing the possibility of a bottle-throwing mob to justify curtailing speech only incentivizes violence. That is an untenable result, from a legal and practical standpoint.”

Cohn said that the [racist jerk]’s link between Charlottesville and the planned A&M rally—a main reason the university gave for canceling the event—is protected under free speech. “Under applicable constitutional precedent, it constitutes neither incitement to imminent lawless action nor a true threat, and without more, that notice does not justify canceling the event,” Cohn said. “Moreover, violence committed in one place does not justify curtailing freedom of expression in other places. We do not discard the First Amendment’s protections because someone, somewhere reacted inappropriately to speech—and to be clear, violence is never an acceptable response to speech. But to sacrifice our First Amendment rights on the altar of preventing violence is incompatible with our understanding of free speech.”

[…]

“[Texas A&M], in denying White Lives Matters [and other racist jerk]’s access to public areas to engage in speech—notwithstanding how deplorable and lacking in value that speech may be—more likely than not is violating the First Amendment by engaging in viewpoint-based discrimination,” JT Morris, an Austin-based attorney specializing in First Amendment law, said in an email. Morris said [racist jerk] could file a lawsuit immediately seeking an emergency temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, asking a judge to force the university to grant [racist jerk]’s group access to campus for the rally. “This is a really tough situation to balance First Amendment rights and public safety,” Morris said. “We’re looking at protecting speech of minimal value—to put it gently—that is espoused by a very small group of people, at the risk of serious harm to public safety.” As Morris notes, the First Amendment protects what most of us consider to be hate speech, unless that speech crosses the line and incites violence. “I’m not sure the White Lives Matter [and] [other racist jerk] stuff is quite there—yet,” Morris said.

As I’ve said, I support A&M’s actions here. If they wind up losing in court, that would be unfortunate, but at least they tried. Slate, which takes a national look at this issue, has more.

Hate groups are getting busy on college campuses

From the Anti-Defamation League, another reason to be worried, if you needed one.

White supremacists, emboldened by the 2016 elections and the current political climate, are currently engaged in an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has cataloged 104 incidents of white supremacist fliering on college campuses since the school year began in September 2016, with surge of activity since January 2017, when 63 of the total incidents (61 percent) occurred.

Until recently, on-the-ground white supremacist actions have been relatively infrequent on college campuses. But this year has been different, according to ADL’s Center on Extremism. White supremacists are using a variety of tactics including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist fliers, as well as on-campus appearances and speeches by racist activists.

“White supremacists have consciously made the decision to focus their recruitment efforts on students and have in some cases openly boasted of efforts to establish a physical presence on campus,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “While there have been recruitment efforts in the past, never have we seen anti-Semites and white supremacists so focused on outreach to students on campus.”

White supremacist engagement tactics on campus range from the virtual, such as sending racist fliers to thousands of campus fax machines, to on the ground rallies and speaking engagements. More extremists are also making a point of visiting campuses to speak with students individually. This is part of a push to move their activism from online chatter to “real world” action.

See here for a fuller report. As noted by the Current, seventeen of these documented incidents have taken place on campuses of Texas universities, with Texas State being especially popular. I don’t have a prescription for this, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to be part of the resistance to it. Among other things, it would be very nice if our state leaders addressed the problem, spoke out against it, and maybe had just the tiniest glimmer of self-awareness for the role their support of Donald Trump has had in exacerbating this problem.

Family of Ahmed Mohamed files lawsuit against his former school

I’d sue, too.

Nearly one year after 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a “suspicious-looking” homemade clock to class, his family has filed suit against his former Texas school district, the principal of the high school and the city of Irving.

The lawsuit filed Monday claims that Ahmed’s civil rights were violated in the incident that made the 9th grader go viral last September.

Accusations of racial and religious profiling fueled the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed. Even President Obama chimed in on Twitter, telling the boy: “We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”

The charge — possession of a hoax bomb — was dropped, but MacArthur High School suspended Ahmed for three days.

Citing a pattern of disproportionate disciplinary actions for black students in the Irving Independent School District and a history of anti-Muslim sentiment in Irving, the lawsuit alleges that Ahmed was discriminated against based on his race and religion. It also claims his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was interrogated by police and principal Daniel Cummings for over an hour without the presence of his parents before he was arrested.

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. No question, Ahmed Mohamed was treated atrociously, and it’s well known that the Mayor of Irving is a raving Islam-basher of long standing. Lawsuits are a blunt instrument, but sometimes they’re the best way to get a message across. This is a message that the city of Irving needs to hear. The Observer, which highlights key aspects of the suit, has more.

Friday was a very good day for voting rights

In North Carolina:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory is nothing short of a beat down. The court does not simply tear apart major provisions of the law, it catches state lawmakers at the center of a conspiracy to disenfranchise black voters, and it calls them out onto the carpet for it. By the time the court is done scraping the bloody mass of what was once North Carolina’s attempts to justify this law off the floor, the state’s leadership has been thoroughly shamed.

The court’s opinion — primarily written by Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a Clinton appointee — is rooted in an important understanding of how race and partisanship interact in states like North Carolina with large minority populations.

[…]

As Judge Motz lays out the facts of this case, it’s hard not to come away with the conclusion that North Carolina’s lawmakers wanted to get caught engaging in unlawfully racial discrimination. Just one day after the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, effectively eliminating federal supervision that could have halted this voter suppression law before it ever took effect, “a leader of the party that newly dominated the legislature (and the party that rarely enjoyed African American support) announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an ‘omnibus’ election law.”

Before enacting that law, moreover, “the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.” After receiving that data, “the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.” Indeed, this data appears to have guided the state’s lawmakers in drafting a law that would have maximal impact on African-Americans.

The law did not simply contain a voter ID provision. Rather “the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” while simultaneously retaining “only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.” (Although, in fairness, this provision was later watered down.)

The legislature’s data on racial voting patterns showed that “African Americans disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting,” and so “the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting.” The data showed that “African American voters disproportionately used [same-day registration] when it was available,” and so same-day registration was cut as well. The law also eliminated out-of-precinct voting, which “required the Board of Elections in each county to count the provisional ballot of an Election Day voter who appeared at the wrong precinct, but in the correct county, for all of the ballot items for which the voter was eligible to vote.” African-Americans, meanwhile, were especially likely to take advantage of this practice.

Yet for all these changes, the lawmakers exempted absentee voting from the law’s new voter ID restriction, and it did so after discovering “that African Americans did not disproportionately use absentee voting; whites did.” Thus, as Motz summarizes the facts of the case, “the General Assembly enacted legislation restricting all — and only — practices disproportionately used by African Americans.”

Wonkblog adds on:

Most strikingly, the judges point to a “smoking gun” in North Carolina’s justification for the law, proving discriminatory intent. The state argued in court that “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic,” and said it did away with Sunday voting as a result.

“Thus, in what comes as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times, the State’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race — specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise,” the judges write in their decision.

This is about as clear-cut an indictment of the discriminatory underpinnings of voter-ID laws as you’ll find anywhere. Studies have already shown a significant link between support for voter ID and racial discrimination, among both lawmakers and white voters in general.

“Faced with this record,” the federal court concludes, “we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”

Ari Berman and Rick Hasen have their own analyses. North Carolina can ask for an en banc review, where the makeup of the full Fourth Circuit is unlikely to favor them, and they can appeal to SCOTUS, where they are unlikely to get five votes. This ruling opens the door to North Carolina being put back under federal oversight – that is, preclearance – for changes to election laws there, but it did not require it. That may yet come, as may also happen with Texas once the district court here reviews the Fifth Circuit voter ID ruling. (On that note, the hearing on how to mitigate Texas’ voter ID law is now set for August 10.) For now, this pernicious law, which was at least as bad as Texas’, has been thrown out. That would be reason enough to celebrate, but we also got good rulings in Wisconsin and Kansas, too. It’s clear to me that what we need is a constitutional amendment affirming that anyone who is eighteen, a citizen, and not currently under a felony conviction, has the right to vote and that any law that abridges that right is illegal. There are a lot of things on the progressive to-do list right now, but that one needs to be up there.

Abbott, Patrick, and Trump

William Saletan:

Republicans who have sworn allegiance to Donald Trump—the majority leaders of the United States House and Senate, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and numerous governors and members of Congress—don’t think this country can return to the racism and fascism of the 20th century. They want us to believe that Trump will respect the norms of the post-Holocaust, post-segregation era because they support him. In truth, their capitulation should alarm us. As other countries have learned, the first step in the descent to racism and fascism is to become numb to them. Over the past week, we’ve received fresh evidence that the numbing process is underway.

Since announcing his candidacy, Trump has tested our tolerance. He has insinuated that Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and Seventh-day Adventists can’t be trusted. He has proposed a ban on Muslims. These statements have thrilled his crowds, and they haven’t cost him the support of Republican leaders. In general election polls, he has pulled even with Hillary Clinton.

So the assault continues. On Friday, at a rally in San Diego, Trump claimed that the federal judge who is hearing the fraud case against Trump’s real-estate “university” isbiased and corrupt—in part, apparently, because the judge is “Mexican.”

Trump has previously portrayed people as biased or untrustworthy, based purely on Latino ancestry, on at least four occasions. Last summer, after retweeting an allegation that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife,” Trump defended this claim on the grounds that Bush’s wife—who had been an Americancitizen for more than 35 years—was “from Mexico.” On Dec. 12 and Dec. 29, Trump suggested to Republican audiences in Iowa that they shouldn’t vote for Sen. Ted Cruz because “not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba.” In February, Trump accused Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in the Trump University case, of conspiring against him, calling Curiel “Spanish” and “Hispanic.” When Trump was asked to explain the connection between the judge’s alleged bias and his ethnicity, Trump said: “I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border.”

Trump’s attack on Friday continued in this vein. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump,” he told a crowd in San Diego. “His name is”— at this point, Trump, having raised his voice like a drum roll, held up a piece of paper and pronounced the name carefully, gesturing for effect—“Gonzalo Curiel.” The audience booed, and Trump let the moment soak in, shaking his head in solidarity. Trump told the audience two things about Curiel: that he “was appointed by Barack Obama” and that he “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” After railing against Curiel and the lawsuit for more than 10 minutes, Trump concluded: “The judges in this court system, federal court—they ought to look into Judge Curiel.”

[…]

Trump’s attack on Curiel is a warning, not just about who Trump is but also about how blasé we’ve become. On Sunday, Trump’s chief strategist, Paul Manafort, and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, were interviewed on major network news shows. Neither one wasasked about Trump’s tirade against the judge. Meanwhile, Republican senators shilled for Trump as usual. Overt race-baiting has become normalized.

This is how it happens. It happens when you’re not looking. It happens because you weren’t looking.

Josh Marshall:

I confess Trump’s ‘Trump University’ turned out to be a bit more sleazy and craven than I’d realized. Does anyone remember Tom Vu, the comical, endlessly parodied late night real estate seminar infomercial king from the 80s and 90s? Trump U seems to have been a rip off on that scale. Just look at this single passage from the Times first look at the documents released [Tuesday] …

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

At the risk of using that over-used phrase, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Trump U seemed explicitly organized to prey on the financially desperate and the elderly. As I noted yesterday, when Judge Curiel acceded to the Trump lawyers’ requests to delay the trial until after the election, one of the issues he had to contend with was that many of the claims are tied to elder abuse – i.e., specific fraud statutes that cover scams targeting the elderly.

That tells you a lot.

Another point is Trump’s repeated references to the testimonials students gave praising ‘Trump University’. At the risk of stating the obvious it’s hard to see these as much more than hostage videos in which students were pressured to give glowing reviews since they were explicitly told that Trump would take a personal interest in their careers. Think about it: why videotape the testimonials at all if not to guard against a situation like the current one?

[…]

As one of my colleagues has pointed out, this really isn’t terribly different from your standard get-rich-quick real estate seminar racket. But the people who run those usually don’t run for President. Perhaps more notable, would anyone worth $10 billion get into a racket like this?

So. Just a reminder, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have both endorsed Donald Trump for President, even if Abbott is among the craven cohort who refuses to say Trump’s name in doing so. That means that they are actively supporting an openly racist con man for the office. At what point is the media in Texas going to start asking them about these things Trump is saying and doing? Do they stand with him on his racist attacks against a sitting federal judge? Note that quite a few national Republicans have at least criticized Trump’s continually escalating attacks on Judge Curiel. Even if nearly all of them do so in a weaselly way, it’s still more than what Abbott and Patrick have done, which is remain cravenly silent. As for the Trump University scam, they’s hoping the old cease and desist trick will spare them. That shouldn’t stop anyone from asking them whether they think Trump U was a scam or not. But really, the big question is what exactly does Donald Trump need to say or do to lose their support? We deserve to know.

The Dream takes on The Donald

You tell ’em, Hakeem.

Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images

Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon, a devout Muslim splitting his time between homes in Houston and outside London, England, on Saturday called the proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States “not worthy of a president.”

Olajuwon, who had returned to the United States on Wednesday, had heard of the proposal issued by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Dec. 7 that would prevent Muslims from immigrating to the United States.

“First of all, it’s amazing to see how many people came out to disregard that kind of stand, even internationally,” said Olajuwon, a naturalized United States citizen. “That kind of statement is not worthy of a president. I don’t think it was too wise a statement. It is a complex question. It is something so complex and that just gave it a generic answer to a complex question.”

[…]

“I do not believe that we have come this far that that kind of statement would come out when discussing that kind of issue today,” Olajuwon said. “I think we passed that a long time ago.”

Olajuwon, one of the most beloved figures in Houston sports history and a Hall of Famer considered one of the NBA’s greatest players, immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 1980 and became a United States citizen in 1993. He played for the 1996 United States Olympic team.

Olajuwon spoke often during his career about the importance of his faith to him and was open about his practices, from using a prayer room installed at the Rockets practice facility to following the dietary restrictions required during Ramadan. He has been a well-known participant in the large Houston Muslim community.

I’ll stand with Hakeem Olajuwon against Donald Trump any day of the week.

#IWillProtectYou

This is great and terrible at the same time.

Melissa Yassini and her 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, spend some time every evening reading messages from the thousands of people who have told Sofia not to be afraid just because she’s Muslim.

Sofia’s story of terror that she would be forced to leave America inspired a social media campaign with a hashtag, “#IWillProtectYou,” that has generated posts from soldiers, veterans and others supporting her.

“A lot of them, they call her out by name,” Melissa Yassini said on Wednesday. “That’s very important to her.”

Melissa Yassini originally shared her daughter’s response to Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump calling for a ban all Muslim immigration into the United States.

Sofia heard about Trump’s proposal while the family was watching the evening news. While Trump has said he isn’t targeting American Muslims, her mother said Sofia didn’t make that distinction.

She packed a bag with Barbie dolls, a tub of peanut butter and a toothbrush. And she checked the locks of her family’s home because she thought soldiers were coming to take her away.

[…]

Yassini said her daughter is less afraid, but still nervous. She blamed Trump’s comments about Muslims – which also include suggestions that he would require Muslims to register with the federal government or carry identification cards – for driving anti-Islamic sentiment.

“Trump’s words don’t just end at what he says on that podium,” she said. “It’s far more reaching than that. When he goes on and says these things, it almost legitimizes or empowers the general public that they can say what they feel with Muslims.”

Search Google or Facebook for plenty more. It’s wonderful that so many Americans are expressing their support for a scared little girl. It is, to use a word with which Donald Trump is familiar, disgusting that there was ever a need for this. And let’s be clear, the problem goes well beyond Donald Trump. If I thought Trump and people like him had any capacity for shame for their actions, I’d hope they are now feeling it acutely. I’ll settle for the hope that there are fewer of them that need to feel it than I fear.

Our stupid social studies

Unbelievable, except that it totally is believable.

The publisher of one of Texas’ controversial social studies textbooks has agreed to change a caption that describes African slaves as immigrant “workers” after a Houston-area mom’s social media complaints went viral over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Roni Dean-Burren of Pearland posted a screen shot on Facebook of a text message exchange with her son who sent her a photo of an infographic in his McGraw-Hill Word Geography textbook.

“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” a caption on the infographic read.

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Dean-Burren replied, including an irked emoji. The next day, she posted a video showing more of the textbook. It has since garnered more than 1.7 million views.

“It is now considered immigration,” the mother says of slavery in the video, noting that the section in her son’s textbook titled “Patterns of Immigration” describes “indentured servants who worked for little or no pay” but fails to describe the similar, if far worse, circumstances for slaves.

The next day, publishing giant McGraw-Hill said in a Facebook post it had “conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

“We believe we can do better,” the publisher continued. “To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”

The changes will be made to the digital version of the textbook immediately, the publisher said, and in the print version during its next run.

[…]

“We are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, the president of one of those groups, the Texas Freedom Network. “We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms.”

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member from Mount Pleasant who has defended the textbooks, described the caption as “an isolated incident” while noting that the 2010 curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, inspired him to run for the board because “they did go too far on some political issues.”

“But I don’t think that’s what caused this specific poor word choice,” he said, praising Dean-Burren for being proactive. “One of the biggest challenges we face in public education is parents who don’t care.”

With all due respect to Thomas Ratliff, the proximate cause is a State Board of Ed and a Legislature that seeks advice from professional liars like David Barton. People with an ideological ax to grind have long meddled in the affairs of school boards and textbook publishers, and craziness like this is the natural result. I absolutely agree that more involvement from people who would like to see more objectivity and accuracy in school curricula and textbooks is vital, though as recent polling has shown there’s a disconnect between what the people will say and what the Legislature will do. It’s still necessary. Daily Kos, Think Progress, the Chron, the Press, BOR, the Observer, and TFN Insider have more.

I stand with Ahmed

Jesus H. Christ on a cracker.

This is a travesty

Ahmed Mohamed — who makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart — hoped to impress his teachers when he brought a homemade clock to MacArthur High on Monday.

Instead, the school phoned police about Ahmed’s circuit-stuffed pencil case.

So the 14-year-old missed the student council meeting and took a trip in handcuffs to juvenile detention. His clock now sits in an evidence room. Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb — though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it’s a clock.

In the meantime, Ahmed’s been suspended, his father is upset and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is once again eyeing claims of Islamophobia in Irving.

A box full of circuit boards sits at the foot of Ahmed’s small bed in central Irving. His door marks the border where the Mohamed family’s cramped but lavishly decorated house begins to look like the back room at RadioShack.

“Here in high school, none of the teachers know what I can do,” Ahmed said, fiddling with a cable while a soldering iron dangled from the shelf behind him.

He loved robotics club in middle school and was searching for a similar niche in his first few weeks of high school.

So he decided to do what he’s always done: He built something.

Ahmed’s clock was hardly his most elaborate creation. He said he threw it together in about 20 minutes before bedtime on Sunday: a circuit board and power supply wired to a digital display, all strapped inside a case with a tiger hologram on the front.

He showed it to his engineering teacher first thing Monday morning and didn’t get quite the reaction he’d hoped for.

“He was like, ‘That’s really nice,’” Ahmed said. “‘I would advise you not to show any other teachers.’”

He kept the clock inside his school bag in English class, but the teacher complained when the alarm beeped in the middle of a lesson. Ahmed brought his invention up to show her afterward.

“She was like, it looks like a bomb,” he said.

“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”

The teacher kept the clock. When the principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of sixth period, he suspected he wouldn’t get it back.

They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion. But the police kept him busy with questions.

The bell rang at least twice, he said, while the officers searched his belongings and questioned his intentions. The principal threatened to expel him if he didn’t make a written statement, he said.

“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

All that happened on Tuesday. Ahmed was subsequently arrested, handcuffed, walked through the school in handcuffs – that’s the picture above – fingerprinted, and finally released, with the cops eventually admitting that it was a clock, as he had been saying all along. Ahmed is now an Internet celebrity, and another example of how public officials like Irving’s Mayor who pander to fear and hate in the name of “security” do far more damage than good. And yeah, race and religion was a factor. Shame on everyone involved in this debacle, and good on you, Ahmed Mohammed, for being a kid who likes to build things. Keep on doing what you’re doing, and don’t let the turkeys get you down. TPM, Think Progress, Daily Kos, Kevin Drum, Slate, Vox, Wonkblog, Gawker, Mic, the Current, the Trib, the Observer, and Juanita have more.

Katrina, ten years after

Hurricane Katrina made landfall ten years ago this weekend. The Chron looks at the role Houston played in the aftermath, and the changes that resulted.

Before and after Katrina’s Aug. 29 landfall as a strong Category 3 storm, more than 1 million people fled Louisiana and coastal Mississippi. As many as 250,000 landed in Houston – more than 27,000 of the most traumatized arriving at the Astrodome and other Houston shelters in a 500-bus caravan from the drowned Big Easy. By October 2005, approximately 100,000 evacuees temporarily had made Houston their home.

Today, perhaps heeding the oft-tendered advice of Katrina-era Mayor Bill White to “look forward, not backward,” as many as 40,000, by some estimates, permanently have settled in the Houston metro area.

“We no longer think of them as evacuees,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “They are Houstonians in every sense of the word and we are happy to have them.”

In the excruciating days after Katrina’s onslaught, Houston responded with open arms. As many 60,000 residents volunteered to help. From a downtown command center, White, assisted by then-Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and business, civic and faith leaders, oversaw a multi-million dollar campaign to house, feed, train and provide health care for the newcomers.

“Houston,” said White, “showed how to combine competence and compassion, and that was done at a time when public officials at the federal and other levels fumbled the ball.”

For his leadership, White later received the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s Profile in Courage Award.

But throughout the city there were largely unremarked instances of kindness.

Within weeks of arriving in Houston, the Rev. Gary Mack, a pastor at New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, was contacted by Houston First Baptist Church with an offer of assistance. Mack was offered use of a chapel to preach to his displaced congregation and a salary. Food and furniture were collected for church members in need.

“Coming from New Orleans, we had pretty much been living in our own communities,” Mack said. “Seldom have African-American churches and Caucasian churches gotten together in this way. Katrina tore down those walls. It was a totally new perspective of worship and God’s goodness.”

Still, for thousands of the displaced, overcoming Katrina’s hardship was daunting.

The storm flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, killed more than 1,800 people in five states and caused more than $135 billion in damage. Federal and private insurance companies paid more than $57 billion in claims, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency pumped more than $131 billion into stricken states for public works and other recovery efforts.

By July 2006, New Orleans’ 2000 population had dropped by more than half. And while the city’s population has rebounded to 80 percent of its pre-storm total, vast tracts of low-lying inner city neighborhoods remain derelict and virtually unpeopled.

Full coverage from the Chron is here. I don’t have any wisdom to offer here. I’ve been spending the week reading what other folks have been saying about this disaster that was as much political as it was natural. See Jamelle Bouie and this three part series from D.R. Tucker for some of the stronger examples. I also recommend this Urban Edge story debunking the myth that there was a crime wave in Houston following the arrival of Katrina evacuees. I fear we still haven’t learned what this tragedy should have taught us. Texas Leftist, Vice, and TPM have more.

Dashcam video from Sandra Bland arrest released

The Press has a good writeup. I’m just going to quote the two bits of transcript they provided:

Sandra Bland

“What’s wrong?” the trooper asked as he delivered Bland her ticket. “You seem very irritated.”

“I really am, because I feel like it’s crap for what I’m getting a ticket for,” Bland said. “I was getting out of your way. You were speeding and tailing me, so I move over and you stop me. So yeah, I am a little irritated.”

“Are you done?” the trooper said.

“You asked me what was wrong and I told you,” Bland said.

“OK,” the officer said. “You mind putting out your cigarette please?”

“I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?”

“Well,” the officer said, “you can step out now.”

“I don’t have to,” Bland said.

“Step out.”

Emphasis mine. Right there, the cop should have said “Have a nice day” and walked away. I’m sorry, but any cop who can’t handle a little mouthy frustration from someone who just got a ticket they don’t think they deserved shouldn’t have a badge and a gun. He escalated the situation. There was no need to tell her to put out her cigarette, and no justification at all for telling her to get out of the car when she justifiably told him No. And it gets worse from there:

“You do not have the right to do that,” Bland says.

“I do have the right, now step out or I will remove you,” the officer says.

“I am getting removed for a failure to signal?”

“I am giving you a lawful order. Get outta the car now.”

“I’m calling my lawyer.”

“I’m gonna yank you out of here,” the officer said, while leaning over and reaching into the car.

“Don’t touch me! I’m not under arrest,” Bland says.

“You are under arrest,” the officer says.

“For what? For what?”

There’s a pause. The officer does not answer.

“Get out of the car, now!”

Bland walks out of the car and around the back, as directed by the officer. The rest takes place off camera, though you can hear what’s going on.

“You feeling good about yourself?” she says. “You feel good about yourself? Why will you not tell me what’s going on? Ya’ll bitch asses scared. That’s it.”

Then there is a shuffling sound, and Bland screams, “You’re about to fucking break my wrist!”

Then Bland screams.

“Stop… moving… now!” the officer shouts. “Stop it!”

Bland begins to cry. Through sobs, she says, “For a traffic signal… for a fucking traffic signal. I can’t feel my arm.”

“You’re going to jail,” the officer says. “For resisting arrest.”

Unbelievable. And completely unacceptable. Even more, as the Trib reports, what can be seen contradicts the officer’s account of what happened. I don’t know what happened to Sandra Bland – we may never know for sure – but the one thing I do know is that Sandra Bland should never have been in jail in the first place. That is the root cause of what happened. And it’s as clear an illustration of what the #BlackLivesMatter protesters have been talking about all along as one could see. This is what needs to be fixed. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: Lisa Falkenberg has more.

Ralph Garr

On the anniversary this week of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, the Chron profiles his teammate and resident of nearby Richmond, Ralph Garr.

With Henry Aaron sitting on 714 career home runs as the Braves prepared to play the Dodgers on April 8, 1974, Atlanta leadoff hitter Ralph Garr badly wanted to be on base when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record.

Garr made it for Aaron’s 714th, but not for 715. He was in the Braves’ dugout as Aaron connected off pitcher Al Downing to become baseball’s home run king, 40 years ago Tuesday.

Garr went 0-for-3 that night, but he had 25 hits over the next 11 games en route to his own milestone. As baseball celebrates the anniversary of Aaron’s record-breaking homer, Garr this year commemorates the 40th anniversary of his 1974 National League batting title.

He and his wife, Ruby, traveled from their Fort Bend County home in Richmond to Atlanta for Tuesday’s ceremony honoring Aaron, 80. After that, it’s back home to his job as a part-time scout for the Braves.

“You never think about it, but 40 years, that’s a long time,” Garr said. “I had a good year because everybody was worried about Henry Aaron hitting a home run. They weren’t paying much attention to me.”

Garr, 68, was known as “the Road Runner” for his speed (3.85 seconds from home plate to first base). He had 1,562 hits in 1,317 games over 13 major league seasons, including 803 hits in his first four full seasons. His lifetime batting average was .306, including his league-best .353 in 1974, and he twice led the National League in triples.

Columnist Jim Murray once said of him: “Ralph Garr is as hard to get out as an impacted tooth.”

But Garr’s thoughts this week are on Aaron’s skill and the quiet grace with which he handled the threats and abuse that accompanied his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s record.

“He had taken Dusty Baker and me under his wing, and while all that was going on, he would tell us in the dugout, ‘Don’t sit too close to me,’ ” Garr said. “He didn’t want anything to happen to us.

“Whenever he got to the ballpark, he was all business, regardless of what was going on around him. I’ve never seen a person who could shed things and do his job so well. He is one of the nicest human beings you would want to meet, and he’s a better man than he was a baseball player.”

It’s a nice story about a very good player who had a front seat to history, so go check it out. I’m old enough to have been a baseball fan at the time Aaron broke The Babe’s record, but I don’t have any specific memories of it. Like many people I’m sure, it wasn’t till years later that I learned about the terrible, horrifying racism Aaron faced as he chased down Ruth. He talks about it in this USA Today story – he kept every nasty letter he received, some choice quotes from which are documented at Braves blog Talking Chop. Over at Time, Jon Friedman makes the case that Aaron would have faced worse in today’s troll-laden social media environment. Perhaps ironically, or perhaps not, some wingnut sites do their best to prove his point. (I have no desire to link to them, but here are the URLs I found on the same page as the Google search that led me to Friedman’s piece: http://hotair.com/archives/2014/04/07/time-hank-aaron-wouldve-faced-more-racism-today-because-twitter/ and http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tom-blumer/2014/04/07/times-jon-friedman-fails-show-hank-aaron-would-face-worse-social-media-d) Anyway, these are all good reads for your weekend, as is Craig Calcaterra’s take on that USA Today story. I’ll close with a quote from Hammerin’ Hank in that article:

“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 40 years, and I think more people appreciate it now than 20 years ago,” Aaron says. “History has a way of doing that. People appreciate it more the longer it lasts.”

Aaron acknowledges [Barry] Bonds as the the recordholder. There will be a day, he says, when Bonds’ mark will be broken.

Aaron, who has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, might not be alive to see it.

Yet when it happens, Aaron says, he hopes he’ll find joy in the chase.

“I just hope we can all enjoy the game and celebrate the next athlete who hits 60 homers or even 50 homers,” Aaron says, “and not worry about whether he’s taking anything or he’s on anything.

“Most of all, I pray that no one ever again, in any walk of life, has to go through what I did.”​

Amen to that.

Don’t expect much from the review of Judge Edith Jones

History says that nothing much will happen.

Judge Edith Jones

Federal judicial disciplinary action is extremely rare in the United States, where district and circuit judges enjoy lifetime appointments and more than 95 percent of complaints are dismissed.

However, some jurists have been disciplined and some publicly apologized after being accused of misconduct related to complaints of alleged racial, gender or ethnic biases.

Mocking the dialect of a black defendant during a hearing by writing “Ah is Important” on a note, and other offensive quips earned U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald a 2000 reprimand for “offensive banter.”

McDonald, now deceased, had passed the notes to a court employee and intended them to be private. They became public after being dug out of the trash and passed to a Spokane newspaper reporter.

[…]

Repeatedly, judicial slips of the lip – and crude jokes – have avoided public sanction, especially when a jurist accused of misconduct offers an apology.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took no action against Montana U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who apologized after forwarding a racist email “joke” about President Barack Obama that included a reference to bestiality, though the Montana Human Rights Network filed a formal complaint asking for Cebull’s resignation.

The Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 gave federal judges the power to secretly vet and, when necessary, to investigate misconduct complaints against their peers. Hundreds are filed each year. However, only Congress can impeach or remove a district or circuit judge for so-called “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

[…]

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, reviewed affidavits and the complaint and said that even if Jones’ remarks offended some listeners, they did not appear to rise to the level of judicial misconduct.

“The judge has firm views but … it is normal for judges to express their views on contested issues especially before legal audiences and in law schools,” he said.

In the last three decades, only four former chief circuit court judges, including Jones, have faced a public misconduct complaint. Two received no public disciplinary action.

See here and here for the background. Even if the Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals writes up a report about Judge Jones, it may never be made public. It would be nice to imagine Jones facing some actual consequences for her words, but it seems highly unlikely that will happen.

Review ordered for Jones allegations

Moving forward.

Judge Edith Jones

Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court formally ordered on Wednesday that a rare public judicial misconduct complaint against 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones be reviewed by officials in a different circuit — one based in the nation’s capital.

“I have selected the Judicial Council of the District of Columbia Circuit to accept the transfer and to exercise the powers of a judicial council with respect to the identified complaint and any pending or new complaints relating to the same subject matter,” Roberts said in a letter addressed to the D.C. circuit’s chief judge that was posted on the 5th Circuit’s website.

It is only one of a handful of times in U.S. history that a federal circuit judge has been the subject of a public judicial misconduct complaint and a formal disciplinary review. Normally such matters are secret under federal law.

“This is a hopeful sign that (federal judges) are taking this seriously,” says a lawyer who signed the complaint, James C. Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

[…]

Chief Justice Roberts’ letter, dated June 12, reports that the reassignment of the judicial misconduct complaint against Jones to jurists in Washington, D.C., came in response to a request for transfer from the current Chief Judge of the 5th Circuit, Carl E. Stewart.

Stewart, who replaced Jones as chief judge last October, apparently requested last week that the June 4 complaint review be assigned to another circuit court for review. However, his request on Friday for transfer was not previously made public.

See here for the background. Chief Justice Roberts’ letter is here, and more on the details of the complaint are here and here. I have no idea what to expect out of this, but I’m glad to see it being taken seriously. BOR has more.

Sebastien De La Cruz

You da man, Sebastien.

A soft-spoken boy with a big voice isn’t about to let obnoxious online remarks bring him down — especially when he has so many positive ones in his virtual corner.

Fans of Sebastien De La Cruz have rallied on social media to support the young mariachi, whose rendition of the national anthem Tuesday at the Spurs game against the Miami Heat set off a flurry of racist tweets criticizing the 11-year-old.

“On the positive remarks, I just want to thank everybody for their support,” Sebastien said at a hastily organized news conference Wednesday. “With the racism remarks, to be honest, it’s just the people how they were raised. My father and my mother told me that you should never judge people by how they look. You should judge them on the inside. And the saying that I go by is never judge a book by its cover.”

On his Twitter account @selcharrodeoro, he said, “Please do not pay attention to the negative people. I am an American living the American dream. This is part of the American life.”

Mayor Julián Castro offered his own words of support on his Facebook page, telling Sebastien “don’t let a few negative voices get you down. You are a true talent and you represent the best of our nation’s future!”

[…]

Sebastien, who has appeared on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” was a last minute replacement at Tuesday’s game, subbing for former Hootie & the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker.

Sebastien’s mom, Stacy De La Cruz, said her son knew of the harsh remarks and told her not to cry about them, but instead to save her tears for joy when he sings.

“I’d rather shed more happy tears than sad tears,” she said. “But I will say this: As a mom, a parent, I’m going to be overprotective. I’m going to look over my shoulder, over their shoulder. We have four children. I’m going to be looking over all of them. (But as for those negative) words, it’s always that saying, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt.’”

More grace and guts in his little finger than all the racist idiot cowards out there put together. Hell of a singer, too:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, also a class act, has it exactly right:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich offered words of encouragement for Sebastien De La Cruz, the young San Antonian who drew a flurry of racist comments on Twitter after singing the national anthem Tuesday at Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

“I would like to say I would be shocked or surprised by the comments,” Popovich said about an hour before tipoff of Thursday’s Game 4 at the AT&T Center. “But given the fact that there’s still a significant element of bigotry and racism in our nation, I’m not surprised.

“It still plagues us, obviously. And what I was surprised by was how proud these idiots were of their ignorance by printing their names next to their comments.

“(De La Cruz) is a class act. Way more mature than most his age. And as much as those comments by the idiots saddens you about your country, he makes you feel that the future could be very bright.”

Damn right it does. Good on the Spurs for bringing him back for Game 4.

You keep doing what you’re doing, Sebastien. We need as many people like you as we can get. Lisa Falkenbergand Think Progress have more.

Complaints filed against federal judge Edith Jones

This is a potential blockbuster.

Judge Edith Jones

A broad coalition of groups — including an agency funded by the Mexican government (the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program), various civil rights organizations, legal ethics experts, and law professors — filed the complaint against 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones, who in October relinquished her title as “chief judge” of that court. The New Orleans-based court is one of the most conservative in the country and handles appeals from Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

The complaint alleges that at a speech on Feb. 20, 2013, to lawyers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, Jones made statements that violated basic rules of judicial ethics, including the fundamental duty of impartiality.

Among her statements:

  • That certain “racial groups like African Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime,” are “’prone’ to commit acts of violence,” and get involved in more violent and “heinous” crimes than people of other ethnicities;
  • That Mexican nationals would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than serving prison terms in Mexico, and it is an insult for the United States to look to the laws of other countries such as Mexico;
  • That Defendants’ claims of racism, innocence, arbitrariness, and violations of international law and treaties are really nothing more than “red herrings” used by opponents of capital punishment;
  • That claims of “mental retardation” by capital defendants disgust her, and the fact such persons were convicted of a capital crime is itself sufficient to prove they are not in fact “mentally retarded”; and
  • That the imposition of a death sentence provides a positive service to capital-case defendants because defendants are likely to make peace with God only in the moment before their imminent execution.

The Trib has links to the complaint and the affidavits. Kos notes that according to the complaint, Jones “also made prejudicial remarks on cases that have yet to wind their way through the lower courts, cases in which she may have a say during any appeals”, which certainly sounds problematic to me. BOR points out that Jones is hardly a stranger to controversy. Having said all that, the group that sponsored her talk has come to Jones’ defense, so the matter is far from settled. I look forward to seeing how this plays out. The Fifth Circuit is in dire need of a makeover, and if it begins with President Obama getting to name a replacement for Judge Edith Jones, that would be all kinds of awesome.

RIP, William Wayne Justice

One of the great protectors of civil rights has passed away.

U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice — beloved by some, loathed by others — changed Texas civil and inmate rights in ways few political figures have over the past half-century. Justice, who spent 30 years on the bench and once was dubbed “the real governor of Texas” for his rulings, died Tuesday at age 89.

Black children across Texas attend public schools because Justice enforced federal desegregation laws in 1970.

Hispanic children gained the same rights as blacks because of Justice’s rulings. His orders prompted bilingual education in Texas.

Texas must educate all children regardless of their immigration status because of a Justice decision.

Juveniles convicted of crimes were moved from incarceration in work camps to modern rehabilitation facilities at his command.

The most sweeping change of all was the Ruiz prison reform case that ended brutal conditions for inmates and prompted a massive building boom that gave Texas one of the largest and most modern incarceration systems in the nation.

Civil rights activists praised Justice during his lifetime, but in his hometown of Tyler he often was scorned.

“I’m basically a very shy, retiring person, but fate has put me in a situation where I’ve been in the midst of controversy,” Justice told biographer Frank Kemerer for a 1991 book. “Controversy is now kind of a way of life with me. But I have never particularly liked it.”

The Tyler Morning Telegraph, from his onetime hometown, has a nice writeup as well. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Judge Justice. Stace and Harold Cook have more.

Justice for Hispanic farmers

I received an email about this and thought it was worth passing on.

Hispanic farmers and ranchers deserve justice! Join us in calling on President Obama to end discrimination and bring transparency to USDA-administered farm programs. Sign the petition online here.


GUADALUPE L. GARCIA JR. v. TOM VILSACK

United States District Court for the District of Columbia

Civil Action No. 1:00CV02445

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Civil Action No. 04-5448 (Consolidated)

The Garcia case is a class action lawsuit which seeks to remedy years of massive and admitted discrimination against Hispanic farmers and ranchers who were denied access to United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) loan programs in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1691, et seq. The lawsuit also seeks to remedy discrimination against Hispanic farmers and ranchers in the administration of USDA farm benefit programs. Unlike most lawsuits, the salient facts in this case are not disputed.

According to such authoritative sources as the United States Commission on Civil Rights, the Congress of the United States and former Agriculture Secretary Glickman, the original defendant in this case, the USDA has a long, sordid and well-documented history of discrimination against minorities in connection with farm credit and benefit programs. The USDA not only systematically discriminated against Hispanic and other minority farmers for decades, but in the early 1980s the USDA secretly dismantled its apparatus for civil rights enforcement. As a result, for approximately fifteen years, minority farmers who complained of discrimination in connection with farm credit and benefit programs, found their complaints relegated to a bureaucratic black hole. Those complaints that were not lost or intentionally destroyed were placed in an empty office to gather dust. When Congress learned this, it took the extraordinary step of waiving the ECOA’s two-year statute of limitations applicable to claims arising from January 1, 1981 to December 31, 1996.  To date, the government has paid nearly $1 billion to almost 13,000 black farmers who alleged discrimination identical to that experienced by Hispanic and other minority farmers and ranchers.  Yet despite the historic settlement of the black farmers’ lawsuit, tens of thousands of black farmers are disgruntled because (1) they were denied hearings on the merits of their claims, and (2) the settlement provided no forward-looking remedial relief.


There’s a lot more at the link, so check it out.

Retired general calls out Perry

Damn.

A retired Air National Guard general called Thursday with three worries.

“Something bad’s gone wrong in this country,” said retired Brig. Gen. Tom Daniels, 62, of Fort Worth.

“Something’s wrong in Arlington. Something’s wrong in Austin. And something’s wrong in America.”

He flew missions in Vietnam. In the Pentagon, he served proudly under President George H.W. Bush — “whom I loved,” he added.

“Now our country chooses a black man as president — and suddenly, the governor is talking about secession? And Arlington is boycotting the president? They won’t even let children see him in school?”

[…]

“All I know is, the black guy wins, and suddenly these nuts are out there on TV and radio preaching to long-haul truck drivers all over the country,” Daniels said.

“Somebody needs to start talking back. Where are the moderates in the Republican Party? Where are the people like George [H.W.] Bush who made sense? They’re letting the nuts lead them around by the nose.”

[…]

Daniels reserved special vitriol for Gov. Rick Perry.

“He’s Air Force. He should be ashamed,” Daniels said. “I’m ashamed of him.” Perry “should know better” than to float talk about Texas leaving the U.S., Daniels said.

“Even for a campaign, it’s the wrong thing to talk about,” he said. “That’s not our Texas. We love our country. We’re not going anywhere. We don’t believe in secession.”

He had one final question.

“When is somebody in Arlington or Austin going to stand up to these people?”

Well, there’s still room in the Democratic primary for Governor if you want the job yourself, General. Be that as it may, I look forward to seeing the sure-to-be respectful and reasoned response that his remarks will engender from the rank and file of today’s Republican Party, and which will undoubtedly do nothing, nothing at all, to prove his point.

Jones and Caynon, take two

If you thought that the fight between Council Member Jolanda Jones and Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Jeff Caynon was over, think again.

Earlier this week, City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones sent out a letter with nearly 70 names collected by firefighters expressing support for her advocacy about racial problems in the Houston Fire Department (more here).

Well, apparently, some of those whose names are on the letter didn’t actually sign the letter, and they are not happy about it.

There’s an affidavit in which the firefighters ask for a public apology and an investigation into how their names got on that letter. CM Jones then fired back. This is the sort of thing that could have been handled more privately and with a lower level of rancor if the relationship between Jones and Caynon not been so bad. Of course, if the relationship between the two of them been better, none of this would have happened in the first place.

I don’t know what to say about all that, but I will say this: Starting next week, I’m going to be interviewing Council members, now that I’ve done most of the non-incumbent candidates. You can be sure that the HFD saga will come up. Maybe I should try to schedule some time with Jeff Caynon as well.

Tuesday Council roundup

Council Member Sue Lovell, who is running hard for re-election after her close win in 2007, has added some fundraising muscle to her team.

Houston Vice Mayor Pro Tem Sue Lovell announced today that Robert Miller would lead the Finance Committee for her campaign for re-election to At-Large Position 2 on the Houston City Council.

Miller is chair of the Public Law Practice Group at the law firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell and a past Chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas.

“Robert Miller and I have worked together on so many important projects that are making a real difference for Houston,” said Lovell. “I am thrilled – and honored – to work with him again on my campaign.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that Houston needs Sue Lovell’s leadership in the next two years,” said Miller. “With a new mayor and controller facing an uncertain economy, Council Member Lovell’s knowledge, experience and results-driven approach will be critical to continuing our progress.”

This is a good get for Lovell. Miller’s one of those people who knows everyone and should bring with him a lot of opportunities to add to her campaign coffers. Expect her to have a strong 30-days-out report.

One of Lovell’s opponents, Roslyn “Rozzy” Shorter now has a new website. She’s also on Twitter, meaning I’d better update my post. She did not report raising any money in the first half of the year, however, so it’s hard to say how much of a threat she’ll be to Lovell.

Speaking of fundraising, I’ve updated my spreadsheet to reflect the fact that a number of previously missing reports are now – finally! – available online. Anyone who still doesn’t have a report up at this point is presumed by me to have not filed one.

Over in At Large #5, new entrant Dr. Davetta Mills Daniels had her campaign kickoff reception tonight. You can see the invitation and sponsor list here as a Google doc. I’ll be very interested to see what her finance report looks like in October.

Meanwhile, At Large #5 Council Member Jolanda Jones released this letter of support from current, former, and retired Houston firefighters. I presume that was in response to this story about female firefighters who met with Mayor White and pushed back on the charges of rampant sexism and racism within HFD.

Finally, the Houston Press has a detailed report from Monday’s Council hearings on BARC that includes grades for various Council members’ performance. That’s a novel way to approach this sort of thing, and I daresay it will get some strong reactions from inside City Hall Annex.

Jones versus HPFFA

Yeesh.

The head of the Houston firefighters union blasted City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for her handling of allegations of racism and sexism in the Houston Fire Department, saying in a sharply worded letter on Thursday that she had disparaged “thousands of firefighters.”

The letter, written by Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 341 President Jeff Caynon, also accuses her of making threats, intimidation and “racist ranting” during a July 14 discussion at a local restaurant.

Jones has urged the city to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for handling discrimination incidents and has stood by the side of two female firefighters who found racist and sexist graffiti scrawled in their quarters at an airport fire station earlier this month.

But Caynon, who is black, said in the letter that she crossed a line in the meeting when she referred to him as a “house Negro” only interested in keeping his job.

The term compares a person to the stereotype of a docile black servant living inside the house of a master during slavery.

“You imply that I am not really ‘black’ because I do not share your biased point of view,” Caynon wrote. “I do not know where to begin in responding, except to say that you and the race-baiting opportunists criticizing HFD deserve one another. I am indeed interested in keeping my job, and the choice between standing with the men and women of the HPFFA or standing with you is not a difficult one. Your insults are unwarranted, ignorant and damaging.”

You know, I like Council Member Jones. I think it’s a good thing, especially in our strong-Mayor system, for there to be a couple of Council members who march to their own beat, even if I don’t always agree with where that takes them. I have no idea what she was thinking here. There’s no place for this, and she needs to apologize. I note that the Chron story says she denies using the term “house Negro”, but she admitted to it in this KHOU story, saying she was “talking in passion.” She is also pushing back on her Facebook page, where she disputes one of the claims Caynon makes in his letter in her status. You can see the letter here. (PDF) Miya has more.

UPDATE: Here is CM Jones’ response. The key bits:

I disagree, in the strongest terms, with Mr. Caynon’s characterization of our meeting. While he is entitled to his opinion, justice will be served if we are operating under the same set of facts. There was no threat by the restaurant owner to call the police. In fact, as I was leaving I was pulled aside by a woman sitting at the next table with her young son, who wanted her son to meet me because she was proud that I was standing up for women.

I challenged Mr. Caynon in our heated conversation to stand up more forcefully for these female firefighters – whose jobs are stressful enough without having to deal with a hostile work environment while putting their lives at risk to keep Houston safe. During this heated discussion, I used inappropriate language used by others to describe Mr. Caynon, and for this, I apologize.

I want Houstonians to know that I will continue to challenge Mr. Caynon and our leaders until we honor all our firefighters by providing a workplace that is free from discrimination, intimidation and retaliation for ALL.

I respectfully ask Mr. Caynon and the union to do the same.

So there you have it.

HFD’s shame

I really don’t know what there is to say about the recent ugliness within the Houston Fire Department. It’s a shame and an outrage, and I sincerely hope the steps Mayor White is taking go a long way towards making sure this never happens again. We’re better than this, I know that.

City Controller and Mayoral candidate Annise Parker addressed the incidents here. Candidate Gene Locke sent out a press release, which I’ve included beneath the fold. I’ve not seen anything from Peter Brown or Roy Morales, but if I do I’ll add it to this post.

UPDATE: I have received a statement from Peter Brown as well, which I have added beneath Gene Locke’s statement.

(more…)