Regarding the Harding Street drug raid violence and related matters

During the evening of Monday, 2019 January 28, the execution of a drug-related search warrant by Houston Police Department officers ended with five officers going to the hospital, four for gunfire-related injuries and a fifth with a knee injury (KHOU.com report). In the aftermath of this, the president of the Houston Police Officers Union, Joe Gamaldi, minced no words in calling those who fired back upon the HPD officers “dirtbags” in addition to stating the following (quote from a later KHOU.com story):

If you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, just know we’ve all got your number now, we’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure that we hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers. We’ve had enough, folks. We’re out there doing our jobs every day, putting our lives on the line for our families.

I feel the need to address these latter comments as a long-time outspoken critic of some activities of law enforcement and the legal system.

First, I have never advocated violence against law enforcement officers or others who work in the legal system (such as attorneys, judges, etc). I condemn the violence that occurred this Monday with the same vigor that I condemned the murder of Deputy Darren Goforth in 2015. The actions of the suspects are an outrageous affront to decent society and it is my hope that the officers injured in the shootout make the best and speediest recovery possible given current medical technology.

I get that as the president of a police officers union in a large city, a lot of the job is PR and, by extension, playing up the cops as the good guys. I wish I could say for sure exactly what was intended by the words “stir the pot” in this context. I would like to think that First Amendment-protected nonviolent free speech, in the form of criticism of law enforcement officers who betray the trust of those they are supposed to be serving and protecting, is not being targeted as “stir[ring] the pot”.

It is unavoidable that sooner or later, some cops will prove it was a mistake to trust them with the power of the badge. There are bad apples in every field: medicine (doctors, nurses, EMTs), fast food/restaurants, messengers/couriers, information technology (including internet help desks and sysadmins), marketing and PR, entertainment (including youth-focused classes of entertainment such as face painting and balloon twisting), just to name a few. It stands to reason that some who enter law enforcement and the practice of the people’s/state’s side of criminal law will wind up showing their lack of fitness to serve their respective professions.

The difference is that a bad cop or a bad DA can really screw up a life or even multiple lives with a mistake, more so than most other professions. When they do, we, the people, have the right to be heard and speak out about it. We, the people, have just as much of a right to hold law enforcement and DAs accountable as we do to hold anyone else accountable. Sometimes the last-ditch appeal to the press is the only thing that really works.

I get that law enforcement is a risky business. But don’t forget the US Constitution is part of those laws as well.

Freedom of religion and the Greater Church of Lucifer

Raw Story recently reported on the recent opening of the Greater Church of Lucifer (GCOL) in Spring, Texas, and the activity surrounding it. It should be no big surprise that some Christians in the area protested the opening, with such remarks as this one from a protester:

This is what we get when we have freedom of religion… We ought to be filling up the whole street here, that they have to pass through us to get into that church.

According to local news reports, the church was the target of vandalism. This is not only against the law, it violates the very rules that Christians are supposed to live by according to the Bible, one of those being “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39).

Let’s go back to the protester’s quote for a moment. Freedom of religion means freedom to practice any religion, no matter how unconventional, unpopular, or weird. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card to break the law (for example, the GCOL wouldn’t be able to do goat sacrifices any more than any Christian church would be allowed to do something similar based on Old Testament scripture).

If one were to have asked that woman months prior to the GCOL opening if freedom of religion were a good thing, odds are she would have answered along the lines of “yes, people should be allowed to worship God however they please.” But it’s about more than that. From the First Amendment to the US Consitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

(Later case law has extended this to apply to state and local governments as well. See Free Exercise Clause on Wikipedia.)

Oddly enough, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment has been used by Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years to get laws discriminating against them struck down. I will admit Jehovah’s Witnesses, even among some Christians, aren’t held in that high of regard; I, personally, can understand wanting to spread the gospel, but here in 2015, knocking on doors of strangers is just not the way to do it. Even decades ago, I’m not sure it was the best way to go. I mean, I know where to get a Bible and where the church is if I want to go. It’s not that hard to find the gospel if one really wants it, unless one is literally in the middle of nowhere (even in rural America, churches are not terribly hard to find, though they may be miles away from where one lives).

Anyway, freedom of religion is for everyone. It prohibits the government from discriminating against Christianity (both Protestant and Catholic denominations), Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, neo-pagan religions (such as Wicca), Pastafarianism, agnosticism, atheism/humanism, and yes, even Satanism and Luciferianism. This is of course not an all-inclusive list, but it should give you some idea as to just how diverse religions and systems of belief can be.

This is something that the Christian zealots quickly forget. Many of them want freedom of religion for themselves, but not for the many other faiths practiced across the country. If freedom of religion is there for Christians, it also has to be there for atheists/humanists and organizations like the Greater Church of Lucifer. Anything else is discriminatory.

Thoughts on our immigration problem and language

This post has its origin in an incident that occurred to me somewhat recently riding the bus home from a recent event. Without giving too many details, the dispute stemmed from the fact someone who I really didn’t have any intent of talking to, who insisted on asking me questions in Spanish. Funny thing is, he had no issue speaking to someone else in English, and had he just spoken to me in English (the only language he spoke that I understand) to begin with, there would have been no issues…

Anyway, this got me thinking about a lot of immigration issues. I’m not going to cite a specific news story or event. Instead I’m going to merely cite Government Code 2054.116:

Sec. 2054.116. SPANISH LANGUAGE CONTENT ON AGENCY WEBSITES. (a) In this section, “person of limited English proficiency” means a person whose primary language is other than English and whose English language skills are such that the person has difficulty interacting effectively with a state agency.
(b) Each state agency shall make a reasonable effort to ensure that Spanish-speaking persons of limited English proficiency can meaningfully access state agency information online.
(c) In determining whether a state agency is providing meaningful access, an agency shall consider:
(1) the number or proportion of Spanish-speaking persons of limited English proficiency in the agency’s eligible service population;
(2) the frequency with which Spanish-speaking persons of limited English proficiency seek information regarding the agency’s programs;
(3) the importance of the services provided by the agency’s programs; and
(4) the resources available to the agency.
(d) In making a reasonable effort to provide meaningful access, the state agency must avoid:
(1) providing information in Spanish that is limited in scope;
(2) unreasonably delaying the provision of information in Spanish; and
(3) providing program information, including forms, notices, and correspondence, in English only.
(e) This section does not apply to interactive applications provided through the state electronic Internet portal.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 683 (S.B. 213), Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2005.
Amended by:
Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 973 (H.B. 1504), Sec. 16, eff. June 17, 2011.

There are at least three important things to notice about this law, and a couple that relate to the issue in general:

  1. It has only been around since 2005. In other words, we have gotten by for about 160 years as a state (in the US) without it. Why it was suddenly necessary to make a law in 2005 is a mystery to me, and probably to most Texas residents.
  2. The intent of the law is to help people who do not understand English, by catering to them in a foreign language (Spanish) at significant additional (taxpayer) expense.
  3. However, in spite of this, the practical effect of the law is to provide a massive impediment to declaring English the official language of the state, and is the first step down a potentially slippery slope towards just the opposite.
  4. Outside of a couple of specific waivers, the exam for US Citizenship is only issued in one language, which is English. The intent of this is that most residents of the US speak English, but that only works when most of them are here legally or care about becoming a citizen. The masses who have come here by whatever unlawful means (swimming across the river, hiking across the desert, etc) have no real intentions of becoming citizens, and when state governments like Texas give them no incentive, we have the issue where asking someone a question in English gets a blank look.

A brief Texas history lesson for those who grew up outside the state: In 1836, Texas fought for, and won, its independence from Mexico. In 2016 March, just a few short months from now, Texas will celebrate the 180th anniversary of its independence from Mexico. The war with Mexico was a bloody conflict with a lot of lives lost, and I would like to think that war was not fought in vain. However, it is difficult to tell how successful we were, when Mexico’s current population finds whatever (usually illegal) methods to cross the border and refuses to learn our language (English), our laws (failure to yield right of way is frighteningly common on the roads in areas of town with a heavily Hispanic population, as is complete confusion on whose turn it is to go at an all-way stop), and our culture, including our manners and customs (some of my worst encounters with rude people, have almost invariably been with someone of either Hispanic descent or Mexican nationals who were illegal aliens in the US at the time).

(Incdentially, as best I can find, “quasequinquecentennial” would be the word for 180th anniversary. It’s not going to be in the dictionary just yet. And definitely don’t try playing it in a Scrabble game; I think it won’t even fit on the board.)

The Power Hour posted this information that the Mexican government gives its expatriating citizens (translated to English, thankfully) and a lot of it is surprising. Of course they say the safest way across is legally: with a passport and visa. That’s on the first two pages… of a 32 page booklet. Officially, of course, the Mexican government says again on the last page they do not condone the illegal crossing of the border; the reality is though, most of the translated booklet is a “how to” on how to cross the border illegally and the risks involved in doing so.

In fact, to me, the 28 or so pages in between completely belie this statement that they don’t in fact condone illegal immigration into the US. If most of the 28 pages were an explanation of the immigration laws of other countries including the US, and placed the emphasis on how to immigrate to the US legally, it would be a different story. The fact is, that’s not the case.

I am left with the rather unfortunate impression that the more people the Mexican government can convince to swim, hike, or sneak across the border, the better, and that they honestly don’t give a shit that they are in effect openly advocating the violation of US law. It’s a wonder that the US has relatively good relations with Mexico given that the Mexican government has no issue basically thumbing its nose at US immigration laws.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. It’s illegal to bring a gun into Mexico. How well would it be received, by the Mexican government, if the US government were to put out a 32-page booklet with only short disclaimers at the beginning and end regarding Mexico’s gun laws, yet devote the 28 pages in between on how to smuggle guns and ammunition across the border illegally? I would not expect it to be well received at all. I would in fact expect Mexico to retaliate against the US for this sort of thing, possibly even including some form of trade sanctions. Yet this is exactly the kind of thing the Mexican government is (so far) basically getting away with here.

What the hell can we, the US residents, do about this? The first thing I would recommend: cancel the vacation to Cancún, Acapulco, Mexico City, etc in favor of just about anywhere else. Miami and other cities in the US have beaches too and you don’t need a passport. (If you aren’t insistent on crystal clear water, Galveston will do in a pinch if you’re closest to it.) If the beach isn’t your thing, there are plenty of places in the US to see that are interesting, such as one of our many national parks (the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone among others). Parts of Canada are also quite picturesque. If you don’t mind flying and can afford to go, Hawaii is also worth a visit.

Once you do that, of course, it’s important to let people know why, particularly the appropriate people in Mexico’s government and tourism industry who will no longer be profiting from your desire to travel. If enough people do this, eventually Mexico’s tourism industry and government will get the message.

Regarding the murder of Darren Goforth

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for a long time. I didn’t intend for things to quite literally hit close to home before I posted. It’s just the way it played out. I had intended to write specifically about the goings-on in Ferguson, Missouri, shortly after one of the major developments.

Before I go into the timeline leading up to this event, I acknowledge that the murder of Darren Goforth made national (US) news, if not international. I certainly don’t like it when my hometown makes the news like this, and I am pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Now, some of the events preceding this, so we may understand how we got here (not intended to be an all-inclusive list):

  • 2009 January 1: Oscar Grant is shot and killed by Officer Johannes Mehserle of the BART Police, when the officer claims he mistook his gun for his Taser. This incident was dramatized in the film Fruitvale Station, which I wrote a post about shortly after having watched the film.
  • 2010 November 5: Mehserle is sentenced to two years for involuntary manslaughter.
  • 2011 June 13: Mehserle is released on parole, having served only 11 months.
  • 2011 June 30: BART settles a wrongful death lawsuit with Oscar Grant’s mother and daughter for $2.8 million. A similar lawsuit from his father was denied.
  • 2012 February 26: Trayvon Martin is shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida. The circumstances of the shooting are considered dubious by many. Zimmerman is initially not charged with a crime, but later would be charged with second-degree murder.
  • 2012 July 13: George Zimmerman is acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting.
  • 2014 May 21: BART settles a wrongful death lawsuit filed by five friends of Oscar Grant for a total of $175,000 split between them.
  • 2014 August 9: Michael Brown is fatally injured by gunshots fired by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson (suburb of St. Louis, Missouri) PD. He was a suspect in the theft of several packages of cigarillos, during which he allegedly shoved a store clerk (which might make it a robbery, turning what would be a Class A misdemeanor into a Class B felony). Michael’s body was left at the scene for over four hours, sparking outrage from the majority-black population in Ferguson.
  • 2014 August 10-12: Memorials for Michael Brown begin peacefully, but at least one evening candlelight vigil gets out of hand, and some looting takes place.
  • 2014 August 14: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky denounces the shooting as a tragedy and calls for the demilitarization of police forces.
  • 2014 August 15-30: Information about the Michael Brown shooting was released. At first Ferguson PD refused to name the officer involved due to security concerns (death threats against the officer). Eventually Darren Wilson is identified as the officer who fired the fatal shots.
  • 2014 November 24: The grand jury in Ferguson no-bills Darren Wilson.
  • 2014 November 29: Wilson resigns from the Ferguson PD with no severance, due to security concerns, and through his attorney states he “will never be a police officer again.”
  • 2014 December 20: Two NYPD officers are shot and killed in the Bedfort-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn in an apparent revenge for the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.
  • 2015 March 4: The US Department of Justice announces Darren Wilson will not be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown.
  • 2015 August 28: Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth is shot and killed at a gas station in Cypress, Texas (suburb of Houston).

Now for my thoughts.

With every fiber of my being, I condemn the murder of Darren Goforth. I know very little about Darren’s career as a sheriff’s deputy, only that it lasted ten years, which is a rather long time in any line of work. Given what little I have read seems to point to Darren as a good person, if not a good cop as well, I feel comfortable giving the benefit of the doubt.

A lot of the previous posts on this blog may have left readers with the impression I’m “anti-cop”. Strictly speaking that is not true, though I am not shy in the least about speaking out against law enforcement officers, law enforcement agencies, judges, and other people and elements of our legal system, who have done rather reckless and stupid things in the name of the law. To the best of my knowledge, Darren wasn’t one of those cops.

To say the least, Darren’s death was undignified, brutal, and barbaric. He died as the result of an absolutely senseless crime. He didn’t deserve this. Nobody in decent society deserves to die like this.

In the United States, we are a society governed by laws enacted to maintain order and civility. We are not governed by the law of the jungle, and we aren’t just a bunch of wild animals. In that vein, I would like to remind everyone out there that, according to our laws, the suspect in this case is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The suspect in this case has the right to due process of law including a fair trial, the right to a trial by jury (if desired), the right to not incriminate himself (Fifth Amendment), and the right to effective counsel (a defense attorney), the same as any other suspect accused of a crime.

The trial is probably months away, maybe even over a year away. But regardless of the outcome when it is decided, I am asking everyone to keep the peace, particularly in the Houston area. Rioting as a result of the outcome, either way, won’t accomplish anything either. Peaceful protesting is fine, but the key word is “peaceful.” Violence will not solve any problems at hand here, it can only make them worse.

That’s all for now. I’ll have more to say on the topic in a followup post.

The biggest ego in Texas?

Most of the time, I’m proud to be a Texan, and specifically I’m proud to be a Houstonian. I have spent a grand total of around 2½ years of my life living outside of Houston city limits, and even that time was all in what most people would consider the “greater Houston area.” However, we have a few times where certain elected leaders do certain things that I refer to by the highly technical term “stupid shit.” This is one of those times, and this is the kind of thing that makes me a bit ashamed to be a Texan.

I am referring to this Houston Chronicle article on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton encouraging county clerks to ignore the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. As you may know, judging by the number of rainbow Facebook avatars, this past Friday the Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriages throughout the country (including Texas). However, it seems that Mr. Paxton thinks he and the county clerks who just don’t want to obey the law, are above the law.

As those who have read my blog in the past know, I have a rather low tolerance for stupidity. Obviously, this crosses the line, but it’s shameful because I’d expect better from someone who is in fact the attorney for the entire state when it comes down to it. There’s some consolation in knowing I didn’t vote for this idiot. A lot of us have known for a long time that love knows no boundaries. The hypocrisy of conservative religious groups protesting regarding the sanctity of marriage, yet remaining deafeningly silent on the subject of things like divorce doing far more harm to said sanctity, has completely discredited those groups in my view. It is archaic to restrict marriage based on gender.

To make matters worse, Texas’s marriage license forms went as far as to have one space for male partner, and one space for female partner. I couldn’t find the news stories covering this, but I do know this fact in and of itself got news coverage as the Supreme Court prepared to hear Obergefell v. Hodges. Has it always been like this? Did someone make this change on purpose, to make it as difficult as possible for same-sex marriages (requiring a scratch-out on the form for one gender or the other)? I’d be willing to bet it’s the latter case but it will be difficult at best to prove.

In closing, it is frustrating to me that the Supreme Court’s decision is not only getting a lack of respect, but is being flaunted on purpose by an attorney general who is doing an incredibly poor job of representing Texas. To the rest of the US (and the world): we aren’t all like this, and a significant number of us did not vote for this clown.