Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday announced six more legislative proposals aimed at backing police officers, including making it a felony that carries mandatory jail time for anyone who destroys property or strikes a police officer during a “riot.”
“Texas will always defend the First Amendment right to peacefully protest, but Texas is not going to tolerate violence, vandalism or riot,” Abbott said.
At the Dallas Police Association headquarters in the Cedars neighborhood, Abbott added that he would mandate felony offenses for using lasers to target police officers, blocking hospital entrances and exits by protesters, using fireworks at protests and “aiding and abetting riots with funds or organizational assistance.”
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson, joined Abbott, as well as several Republican House members, candidates and police union leaders. After a news conference, they all signed a “Texas Backs the Blue” pledge being pushed by Abbott. Bonnen will not be in the legislature next year after he decided not to seek reelection. And any legislative proposal offered would have to be approved by the Texas House and Senate and signed by the governor.
“Criminals charged with these offenses must remain in jail, at least until their first court appearance,” Abbott said. “This will prevent the mockery of the revolving door arrest that we saw in Dallas during the riots that occurred earlier this year, and will ensure that these dangerous rioters will not be immediately released back into the streets to engage in further riots, without first having to go before the court appearance.”
Governor Greg Abbott waits as local elected officials sign a Back the Blue Pledge after a press conference to announce legislative proposals related to public safety at the Dallas Police Association in Dallas Sept. Thursday, 24, 2020. (Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)
The latest proposal comes after Abbott has already threatened to push a bill that would decrease property tax revenues for any city cutting police budgets and prohibiting the power of those cities to annex other areas. The question of whether to “defund” the police, as well as what the term means, has become a political flashpoint in the local and national political discourse.
In response to Abbott’s new legislative proposals, state Rep. Carl Sherman Sr., D-DeSoto, said the governor should also be concerned about the views of residents seeking police reforms and social justice.
“We should be very concerned with people too,” Sherman said. “Citizens have the right to have different opinions about the current state of affairs, and should have the right to express their opinions without fear of the government suppressing them. I don’t know if we’re in the ’60s or the 21st century.”
Sherman has proposed a bill called the Botham Jean Act that seeks to clarify the Castle doctrine and the mandate that police officers wear body cameras in order to prevent shootings like the one that led to the death of Botham Jean, a Black man who was shot by a white police officer.
Two years ago, former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed Jean inside his apartment after she said she mistook it for her own. During her murder trial, Guyger’s defense asked the jury to consider that she believed she was defending her home even though she was mistaken. Jurors found Guyger guilty of murder and sentenced her to 10 years in prison.
Lawmakers from the Black Legislative Caucus also have introduced other reforms after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. That incident sparked a summer of social unrest and renewed calls for police reforms and equality.
The debate over what to do about police brutality has become steeped in politics as Republicans have sought to portray Democrats as soft on crime while Democrats have accused Republicans of not paying attention to the need for social change.
“I am very hopeful that the governor is genuinely interested in helping change things for the better for all people,” Sherman said. “We’ve got to understand that when we back our noble officers, we just don’t have this blind support and allegiance to them.”
Abbott said he was open to various proposals to curb police brutality.
“We want to make sure that we see better training for officers,” he said. “We want to make sure officers are using deadly force only when that is the appropriate strategy, and using other alternatives when deadly force is not the right strategy.”
Abbott and Bonnen said they are having dialogue with black lawmakers on police reforms.
“There are members of the Black Caucus who have publicly stated they don’t support defunding,” Bonnen said. “Let’s not lump in defunding the police with criminal justice reform.”
State Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, the chairwoman of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and a member of the Black Legislative Caucus, said members of the group haven’t met with Abbott in months.
“I don’t know of anything else that we’ve done with his office,” she said.