Editorial Roundup: Texas – Miami Herald

San Antonio Express-News. June 17, 2021.

Editorial: Revel in joy, remember pain of Juneteenth

The theme of Juneteenth 2020 was the theme of every American tradition and celebration during the year of COVID-19: separation from loved ones. But unlike other traditions and celebrations, Juneteenth wouldn’t exist without violent separation. It’s out of slavery’s destruction of Black families that Juneteenth was born as those families began the heartbreaking, but not always possible, journeys to reunite with loved ones.

So, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger sailed into Galveston Bay on June 19, 1865, to read General Order No. 3, delivering the belated news of the Emancipation Proclamation, many of Texas’ newly freed 200,000 men and women went searching — through the state, across the South and all over the country — for children, spouses, parents, any loved ones who had been torn from their arms to be sold.

Over the years, decades and centuries, the distinctly Black and distinctly Texas Juneteenth celebrations were exported to all parts of the United States. Celebrated in 47 states and the District of Columbia, June 19 became the date recognized as the end of slavery.

Now, that date will be celebrated nationally. On Wednesday, the U.S. House approved legislation previously passed by unanimous consent in the Senate to establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday.

The bill is the work of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who introduced the measure in the House, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, who sponsored it in the Senate.

This is a historic moment and welcome acknowledgment of the end of slavery and how interwoven it is in U.S. history. Yet, it’s happening as statehouses across the nation are enacting and some members of Congress are supporting laws forbidding the teaching in schools of the role slavery and racism played in American history.

You can’t celebrate what ended June 19, 1865 — 6/19 — without acknowledging what began in 1619 when the first enslaved African landed in America. It was 1619 that made 6/19 necessary, and the story doesn’t end with Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3. You can’t say slavery ended and then ignore the crippling legacy of that barbaric institution, which is what General Order No. 3 did:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

There was no “absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.” But it’s the last line that is especially galling. He was addressing a people who had been enslaved for almost 250 years — a group the federal government was nearly 2½ years late in notifying of their emancipation, and he’s lecturing them about loitering, idleness and depending on others for support.

Granger didn’t arrive in Galveston Bay with compensation for the enslaved labor, which helped build the great wealth of Texas and the United States, or with deeds to 40 acres and a mule to give the newly freed men and women some economic footing to begin their emancipated lives. He arrived with news they were no longer enslaved but without any of the things they would need to enjoy their freedom.

With the simple news that they were free, those men and women embarked on journeys toward freedom, equality and citizenship. It’s a journey that, in some ways, continues.

Families kept apart last year will come together this Juneteenth. There will be food, music, dancing, baseball, dominoes, and the repeating and bequeathing of family lore. There will be laughter and tears and, yes, hugs in the solemn joy and revelry of honoring Juneteenth’s legacy and pain.

___

McAllen Monitor/MyRGV. June 17, 2021.

Editorial: Buying votes: Abbott’s border wall promise a political waste of tax money

Greg Abbott knows better. As the chief executive of the state with the largest international border, the Texas governor knows that a border wall won’t address our problem of illegal residents to an extent that makes it worth the huge expense. But he also knows the populist mileage former President Donald Trump got out of playing to conservatives’ irrational fears, and Abbott appears ready to pump untold billions of taxpayers’ dollars into his 2022 reelection campaign.

Last week in Del Rio, the governor announced plans to pick up where Trump left off, pledging to build a wall across our state’s border with Mexico. On Wednesday he said he had set aside $250 million in state funds — funds the legislature presumably had allocated for other purposes — as a “down payment” on the border wall plan.

In so doing Abbott took up the call that defined Trump’s presidency: fear of foreigners crossing our borders. But it proved to be an expensive logistical nightmare for the president, and likely would be even worse for the governor.

Despite his promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” all along our southern border, Trump was able to manage little more than upgrades to a little more than 450 miles of existing fencing along the border.

It’s part of roughly 700 miles of walls and fencing that have been erected along the border since Operation Hold the Line was launched in the El Paso area in 1993.

Although some sections of fencing have been built in the Rio Grande Valley, most of the existing barriers have been erected outside of Texas. While as much as 70% of land along the border in California, Arizona and New Mexico are owned by the federal government, most Texas border land is privately owned, and decades of efforts to acquire it have proved difficult. Landowners who have fought federal efforts to claim their property likely will also resist Abbott’s efforts as well. In addition, the easements that have been acquired now belong to the federal government, not the state, and the Biden administration isn’t likely to cooperate with Abbott’s plans.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that border wall doesn’t address the real source of unauthorized residency. The current wave of foreign migrants mostly consists of people coming to legal ports of entry and asking for asylum. Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that as many as half of all illegal residents also crossed through those ports, after securing tourist, scholastic and other temporary visas. They simply stayed here when those visas expired. Recent research from the Center for Migration Studies of New York places that number even higher, at closer to two-thirds.

No border wall will address such crossings; Abbott surely knows this. He also knows that a state whose economy is fighting to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be frugal with the limited supply of tax revenue. But he also knows that bold promises can pay off, and it’s easy to buy votes with the people’s own money.

As someone who once likened border politics to that of a Third World country, Abbott seems to have learned that lesson well.

___

Dallas Morning News. June 17, 2021.

Editorial: Ghastly things happen at the Collin County jail

Late last week, we learned of another death in the Collin County jail. This one, Dakota Lee Kent, was the unborn son of Lauren Kent, who was an inmate there in 2019. Lauren Kent’s pleas for medical attention were ignored until, eventually, she gave birth to Dakota over a toilet in her cell, she alleges in a lawsuit.

The Collin County jail has already lost seven employees because of the case of Marvin Scott III earlier this year. Scott was an inmate there who died while in custody. The Collin County medical examiner ruled it a homicide.

Now, two years after her incarceration, Kent is suing the county and a company called Wellpath that contracts with the jail to provide medical care.

Kent was arrested May 30, 2019, on a charge of credit card abuse, according to county records. The lawsuit says she was homeless and pregnant, and that she found a lost credit card in a parking lot and used it to buy food. But it’s what happened after her arrest that matters.

A nurse at the jail gave her a pregnancy test that confirmed she was pregnant on May 30, 2019, the suit says.

According to the lawsuit, Kent asked to see a doctor almost every day of her incarceration before she gave birth on July 5. That request was never granted. Kent was having abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. She communicated with jailers by written message through a digital kiosk. Those messages, cited in the lawsuit, were desperate: “PLEASE IM BEGGING YOU,” she wrote. “I NEED A DOCTOR.”

On July 1, Kent started sending messages that she hadn’t felt her baby move in 24 hours and that she had passed a blood clot. But she was told that she would have to soak two pads with blood before she could see a doctor. County and Wellpath employees accused her of “crying wolf,” all according to the lawsuit.

As awful as this case is on its own merits, there are wider issues at play here. A CNN investigation into Wellpath examined complaints at nearly 120 locations in 32 states where the company’s written policy of cost reduction seemed to put inmates at risk.

Even if they subcontract for some services, Collin County jail is responsible for the safety and care of the people in its walls. This is not only the law, it’s common decency. Kent’s lawsuit puts the issue this way: “The question is whether these officials breached their constitutional duty to tend to the basic human needs of persons in their charge.”

Americans don’t surrender their right to be treated humanely when they commit a crime. Jails are meant to be a place of justice, not cruelty or indifference.

Representatives from the sheriff’s department declined an interview request, instead sending a two-sentence written statement that read: “Collin County contracts with a third-party medical provider for all medical services provided in the county jail. Collin County denies the allegation made in this lawsuit and will vigorously defend itself in this litigation.”

A Wellpath spokesperson replied to our request for comment Tuesday afternoon but didn’t provide one by noon Wednesday.

Collin County Judge Chris Hill did not respond to questions about the case or whether the county would continue to contract with Wellpath.

The cases of Marvin Scott III and Lauren Kent are very different. One involved a mentally unstable man and a drug charge. The other involved a homeless, pregnant woman on a fraud charge. But the common threads here are poor medical outcomes and poor transparency.

The public has a right to expect that the county will take every reasonable step to preserve and protect life. And the best way to make sure that expectation is being met is a full accounting of what happened and why.

___

Abilene Reporter News. June 20, 2021.

Editorial: Why the Reporter-News is refocusing its crime coverage

Beginning Friday, the Reporter-News made a significant change to its crime reporting.

Companywide, news sites have reconsidered their policies and have been asked to make changes.

Several weeks ago, the Reporter-News began to limit the use of “mugshots” — those jailhouse photos taken of suspects in orange.

Those have been viewed as potentially prejudicial, particularly if one race is shown over and over. We did a quick survey of our use over the past and found our photos roughly matched community demographics.

Still, we limited use to major crimes, such as murder, or when a suspect may be sought and is an immediate danger to the community.

On Friday, we no longer published what often in journalism is called a “police blotter.” These are reports provided to us daily by police, the reports ranging from serious offense to routine offense and, occasionally, what has been called “stupid crook news.”

While we gave general locations, we never named the offender.

Still, the argument was made that a news site would better serve the community with more in-depth reporting. For example, if the daily reports show a rash of auto burglaries, a story on how to protect your property would be more valuable. Beyond reminding people to lock their vehicles.

A look at indictments each week sometimes turns up an interesting case. But what you notice most are the many arrests for drugs, particularly meth. The use and sale of drugs drives crime in our city, police will say. That’s the story.

We also no longer will publish indictments.

One strong reason behind this decision is that news organizations cannot follow through on the outcome. Arrests and indictments are accusations. A final decision will follow. But when? And if it’s not a major trial, how would we know if the accused is cleared?

With the advent of the internet, these stories linger for years. More often, we are contacted about “taking down a story” because the accused is not found guilty. Or, that person had one lapse in judgment, was punished and has moved on. But search for his or her name, and that incident comes up.

Obviously, major crimes — murder, assault and crimes against children, for example — should not vanish and be diminished.

By focusing on that, we can do a better job of reporting the impact that policing practices have on crime reduction and public safety in our city.

This is not being soft on crime but more focused.

END