CRIME, POLITICAL ANIMALS
Hot Night in the Third Ward
Mayor, others grilled on HPD beating
By Mandy Oaklander
Around 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night last week, the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church was packed tighter than a month's worth of Sunday mornings. Hundreds swarmed to attend the standing-room-only NAACP town hall meeting about the recent video release of teenager Chad Holley being brutally kicked and beaten by police officers. Many gathered say police brutality against blacks isn't new for Houstonians. But for once, it was caught on tape.
At one table: Assistant Chief of Police Michael Dirden, Assistant Harris County District Attorney Jim Leitner and Mayor Annise Parker. At the other: a panel ready to crucify.
D.Z. Cofield, pastor of the church and president of NAACP Houston, moderated the discussion. "We're sitting on a powder keg that can explode...cooler heads prevail now, but cooler heads may not be able to prevail for long."
Quanell X, the activist who leaked the tape to the media, rose from the far table to speak. He introduced a woman named Cyndi Paxton, who gave him the tape. "Brothers and sisters, you had a right to see this tape," he said, directing most of his vitriol at Parker, who previously stated that she wished the tape to remain under wraps until the criminal trial.
Assistant Chief Dirden said that all of the police officers involved had been fired and that the police department was working with the FBI on the investigation. In the meantime, he said, the department had created a special squad training unit to make sure what happened to Holley never happens again. Though Dirden conceded, "You don't need special ethical training...to explain to the officers involved in this incident that what they did was wrong."
To the crowd gathered, the city's attempt to conceal the video from the public looked like an attempt to save face for the police department. But Parker claimed different motives.
"We wanted it to come out at the criminal trial. We wanted to make sure that the charges stick. And we wanted a local jury to sit," she said.
When she saw that the tape had been leaked, Parker was upset. "I was angry, because all I could see were police officers getting off," she said.
"What's different?" someone screamed into the warm air of the church hall.
Leitner, the short, graying assistant district attorney, took the podium. He tried to persuade the crowd that concealing the video until trial would have led to harsher charges. "When we saw that tape, we saw it was a crime against this community," Leitner said, waving his hand over the crowd to emphasize the last two words. "We wanted to make sure this community is on the jury."
If you saw the video before the trial, Leitner said, you'd be influenced. "The law is that you're off the jury. We didn't want that to happen, so we kept it quiet."
Murmurs of "We don't trust you" rippled through the crowd.
And then, unwittingly, Leitner lit the powder keg. "We wanted you people to be able to make the decision," he said. People jumped out of their chairs, and a swell of "Ooooh, man, you used the wrong word" rolled through the room. Leitner's voice was drowned in the din.
Cofield stepped in, and Leitner sat down.
"Part of the frustration that you hear is because it's hard to expect us to hear those words and to take them as sincere with what the track record says," Cofield said, echoing the sentiments of the crowd. "I was told there's a different set of laws for police officers."
Demands from the panel included classifying the incident as a hate crime instead of its current charge as official oppression. It's the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. The panel called for a trip to Austin to change the law: When anyone is handcuffed and beaten by a police officer, the panel agreed, it should be a hate crime.
When Cofield dipped into the audience for questions, half the crowd raised their hands. Cofield picked six. Someone asked the gathered officials if they would have done anything differently with the case. Leitner said he wouldn't, but Parker had second thoughts. "If I had to do it over again, I would have released the tape," she said.
The meeting closed with no real solutions, but with the beginnings of a dialogue. "We're just asking for some courage, Mayor," one of the audience members said. "You have a black child. That could have been your child."
What Texas Needs: Armed School Board Members
By Richard Connelly
Last December, a man named Clay Duke achieved brief national fame for video footage of him pointing and firing a gun at the members of a Florida school board.
The pantywaists up north might not know what the solution is to such a problem, but here in Texas at least one legislator does: Arm the school board. And the superintendent.
Representative Dan Huberty of Kingwood (we'll let you guess whether he has a "D" or an "R" after his name) has introduced a bill allowing school board members and superintendents with concealed handgun licenses to come strapped to school board meetings.
Formally, it exempts them from the law banning guns at such meetings if they are at one in an official capacity.
So, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer, does Terry Grier have a Texas CHL?
"I don't know," he says, and couldn't reach Grier to check, even though it's information that obviously everyone would have to take into consideration before attending an HISD board meeting.
CHL info is not subject to open records requests, so we also don't know if any board members might be carrying if the bill becomes law.
Spencer noted that HISD has nothing to do with the legislation.
"Our board hasn't taken a position on the bill and it is not part of our legislative agenda," he says.
DOING IT DAILY
Theres tons of stuff each day on the Houston Press blogs; youre only getting a taste of it here in the print edition. Head to blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs (or /rocks or /eating or /artattack).
We put together a United States of Murder map, showing the most notorious killers for each state from sea to shining, blood-soaked sea. On the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 14 moon flight, we noted six odd things about it, such as ESP experiments, astronauts getting lost on the moon and the a-hole who led the mission. And we used helpful Venn Diagrams to track what men and women believe are appropriate Valentine's Day gifts as their relationship progresses from early dating to longtime married.
We looked at Governor Rick Perry's brutal California itinerary during Texas's ice storm. A new teen-sexting bill would punish parents, too, by making them attend classes to inform them that teen sexting is bad. And the Travis County GOP took a bold, brave stand against airport body scanners that produce "intimate" and "graphic" images.
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An alleged child molester joins the Mugshot Hall of Fame, con men are posing as fundraising baseball players and Harris County got the permanent injunction it was seeking against the Bloods and Crips gangs who were harassing an apartment complex and its environs.
We added our naughty twists to some vintage Valentine's images. We looked forward to the London premiere of the new Anna Nicole Smith opera and added it to our HGO wish list. We gawked at the funniest movie scenes from the nerve.com Sex Scene Database. And we interviewed the Art Guys about why they think filmmaker Morgan Spurlock plagiarized their ideas for his upcoming film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.