Recently, a picture of Harris County constable candidate Ken Jones with a noose has been making the rounds on social media. The former Precinct 3 constable is trying to reclaim his office from incumbent Sherman Eagleton, who is black. Both men are Democrats vying for the nomination in the primary this March. The photo has some Harris County residents bristling at image of a lawman with a noose, so often associated with injustice against minorities in Texas.
“The relationship between law enforcement and black communities are strained and definitely need to improve,” says community activist Joy Davis. “There isn't any denying that. Do we need someone pictured with a noose as a representative in one of the most diverse cities in the country? No. We are on the ground fighting for criminal justice reforms, social justice, and moving our communities forward. The hangman's noose is extremely offensive to black people given the history of lynching in America. Unfortunately, this isn't the only controversial picture that has surfaced during the elections here in Houston, Texas. Our communities deserve better. We should absolutely be informed when candidates wishing to represent us take part in actions like these.”
For his part, Jones insists that there is nothing wrong with the picture.
“The only way anyone could ever conceive this to be ugly is if they are in their own mind ugly,” says Jones.
Jones explained the context of the pictures was from an incident six years ago. He and his wife were visiting the Fredericksburg Trade Days when he got a message saying that his Facebook had been hacked. Worse, the hacker was posing as Jones and targeting senior citizens in a money scam.
He immediately jumped online to tell followers and friends that they should not engage in the scam while he handled securing his account. At the Trade Days fair was a small display dedicated to legendary Texas lawman Judge Roy Bean that included a noose. Jones had his picture taken with his hand on it for his post, adding the message “if we find out who this ‘hacker’ was, he is not going to be happy.”
“I used it as a prop for my message about being hacked and costing people money,” says Jones. “Sherman Eagleton jumped on it and tried to make a big deal out of it. I got not one negative response on Facebook from it.”
Eagleton defeated Jones in the primary for the constable position in 2016.
The noose continues to be a symbol that haunts many minorities, particularly black and Mexican-Texans, because of its use in lynching, white terrorism, and torture in the state. Nor is the symbol merely a historical one. Houston singer Erica Nicole found a noose outside her apartment in 2014. In 2018, retired Grapevine firefighter Glenn Eugene Halfin was sentenced to a year in prison after leaving a noose with a doll hanging from it outside the house of an African American neighbor.
Sometimes the incidences are more than threats. In 2016, a black student at Live Oak Classical School in Waco sued the school after she was allegedly dragged by the neck by white students with a rope, leaving horrific wounds. Galveston police found themselves under fire last year when photos emerged of two mounted officers leading a homeless black man they had arrested by rope, a scene that felt as if it could have come right out of a Texas history textbook.
Jones cited Judge Roy Bean’s legacy in his defense of the image.
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“My gosh, Judge Roy Bean… he hung white men,” says Jones. “If you want to get into the gutter, no. I’m above that. The only one [commenting] on that is Sherman Eagleton.”
Bean’s legacy is not without racism. One of the most famous stories of the folk hero is that he allowed the accused white murderers of a Chinese man to go free with only a fine for carrying concealed weapons, saying “homicide was the killing of a human being” and he “could find no law against killing a [Chinese ethnic slur].”
“I was constable for 32 years and not one time have I been accused of being a racist or of any discrimination,” says Jones. “My black officers are supporting me running for office. My office was unique in being a third white, a third Hispanic, and a third African American. That wasn’t by design. It’s just the way it came out. It was unique to have an office that was so diversified and equal. It’s a shame that [Eagleton] has to resort to stuff like this. Can’t he come up with anything I actually did or said? I’m not out to hurt or embarrass anyone. Only a person who is a racist or a horrible person would even conceive it to be anything other than being a prop.”
The Texas Democratic Primary is March 3. Early voting starts February 18. Voters can check their voter registration status online through the Secretary of State.