Houston Black Lives Matter Group Slams Democrat’s Police Education Proposal for Teens

Hannah Adair Bonner leads a communion service outside the Waller County Jail
Patrick Michels
United Methodist minister Hannah Adair Bonner leads a communion service outside the Waller County Jail in July 2016, before beginning a three-day camp-out to remember Sandra Bland. Houston state Senator John Whitmire says his proposal to teach Texas ninth-graders how to interact with police is intended to prevent tragedies like Bland’s death from happening again.

Texas Black Lives Matter activists are speaking out against a Democratic state senator’s proposal to teach Texas ninth-graders how to interact with police when they’re stopped for traffic violations or otherwise detained.

Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, announced last week that he plans to introduce a bill requiring the State Board of Education to develop the curriculum, with the goal of reducing confrontations between citizens and officers.

Whitmire chairs the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which heard testimony on the proposal Tuesday. The hearing included invited witnesses from law enforcement groups, African-American pastors and the president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP, none of whom expressed opposition to Whitmire’s proposal.

But Ashton Woods, a spokesman for Black Lives Matter: Houston, called Whitmire’s proposal an “insult.”

“It’s saying to a little black child, ‘When the police stop you, and they will, this is how we want you to act, even though we know you’re still going to get killed,’” Woods told the Observer. “It’s an insult. It just seems to me that they are trying to satisfy the demands and needs of the police unions.”

Woods said his group wasn’t invited to testify at the hearing.

“There was no true representation of the black community at that particular meeting,” Woods said. “It’s a sham.”

Whitmire’s bill comes in response to an interim charge from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who’s repeatedly blamed Black Lives Matter for the deaths of five police officers in Dallas. On its Facebook page, Black Lives Matter: Houston said Whitmire’s proposal shows he’s “out of touch,” accusing him of “victim blaming” and catering to police violence.

John Whitmire
Texas Senate
John Whitmire, D-Houston

Whitmire said his goal is to prevent future tragedies like the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was found dead in a Waller County jail cell in 2015 after being pulled over for a traffic violation. Pointing to his past support for police accountability measures, such as funding for body cameras, Whitmire said the curriculum would stress the rights of people detained by law enforcement.

“They try to stand up for their rights on the streets of Texas, and quite often it escalates matters, the officer escalates matters, and we have tragedies,” Whitmire told the Observer. “I think we’re going to continue to put greater training on officers, how to de-escalate contact, but I do think many people in the public need to be informed that, if you want to challenge an officer, it’s your right to do so, but you better do it right, or we’re going to have an escalated situation.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, agreed to begin putting information about filing complaints against officers at the bottom of citations and warnings issued by the agency.

“We need to be held accountable for every stop we make, and we’re not afraid of being held accountable,” McCraw said.

Most senators on the committee expressed support for Whitmire’s proposal, although some questioned the true nature of the problem. Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, appeared to blame controversies over fatal police shootings on news reporters seeking “the here-and-now story.”

“There is a responsibility of media at some level not to take a 30-second video out of a two-minute video and put it in Facebook,” Perry said. “Responsible journalism has a role in this debate.”

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Sugar Land, pointed to high unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities in the African-American community. She went on to suggest that if the Legislature were to pass conservative “school choice” public education reforms, fewer young black Americans would be “in those neighborhoods where police have confrontations.”

“I think the police are getting a bad rap,” Huffman said.

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Published at 3:48 pm CST