Page 8


shooter, that officer is likely to sign on with another department. Stuckey believes that fewer than 5 percent of police account for 95 percent of the shootings and beatings, although he said different officers are more likely to shoot suspects and others are more likely to beat them. “The remarkable thing about the Rodney King case is not that the police officers were acquitted, but that the police officers were indicted at all,” he added. “Most of the time in East Texas a policeman who not only beats but shoots one of us is not indicted at all.” The Dallas Morning News reported that Texas officers were the focus of 2,000 federal civil rights investigations since 1984, and the Justice Department had filed at least 50 civil rights cases against 125 law officers in Texas about 20 percent of all cases filed nationally. The Morning News also reported that 445 people died in Texas jails or during arrests by law enforcement officers in Texas since 1987 and no criminal action was taken in 99 percent of the deaths. During the period, five police officers were convicted,of killings committed while on duty, and three of those convictions involved the beating death of Loyal Garner. Tyler’s black community feels the “accidental” deaths warrant further investigations, but there is little faith that a thorough investigation will occur. In response, District Attorney Skeen stated on a TV show that “what is important is the appearance of fairness, the appearance of integrity is essential. We must have the appearance that justice is done.” Appearances are important in Tyler, where, just off Front Street, stands Tyler’s crowning glory the rose gardens. Few people who attend Tyler’s Rose -Festivals and Parades realize that only 50 years ago, on the spot where the rose gardens are located, stood the headquarters for Tyler’s Ku Klux Klan. The city decided to locate the rose gardens on this spot even though the soil would not accommodate the roses and had to be replaced. Some also observed that the problem is as much an economic issue as a racial issue. Behind the rose gardens and azalea trails, Tyler is a city divided by a, single street. The black community refers to Front Street as the “MasonDixon Line.” White flight is painfully evident as businesses move toward south Tyler. On the north side, populated mostly by blacks, the buildings are more likely to be dilapidated and boarded. In Longview, the line of demarcation is U.S. 80, or Marshall Avenue. Fountain Square in Tyler, where the NAACP rally was held, is a metaphor for the condition of minorities in East Texas. On one side stands a modern bank with a black glass facade. On the other side is the courthouse and jail. Minorities have little access to the bank, and disproportionate access to the courts and jail. A preacher noted that blacks comprise about 21 percent of Smith County’s population, but they represent 65 percent of the jail inmates. That percentrage corresponds with the number of blacks sent from Smith County to the state pris ons. Blacks are 19 percent of Gregg County’s population, but as of August 1991, 58 percent of convicts from Gregg County were black, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reported. Statewide, 45.6 percent of convicts sent to Texas prisons in 1991 were black, up from 35.7 percent in 1985. Blacks make up 12 percent of the state’s population. David Brabham, Gregg County District Attorney, said each complaint of excessive use of deadly force has been inves tigated and, where appropriate, forwarded to the grand jury. The grand jury cleared the Longview police officer who shot the suspected burglar while trying to handcuff him and while the grand jury did not bring charges against the officers who fired at Jones’ car, also chose not to indict Wallace, the driver in the case, Brabham noted. The most recent prosecution of Gregg County lawmen was in the late 1970s, when two sheriff’s deputies were prosecuted for beating a prisoner, he said. Brabham said he doubts that blacks are singled out for mistreatment. “My obserfrom my personal experience in observing these cases,” but he said any systematic review would be up to individual police agencies. Sgt. Allen Pigeon, who has headed the Longview Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division for two years, said the office looks at complaints on a case-by-case basis, but he has not noted a problem. “We’re small enough that we know what’s going on. We’re only 129 officers,” he said, adding that complaints have dropped by one-third over the past three years. He attributed the decline in complaints to efforts to get police officers closer to the community. Pigeon played down racial bias on the force, and said the department gets complaints from whites, too. “We don’t get any more complaints from minorities than we do from non[minorities], and I think really it’s probably going to be closely related to the criminal suspect makeup,” he said. “If there is a disproportionate number of minorities vs. non-minorities, or vice-versa, committing crimes, those are the people we come in contact with. And it’s only the people we come in contact with that we get complaints from.” Pigeon also noted that Longview’s is the only police department in East Texas with an independent internal affairs unit, which answers only to the chief. Mayor Martha Whitehead said she was not aware of complaints about traffic violators being pursued and beaten by police. She said she has met with black ministers to try to open lines of communication, and she was considering the formation of a human relations commission to address concerns in the minority community. “We’re doing everything we can to be more sensitive to their needs and in turn I think they’re doing everything they can to support law enforcement,” she said. Although Longview has a population of nearly 70,000, it retains many of the characteristics of a small town whose community leaders black and white seek to avoid con frontation. Whitehead, the wife of the county Democratic chairman, is considered a relatively progressive mayor. The new police chief, Johnny Upton, has impressed black ministers such as the Rev. Homer Rockmore, a black pastor of the Red Oak Baptist Church, with his willingness to listen to their concerns. Some of the city’s black and white ministers in the past year have tried to cultivate relationships across racial lines. They count as a breakthrough a Feb. 20 biracial gathering of 300 at the First Baptist Church, long the symbol of the city’s ruling establishment, whose new pastor has opened a ministry to local blacks. But even with the first hopeful signs of progress, the Rev. Bob Bruce, a progressive Presbyterian pastor in Longview said, “The majority of white ministers won’t have anything to do with us.” Complicating the issue was the prosecution in early May of James Johnson, the county’s first black commissioner, in federal court on a felony charge that he illegally buried hazardous pesticides at the Gregg County Airport seven Months after he took office in 1991. After a four-day trial in Tyler federal court, a jury acquitted Johnson, a former Longview City Council member, who later said the charges were only the latest in a series of harassments since he won a hotly-contested election to the Commissoners Court in November 1990 amidst complaints of voting fraud. “They’re looking at every move I make,” Johnson said of his enemies who hope “to bust my ass out of office.” He said federal investigators, who were tipped that he had dumped the chemicals at the airport, found other barrels filled with hazardous chemicals there, but there has been no effort to find others who may have dumped chemicals illegally. But the charges also brought support from blacks and whites who believe he was being unjustly targeted, he said. Johnson, who has been criticized by some in the black community for his non-confrontational style, hopes he can build upon that support to expand what remains of his defense fund into a fund to create education opportunities for local minorities. Johnson said the local shootings, his prosecution and the riots in Los Angeles have helped to pull the black community together. He said the current system, which depends upon internal investigations or calling in a Texas Ranger to investigate shootings or beatings, is inadequate, because lawmen are still investigating other lawmen. He called for a civilian review board to conduct independent investigations of complaints against law enforcement in Longview and Gregg County. Before the trial, Rockmore, who was active in Johnson’s defense, said the community was sitting on a “powder keg.” Johnson’s acquittal in federal court may have relieved the pressure, but Rocicmore said the community has to come to terms with the underlying problem of racism. “Anyone here would be foolish to say there is not a problem,” he said. “I’m hopeful and prayerful that we look for peaceful means of solving the problem before it reaches the stage of exploding.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9