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Texas is a place where strange news is the norm

By Vernon A. Williams

What is it with Texas? With no intended disrespect to my friends in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso, there seems to be an inordinate number of strange things going on in the Longhorn State.

It came to mind recently when I heard that the Texas State Board of Education voted to erase Hillary Clinton from their history books. Now this is one straight out of the ‘sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction’ category. It is real.

This is an unprecedented move by Republicans to re-write history in such a way that their racist, sexist, right wing views are not just promoted but taught to children in the public schools beginning at third grade.

Texas GOP politicians rationalize that it was just an effort to “streamline” curriculum; which translated means getting rid of information and facts about people and things that do not line up with your political perspective.

Thinking deeper, I conjured many numerous instances in which Texas stands out when it comes to strangeness. Not the least among such examples was the time that they tried to rewrite history books to say Blacks “migrated” from Africa to the U.S. for job opportunities. Clearer thinking Texans caught that vile ploy in time to thwart it.

It is not just my imagination. Texas is different. Consider this. There have been 1,465 executions in the United States since 1976. More than a third have been from just one of our 50 states. You guessed it. Texas.

Texas has carried out the death penalty 545 times in 42 years. That is more than the next six states combined over the same period. That is no typo. Virginia (115), Oklahoma (112), Florida (95), Missouri (80), Georgia (70) and Alabama (61) combined had 531 executions.  That is still 14 less than the one state of Texas.

Okay, so you ask what else is so strange about that state’s news…try this one on for size. North Texas cop Eric Casebolt was caught on video yelling at Black teenagers, cursing them out and eventually body slamming a girl – 15-year-old Dajerna Becton – while she attended a party at the Craig Ranch North Community Pool in McKinney.

After forcing her to the ground onto her stomach, Casebolt put his knees on her back to press the slim girl down. The entire incident was caught on cellphone in May 2015. The City of McKinney paid a $150,000 settlement to the girl.

In one horrific Texas incident, a Black man named James Byrd Jr. was murdered in 1998 by three men proclaiming to be white supremacists. The killers (Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer and John King) tied Byrd to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged him for three miles to his death.

The force of the brutality resulted in Byrd losing an arm while being pulled as well as being decapitated. The men retrieved body parts of Boyd and dumped them in the middle of the Black community, along with what was left of his body.

Then there was retired Austin, TX police officer James Miller who in September 2015 was drunk and playing his guitar at the home of a neighbor named David Spencer who was also a musician. Miller told police, when the jam session ended Spencer tried to kiss him. He rebuked the attempt insisting that he was not gay.

When Miller got up to leave, he pulled out a knife and stabbed Spencer to death. During his trial, Miller pleaded self-defense saying he suffered a “gay panic” – meaning he just lost it after the same-sex ‘come on.’ A sympathetic Texas jury would not find him guilty of murder or manslaughter but rather criminally negligent homicide. Six months in jail.

None of us can forget the chilling story of Sandra Bland who left Chicago for a job in Texas only to be stopped for a minor traffic violation, spoken to disrespectfully by the police officer, locked up and found dead in her jail cell days later.

Sandra Bland

The church shooting of last year left several dead in Texas. There was the shooting of five police officers in Dallas. It does not seem that far away that the FBI standoff in Waco, TX resulted in multiple deaths. Speaking of history, the last assassination of a U.S. president was John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas.

No doubt about it. There is just something strange about the State of Texas.

Finally, the recent tragic case of Botham Shem Jean, a Black man living in Dallas who was shot and killed when he answered the door of his own apartment to find police officer Amber Guygen there with a gun. She shot him after allegedly mistaking the apartment for her own – then supposedly believing that her “neighbor” was a burglar. Nobody is buying that story. We will see how it turns out – left in the hands of Texans.

botham shem jean
Bothan Shem Jean

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