This piece was originally published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The world watched in horror last week as a mostly white mob violently desecrated our nation’s Capitol.
I watched in horror, too. Then, I felt angry. The rioters stormed the Capitol believing lies about mass voter fraud met little resistance from police. I thought of the violence used against people peacefully protesting police brutality last summer.
Even at George Floyd’s burial near Houston in June, there was an excessive federal law enforcement presence, including snipers. All that for a congregation of unarmed Black people mourning their loved one.
Then, I thought of my own case. I have become all too familiar with double standards as a Black woman dealing with the criminal justice system in Texas. I was charged with illegally voting after I submitted a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. Despite the fact that I didn’t know the state considered me ineligible and that the ballot was never counted, I was sentenced to five years in prison after a one-day trial.
How can the inequality in how Black and white Americans are treated in the criminal justice system — from police interaction to the courts — be so obvious yet allowed to continue?
Despite the conspiracy theories about the 2020 vote, election integrity exists. Full-fledged equality for Black Americans, however, does not. In my case, the election system worked and my provisional ballot was never counted.
The actual cases of election fraud in Texas do not involve people like me — who believed they were simply fulfilling their civic duty. They involve people such as a Tarrant County justice of the peace who actually forged signatures but was given only probation.
Then, there’s the case of former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Delay, who had his corruption conviction reversed because the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decided that a person must know that they have violated the election code. That’s the right outcome, and the same should apply to people like me.
Why was my case even prosecuted? Why was I not shown that same grace? My life and my family matter, too. But as Wednesday’s insurrection showed us — as well as the pandemic and the string of Black lives lost to law enforcement well before George Floyd — there are glaring inequities in a number of systems, including healthcare, education, financial, policing and in my case, the justice system.
Those inequities remain unresolved today. Black people know we would never have been allowed to breach the Capitol’s barricade or sit at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk with our feet up. The response would have been violent.
I pray every day that God grants me grace because the state of Texas has not shown me any. In fact, it has prosecuted me to the fullest extent of the law. If I were a white politician, would charges against me have been so harshly pursued? I ask myself that question and sit with the discomfort of knowing the truth in my heart.
The only power I have right now is to continue advocating for voters, like my hero, Stacey Abrams and teaching my kids about the reality around us. I’m scared for my children; they’re good kids. But they have seen me fight my case for four years and been exposed to the systemic injustices. I tell them that we need to pray for others because we don’t want malice in our hearts, but we still have to know our rights.
The world is watching how our government moves forward. We are at an inflection point: to realize the hopes and dreams of a mother like me for a better life for my kids, we cannot go back. Racial justice is the only path forward.
To get there, we have to remove our blinders first.
Crystal Mason is a Tarrant County resident. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the national ACLU, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, along with criminal defense attorneys Alison Grinter and Kim Cole.