HOUSTON - Mayor Sylvester Turner, the Houston City Council, and Police Chief Art Acevedo already have the information they need to enact meaningful reforms to address police violence, restore trust and accountability, and address racial disparities in the criminal legal system; they should not wait for a new task force in order to act, according to a new report published by a coalition of community and civil rights organizations.
The report, “Justice Can’t Wait: Independence Day Agenda for Houston Policing,” finds that there are significant racial disparities in traffic stops, arrests, and police shootings of civilians by police in Houston, and that the City has not implemented police reform recommendations from previous advisory bodies to address these problems. Although the City has commissioned a new “task force” to look into policing, the report argues that city leaders can act immediately to provide meaningful change and restore trust and accountability.
The report includes model language for five ordinances the city council and mayor could adopt immediately that would limit discretionary arrests for citation-eligible offenses, maximize public access to police body camera footage, provide a framework for expanded non-police emergency responders, increase fairness in municipal courts, and ban “no-knock” warrants.
“For 400 years Blacks have been saying, ‘We Can’t Breathe,’” said Bishop James Dixon of One Family One Future and member of Mayor Turner's Task Force on Policing Reform. “I’m honored to stand with a coalition of leaders demanding equal justice for Blacks and all Americans. With one voice, we announce the birth of a new America, where there’s liberty and justice for ALL, starting in Houston and Harris County.”
“For years I’ve fought against racist policies designed to oppress the Black community,” said Tarsha Jackson, Right2Justice strategist for Texas Organizing Project. “The recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor brought to a head the epidemic of police killing, brutalizing and harassing Black people. We can't wait years for a change that can happen today. Now is the time to implement policies that will prevent my grandchildren and great grandchildren from experiencing the same injustice Black people experienced for over 400 years.”
“We are demanding justice and decriminalization of Black Houstonians, and that starts on a local level,” said Ashton Woods, founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Houston. “If we have nothing to lose but our chains, then we must use all avenues available to ensure true equity. We need change now in Houston, now more than ever, we need to improve our quality of life and that means we must dismantle systemic and institutional racism everywhere it exists. This report is a road map – the first step towards real freedom for Black lives."
“Black people in Houston are suffering disproportionately from police violence and a broken criminal legal system, and city leaders have had the information and tools to address these crises for years,” said Sarah Labowitz, policy director of the ACLU of Texas. “Across the country, cities are taking action to reimagine what policing means in communities. Our city’s leaders already have the tools to take meaningful action, and they should do so immediately, because justice can’t wait.”
“Justice Can’t Wait: Independence Day Agenda for Houston Policing” is co-authored by: ACLU of Texas; Black Lives Matter Houston; Community Justice Action Fund; Fiel Houston; Grassroots Leadership; Houston Justice; Immigrant Legal Resource Center; Indivisible Houston; One Family One Future; Pure Justice; Right2Justice Coalition; Texas Advocates for Justice; Texas Appleseed; Texas Civil Rights Project; Texas Fair Defense Project; Texas Organizing Project; Urban Community Network; and Workers Defense Action Fund.
The report was first unveiled at the Drive for Justice Community Drive at the Houston Civic Justice Center on July 4th. Coalition members and co-authors will be delivering the report to task force members and city leaders this week.