A recent Texas Monthly article, Police Violence — The More Things Stay the Same, parallels the 1977 Texas Monthly cover and its companion article to today’s police brutality, both in Texas and beyond.
The 1977 cover and article depicted Houston Police as a biker gang, the new gang. On the heels of the Joe Campos Torres, Jr. murder, then Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz, obviously anguished, said: “There is something loose in this city that is an illness.” His sentiments were echoed by famed criminal defense attorney Percy Foreman who called Houston a “police state.” Percy continued, “The Houston Police Department is worse, and its officers more violent and unchecked, than any comparable police force in the country.”
A little history as an aside: Torres, a 23-year old Vietnam Veteran, was arrested in May 1977 for disorderly conduct at an east-side Houston bar. The six responding officers took Torres to a place called “the hole” near Buffalo Bayou and severely beat him. When the officers presented Torres to the jail for booking, jail personnel ordered Torres taken to the hospital. Instead, the officers returned to the bayou and tossed Torres into the water with his hands still cuffed. Days later, Torres’ body was discovered in the water.
The two officers who were tried in state court on murder charges were convicted of negligent homicide and given one-year probation and a $1 fine. Later officers were tried in federal court and were convicted and served 9 months in prison.
The outrage over the officers’ action and their punishments led to riots and protests.
These 1970’s accounts of police violence parallel today’s accounts: a policeman in McKinney, Texas drawing his service weapon on a group of African-American teenagers in swimsuits; a Harris County prosecutor using a grand jury to browbeat an alibi witness; the officer shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and the police shooting of mentally ill Kajieme Powell in St. Louis.
Of particular interest to us in Harris County, Percy Foreman blamed the 1970’s police violence on Harris County prosecutors who have “’white-washed every charge against policemen,’ thus encouraging even more police violence by letting police know that they are free from the sanctions of the law.” It’s telling that Percy’s take on violence then is echoed by Harris County defenders still today and the remarkable rate at which Harris County grand juries wash charges against policemen.
Anyway, the article is worth the read as it goes on to analyze the military-styled police state and their training, particularly that since 9/11 police have been trained to OCCUPY rather than PROTECT.