AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to institute police reforms when he met with the Houston family of George Floyd, who was handcuffed and killed by police in front of a Minneapolis convenience store on May 25.
Video footage showed the 46-year-old Floyd subdued by four uniformed officers and pinned down on the pavement, one of them pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd lost consciousness and was later pronounced dead. Outrage over Floyd’s death and other police-involved deaths of African-Americans inspired protest marches in cities across Texas, the United States and around the world over the last three weeks.
Abbott told reporters he met with the Floyd family in their home June 9 to assure them that George Floyd did not die in vain and that his life “would be the stimulant for reforms that will make Texas and the country a better place.”
Abbott said there was no reason for a police officer to have his knee on Floyd’s neck, that there must be better strategies for police to use, and that reforms would be a priority in the 87th Texas Legislature.
Reform work is ahead
Texas House County Affairs Committee Chair Garnet Coleman and Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire, both D-Houston, on June 9 announced they would continue to work together on criminal justice reform in the upcoming legislative session scheduled to convene in January.
Whitmire, the most-senior member of the Texas Senate, and Coleman, who is the fifth-most-senior member of the Texas House, released a joint statement, saying: “The recent murder of longtime Houston resident George Floyd by a law enforcement officer in Minneapolis is a painful reminder to us that though we have traveled so far, there is still a long way to go. The passion shown by the millions of people who have made their voices heard against racism have helped fuel our commitment to continue to work towards justice.”
Whitmire and Coleman said their goal is to “ensure equal treatment for people of color, increase transparency and accountability and keep both law enforcement and the public safer.”
COVID measures increase
Texas is increasing efforts to identify and expand COVID-19 testing operations in underserved and minority communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.
Gov. Abbott on June 8 said the Texas Division of Emergency Management is coordinating with local governments, public health officials and emergency management entities to speed up testing and identification of COVID-19 cases.
Abbott said walk-up and drive-thru testing sites are in place and expanding in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, Abilene, the Rio Grande Valley, the Coastal Bend, Laredo, Midland-Odessa and particularly in urban areas where large-scale protests have taken place. “As many Texans continue to gather for protests,” Abbott said, “the state is also taking steps to address potential surges in COVID-19 cases. We are ensuring that Texans can continue to safely exercise their First Amendment Rights while putting protocols in place to identify and mitigate any spread of COVID-19.”
Cumulative figures posted June 14 by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed some 87,854 people in Texas diagnosed with COVID-19 and 1,976 deaths confirmed from the virus pandemic.
Ryan: Follow protocols
With plans to reopen Texas while COVID-19 testing, cases and deaths continue to increase, the governor’s office on June 10 posted a public service announcement delivered by Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.
In the short video titled “Don’t Be A Knucklehead” Ryan encourages Texans to follow established COVID-19 protocols: “Wash your hands, socially distance yourself from others and wear a mask. Do the right thing. Look out for your fellow Texans and together we’ll make it through this,” Ryan says.
Revenue to be distributed
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on June 10 announced his office would send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $690.4 million in local sales tax allocations for the month of June.
The revenue to be distributed is 11.7% less than the amount distributed in June 2019, a decline Hegar attributed to social distancing statewide in April. The June 2020 allocation percentages, based on sales made in April by businesses that report tax monthly, break down as follows: cities, down 11.1%; counties, down 7.2%; transit systems, down 17.4%; and special purpose districts, down 4.4%
For more stories like this, see the June 18 issue or subscribe online.
By Ed Sterling, member services director for the Texas Press Association