For some time, we had been arranging to have our house painted. We felt that we had found a good man for the job. The fellow called me early on Thursday of last week. He told me that he was ready to get started, but that first, he had a question for me.
“Was that you I saw on the TV news last week?” he solemnly asked me.
Oh Lord, I thought, this guy is going to be one of those wild-eyed extremists, and we really need to get the house painted.
“If you mean that protest about the state troopers, then yeah, that was me,” I told him, wondering if I knew anyone else who could paint a house.
“Then you get a $200 discount on the house job,” he said, “I am sick and tired of the way those people treat us and I am glad that you were out there for us.”
“You need to help me get involved,” he continued, “Because for too long I have just sat back and did nothing. That is going to change.”
The protest that he was speaking of was a collective action by Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network partners against the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). On September 15th, the state troopers had flown in a group of agents to set up a series of “checkpoints” in the region. Ostensibly, the operation was to be focused on catching people driving without licenses or insurance. The troopers, however, set up shop outside of the poorest neighborhoods in the area. While Steve McCraw, the Director of the troopers, insisted that “the public should not be alarmed” by the activity, when Border Patrol agents began showing up at the traffic stops, people were terrified.
Residents flooded the offices of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice partners with phone calls, worried that the officers were hunting down undocumented people. Members of Proyecto Azteca, ARISE, LUPE, the South Texas Civil Rights’ Project, the Texas Organizing Project, and the ACLU came together at the DPS offices on Monday, September 30, insisting upon transparency and dialogue with the community about the actions.
As usual, none of the officers would come out to meet with us. Juanita Valdez-Cox of LUPE approached one of the officers standing outside the building and asked who was in charge. “I am,” he answered.
She invited the trooper to come out to talk with us. “I am not allowed to do that,” the officer in charge replied. Juanita asked for his commanding officer’s phone number, and she called him. “At the sound of the tone, leave a message,” was that response.
The protest gathering was lively. “They would never get away with doing something like this in downtown McAllen” was a general theme.
I sidled up to an elderly woman who had wisely brought an umbrella with her. She shared a bit of her shade with me, and then said, “I am embarrassed by those officers. I have a hard time getting around, and I have an permit to park in the handicapped space, but when the officer saw that I was a part of this (protest) he made me park on the other side of the field.”
The protest concluded, and we went our separate ways. The DPS continued to insist that it was doing nothing unusual, just enforcing traffic laws. Later in the week, Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst revealed this to be untrue, as he crowed about how the DPS was showing Washington “how to secure the border.”
Ramona Casas, of ARISE and Equal Voice, was not buying any of the political posturing. “Our families need to be able to trust the police officers; we need them, but we have to be able to trust them, and we can’t if they are going to be playing games with us.”
The house painter should be coming by later this evening. He had wanted to know how to get involved. My first question to him will be “Are you registered to vote?”