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OCT 2020 Blues Vol. 36 No. 10

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OCT 2020 Blues Vol. 36 No. 10

BACK the BLUE After the

BACK the BLUE After the Protests: Four Perspectives on the State’s Criminal Justice System At the presser, Abbott said that Austin had seen the greatest percentage rise in homicides in any city in the country. That was scaremongering. Most big cities have seen an increase in violent crime in this endlessly terrible year—no one can say exactly why, but the imploding economy and quarantine are two likely suspects. The reason the percentage rise is high in Austin is because the number of homicides that take place is very low to start with. (There were nine more homicides in the first half of this year than there were last year, representing a 64 percent rise.) Abbott then shared a tweet urging Texans traveling to Austin to “enter at your own risk.” In fact, Austin was and remains one of the safest big cities in the nation, going by the homicide rate. A week later, Abbott doubled down, warning that the state could take over the entire Austin Police Department, which would be an extraordinary imposition of state power. On Wednesday, he released his “Back the Blue” in Texas pledge on his personal website, asking members of the public to sign en masse. (This also doubled as a way to collect emails and peg them to a zip code, useful information for a campaign.) He signed it at the ceremony on Thursday, while announcing a new proposal: cities that were found to have “defunded” their police departments would lose the ability to annex— incorporating outlying areas into the city proper—and areas that had been annexed before should be allowed to secede, he said. (The Legislature has already greatly limited annexation.) This, along with the rest of his blitz, Abbott said, “should leave Austin with no choice but to restore the cuts.” When Abbott last threatened to sic state troopers on Austin as part of his previous offensive against the city, regarding the problem of homelessness, I wrote a somewhat, uh, passionate defense of my birthplace against state tyranny. But it’s hard to feel much of anything about this. It’s too transparent. The proposals don’t seem like they’re intended to become law. Take the one that would effectively prohibit cities from ever lowering police budgets, lest their tax revenue be frozen. That might have a perverse effect, one police departments could come to regret: cities would be reluctant to raise police budgets if they knew they could never decrease them. In point of fact, there was a debate about police funding last session, and Abbott didn’t “back the blue.” Abbott endorsed Senate Bill 2, which aimed to restrict cities’ ability to raise revenue from property taxes. Police organizations understood that this would squeeze their budgets, which represent a huge portion of municipal spending. So, the state’s biggest police association, CLEAT, opposed it vehemently, siding with cities against the governor and characterizing the bill as an “attack on local control.” It’s also difficult to imagine how these proposals would even be translated into the text of a law the Legislature might debate. These are unusual conditional restrictions on local spending that subvert the power of local officials and will likely lead to legal challenges. As reporter Scott Braddock of Quorum Report has noted, the fact that a proposal is nonsense doesn’t mean that the Legislature won’t pass it. But if Democrats have even a strong minority in the House it would be difficult to get through. There are still enough Republicans who don’t like Abbott’s city-bashing and worry about the precedent it sets. What the state GOP is really doing with the pledge is trying to generate an issue to “define” this election that’s not Donald Trump. “Defunding the police,” when polled, is a very unpopular idea. Naturally, that’s the terrain Republicans want to fight on. Running against “defunding the police” fires up Republicans with Thin Blue Line flags, worries wealthy crossover voters who are animated by property values, and drives a wedge in the Democratic coalition, as politicians rush to disassociate themselves from phrasing that has become a touchstone for activists. As an added bonus, some of those swing House districts are in the Austin suburbs. Will it work? I am dubious that anything can make this election about something other than the fact that Donald Trump, former host of The Apprentice, is the president of the United States of America. But it may shade some districts redder, and that could be enough to throw the Republican House Caucus a lifeline. It’s potentially a shrewd play. Just don’t expect it to come to much after the evening of November 3. 46 The BLUES POLICE MAGAZINE The BLUES POLICE MAGAZINE 47

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