TOP: Our communities are resolute, unbowed by President Trump

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“Every day, President Trump shows us his true agenda is to dismantle the core values our country has aspired to since its founding: freedom, opportunity and equality.

“Yesterday, it was the pipelines that will endanger our environment and violate Native People’s sacred lands.

“Today, he authorized orders to increase the militarization of our borders; build a deportation force to separate our families and eviscerate our communities and economy; and threatened retaliation against law enforcement agencies who value trust with the community as a pillar for keeping their communities safe (so-called sanctuary cities).

“The President’s actions are a direct threat to the safety, wellbeing and freedoms of millions of people who work hard to keep our economy going, who are neighbors, who are our family.

“We will not be bowed by Trump’s orders. We resolve to work harder to protect ALL communities threatened by this administration.

“It still holds true, even in the era of Trump, that ‘The power of the people is greater than the people in power.’”

By: Michelle Tremillo, executive director, Texas Organizing Project

Fighting Back Against Jailing of Poor

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Today, the Texas Organizing Project, state Sen. Rodney Ellis and several allies held a press conference to continue shining a spotlight on Harris County’s illegal and immoral practice of keeping poor people accused of minor crimes in jail because they cannot afford to post bail.

Every night, approximately 80 percent of people behind bars at the Harris County Jail are there because they’re too poor to post bail. And about 10 people on average die every year awaiting trial.

Harris County uses a schedule to determine bail for everyone who is arrested. The schedule dictates the amount of bail based on the alleged offense, without any consideration of whether that person has the ability to pay that amount.

That means if a person is poor, there’s almost no chance of being released prior to trial, even if charged with a low level, nonviolent offense. But a rich person can walk the streets free before trial no matter what kind of danger they pose. That just is NOT right. That is NOT just.

Keeping poor people in jail also destroys lives. People kept in jail for minor offenses risk losing their jobs, which can lead to homelessness and economic insecurity.

It also doesn’t make financial sense for the county. It costs the county $75 per day to deprive someone of their freedom. In March 2016, Harris County taxpayers paid $513,075 every day to house people not convicted of a crime.

The Texas Organizing Project urges Harris County to take four steps to break this ugly practice of jailing the poor:

1. Stop detaining people accused of misdemeanor offenses who cannot afford to pay a cash bond;

2. Work with Mayor Turner and HPD to formulate a plan whereby HPD and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and DA’s office agree to implement cite and release as allowed under Texas law;

3. Use non-monetary conditions of release, including stay-away orders, curfews, home detention or unsecured or “signature” bonds, which do not require payment up front for release but instead allow immediate release upon a promise to pay the monetary amount if the person does not appear as required; and

4. Adopt best practices from other jurisdictions including phone and text message reminders of court dates, rides to court for those without transportation or a stable address, counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, batterer intervention programs, anger management courses, alcohol monitors, or in extreme cases of particular risk, electronic monitoring.

We can have a system that keeps us safe and treats people humanely. Jailing people because they are poor does neither.

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Organizations that participated in the press conference included: Texas Organizing Project (TOP), Black Lives Matter HoustonTX, the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, Fb The People Hold the Purse, University of Houston Law Center, Texas Appleseed, American Civil Liberties Union-Texas (ACLU), American GI Forum Houston Chapter, Dr. Guerra, United we Dream, Houston Peace and Justice Center, St. Mary’s United Methodist Church, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Civil Rights Project-Houston, Deric Muhammad, and state Sen. Rodney Ellis

TOP and Allies Hold Vigil to Denounce Police Union’s Support for SB 185

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Texas Organizing Project members and allies, today held a vigil to pray for the Houston Police Officers’ Union’s support of the “spirit” of anti-immigrant legislation SB 185. The law is comparable to Arizona’s SB 1070, which allows law enforcement officers to ask for immigration documents.

“Effective policing requires that the community trust the police,” said Alain Cisneros, TOP’s lead immigration organizer. “SB 185 would harm that trust because any interaction with police could lead to a deportation and family separation. Today, we’re here to pray that the police union reconsider their position on SB 185. Just as we pray that they return home safely every night, we believe that immigrant mothers and fathers also deserve to be able to get home safely without fear of police and deportation.”

More than 50 Houston-area residents gathered in front of the HPOU’s building on State St. to peacefully demonstrate. The gathering got off to a rough start, though, when one representative of the union invited the group into the building only to be met by HPOU president Ray Hunt who threatened them with arrest if they didn’t immediately leave the building. See video here.

Hunt said he wanted to talk to one person from the group, but given that there were several organizations present, Cisneros declined the invitation countering that he should meet with a delegation representative of the various organizations there. Hunt later told members of the press that the union did not support SB 185 because it could lead to the Police Department losing funds from the state, but that he supported “the spirit of the law.” See that video here.

“It’s clear to us that Mr. Hunt doesn’t care about how this law would adversely affect the immigrant and Latino communities, or law enforcement’s ability to effectively police in our communities,” Cisneros said. “He is not concerned that this could lead to even more racial profiling and could lead to the deportations of even more hard working men and women. And he is clearly not concerned with losing the trust of the community. But he is concerned about losing funding.”

Today’s action is part of a broader campaign to push back against all anti-immigrant bills being considered by the state’s legislature and the lawsuit initiated by Gov. Greg Abbott to stop President Obama’s immigration executive orders. TOP was joined at today’s action by Fe y Justicia, and FILU.

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The Texas Organizing Project (TOP), a membership-based organization, works to build power through community organizing and civic engagement. For more information, visit organizetexas.org.

For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Contact: Mary Moreno, mmoreno@organizetexas.org, (832) 829-4174