Justice Can’t Wait: Independence Day Agenda For Houston Policing

Report published by Right2Justice ally ACLU Texas on July 17, 2020.

Houston is where George Floyd was raised and where he was laid to rest. While he did not take his final breaths here, his legacy is tied to ours and how we respond to this national reckoning with policing and police violence targeting Black people.

This report documents the ongoing practice of discriminatory policing in Houston. It shows that Black Houstonians make up just 23% of the population, but 36% of police stops, 49% of citation–eligible arrests, and 63% of those shot by the Houston Police Department. Black people in Houston are suffering disproportionately at the hands of police.

Around the country and across the state, cities are taking action to fundamentally reimagine the role of police in communities. They are disbanding problematic units, banning no–knock warrants, allocating funding for non-police emergency response, and reducing police budgets.

Houston has not yet taken decisive action on policing. George Floyd was buried in Pearland on June 9. On June 10, Houston City Council voted to increase the police budget by $19 million. On June 25, Mayor Turner appointed a Task Force on Policing Reform, with a mandate to deliberate for 60–90 days on a set of recommendations. The task force excludes the voices of advocates who have been working for years on criminal justice reform in Houston. And at a moment when Black trans people are especially vulnerable, its composition raises serious questions about how LGBTQ issues will be addressed in its work.

These efforts deny the need for urgent action, now. This report includes five model ordinances based on national best practices and responds to the existing recommendations for reform this administration has already received to:

  1. limit discretionary arrests for citation-eligible offenses;
  2. maximize public access to critical incident body-worn camera footage;
  3. create a framework to expand non-police emergency first responders;
  4. improve fairness and justice in municipal courts; and
  5. ban no-knock warrants.

It also calls on the city to increase accountability in the police union contract; move police budget dollars to first responder, non–emergency and public health services budgets; and invigorate the citizens’ oversight board with power to act independently.

We release this call to action on Independence Day because the fight for freedom is far from over. The barrier to reform in Houston in the summer of 2020 isn’t further study, it is political will. It took 30 years for Houston to negotiate a settlement with the NAACP and MALDEF to formally adopt the requirements of Brown v. Board of Education. Changes in policing practices cannot wait that long. In 1965, the civil rights leader Whitney Young reflected on the history of reports on race and policing, writing, “The report is still there, it still reads well, but practically nothing is being done to follow its recommendations.” More than 50 years later, that remains the history of task force reports.

Our leaders need to pick a side: will they choose to stall transformative change with a drawn-out task force that is unaccountable to those most affected by the persistent history of discriminatory policing in our communities? Or will they meet the moment and respond to the demand for action from 60,000 people marching in the streets? The Mayor and City Council can vote now on five ordinances that would change policing in Houston. They should do it.

The time for action is now. Mayor Turner, Chief Acevedo, members of City Council, we are looking to you to lead.

Report by:

  • American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
  • Black Lives Matter Houston
  • Community Justice Action Fund
  • FIEL Houston
  • Grassroots Leadership
  • Houston Justice
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Indivisible Houston
  • One Family One Future
  • Pure Justice
  • Right2Justice Coalition
  • Texas Advocates for Justice
  • Texas Appleseed
  • Texas Civil Rights Project
  • Texas Fair Defense Project
  • Texas Organizing Project
  • Urban Community Network
  • Workers Defense Action Fund