police officer

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the state’s death toll. It is well-known that Texas has executed hundreds more than any other state, and openly executes the mentally ill. Advocacy groups have documented the many cases of wrongful executions in Texas, as well as wrongful convictions that have been proven through exonerating DNA testing (though typically only after the exoneree has been waiting for a decade on death row). Relevant for the Black Lives Matter movement is that the Texas death penalty regime is incredibly racist — while black people are only 12 percent of the state’s population, they are over 40 percent of the executed. This will come to a head on March 5, when Texas plans to execute an innocent black man named Rodney Reed.

In 1998, Reed was convicted by an all-white Bastrop jury for the murder of Stacey Stites. Following DNA testing which found Reed’s semen inside Stites, the prosecution argued that Reed had raped and murdered her. Reed (as well as many eyewitnesses) maintained that they were having a consensual affair, which was kept secret because Stites’ then-fiance was police officer Jimmy Fennell — he also maintained that a black man was dating a white woman who was engaged to a white officer would be incredibly scandalous and dangerous if revealed. In 2012, the medical examiner who originally testified about the DNA came forward and challenged this link, saying that the decaying state of the semen implied it had been deposited well before the time that the prosecution alleges the crime was committed, fitting the defense’s version of events. The prosecution has not offered any other evidence to link Reed to the crime.

There is, however, ample evidence to link Fennell to the crime. Fennell was found to be deceptive on two polygraph tests when asked if he had murdered Stites and could not prove his whereabouts at the time of the crime. Stites had been found on the side of a road, dumped from a truck that belonged to Fennell. Beer cans found near Stites’ body contained the DNA of Fennell’s neighbor and close friend. In the medical examiner’s 2012 declaration, he also stated that it appeared Stites had been sodomized by “a rod-like instrument, such as a police baton.” 

In 1995, Fennell was quoted by another officer as saying that if he caught Stites cheating, he would strangle her with a belt to avoid leaving fingerprints — this is how Stites was killed. As detailed by The Intercept, Fennell has a history of misogynistic violence, having harassed and stalked multiple ex-girlfriends and innocent women. He is currently serving a prison sentence for raping a woman while on duty and threatening to kill her if she reported him. This woman and nearly a dozen of Stites’ relatives have spoken up in defense of Reed and implicated Fennell as the real killer.

There is also ample evidence of New Jim Crow racism by the state: a police cover-up, inadequate defense and prosecutorial misconduct. 

First, the cover-up. The polygraphs that Fennell failed were in late 1996, while Reed wasn’t charged due to the DNA match until April 1997. In the intervening time, Fennell was not and still has not been treated as a real suspect — his apartment (the last place Stites was seen alive) was not searched; his truck (which Stites was dumped out of) was released to and promptly sold by Fennell, meaning a third party (such as Reed’s defense) could never confirm its contents or test any DNA; the crime scene and important evidence were purposefully contaminated by police investigators; the friend of Fennell’s, whose DNA was found near Stites’ body, was also a police officer; and the police decided to officially dismiss Fennell as a suspect, stating that it would be logistically impossible for Fennell to have committed the crime, even though this depended on the baseless assumption that Fennell acted alone. 

Next, Reed’s defense was clearly inadequate — the court-appointed lawyers only called two of Reed’s many willing witnesses and did not counter the prosecution’s original medical testimony (from the examiner who later recanted his incrimination of Reed) with its own medical examiner. 

Finally, the immense prosecutorial misconduct amounts to a cover-up in its own right. The prosecution withheld the crime scene DNA evidence from the defense, suppressed witness testimony that Fennell and Stites were arguing loudly the day before her death, suppressed Fennell’s 1995 statement about strangling Stites if she was found cheating and used racist smears against Reed to sway the all-white jury, portraying him as a criminal for whom “it was inevitable that we would be here at some point.”

Reed’s mother, Sandra Reed, has bravely fought for her son while enduring this injustice — the courts, meanwhile, continue to reject potentially exonerating DNA testing. She reflected with The New Abolitionist about her experience, anticipating the Black Lives Matter movement: “This proved to me that the United States has defrauded all of us. They painted this so-called justice system with rose colors and made us think that we would get a fair shake... Looking back at Martin Luther King, how he fought for our rights--well, I thought we had our rights! But I realize now that we don’t. We never had equality.” 

Those who are interested in getting involved in this struggle and preventing the imminent execution can join Reed’s family at upcoming events, which can be found at justice4rodneyreed.org.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, five state representatives filed a bill, HB 553, that openly flouts the authority of the federal government, declares any federal regulation of gun availability to be unconstitutional and proposes to prosecute any police officer or state official who attempts to enforce those federal regulations.

The five Republican state representatives — John Otto, Jim Pitts, Jimmie Aycock, Drew Darby and Tony Dale — are attempting to pass legislation asserting that their authority over Texas supersedes that of the federal government. That is expressly prohibited by the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which declares that federal laws, whether acts of Congress or executive orders, are the “supreme law of the land.” According to UT law professor Sanford Levinson, HB 553 is “idiotic ... because states have no authority to invalidate federal law. Simple as that. End of discussion.”

If the Legislature did end up passing this, Levinson says, “[The federal government] would laugh out loud and say it has no consequence, no operative authority whatsoever. And if anybody was stupid enough to disobey a relevant federal law and say ‘well, the Texas Legislature says I don’t have to,’ then that person might very well be prosecuted.”

Never mind that the bill, which the authors have dubbed “The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” disregards portions of that  particular amendment to suit their own purposes. In case the readers need reminding, the text of the bill helpfully includes the Second Amendment in its entirety: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

But it seems the authors of HB 553 neglected to read the first half of that succinct constitutional mandate. The Second Amendment clearly states its intention to facilitate the sort of state-sanctioned, well-regulated militias of soldiers that contributed to the American victory in the Revolutionary War. The modern equivalent to that force is more commonly known as the National Guard, and the government does not infringe on the right of those citizen soldiers to bear arms in the defense of the “security of the free state.”

Instead, the five state representatives who wrote HB 553 interpret the amendment as a sweeping endorsement of the most extreme, far-right philosophy of gun availability: that any private citizen can carry any kind of weapon he or she wants, no matter how dangerous, with no regulation or oversight of any kind. They even say as much:

“Resolved ... that all federal acts, laws, executive orders, agency orders, and rules or regulations of all kinds with the purpose, intent or effect of confiscating any firearm, banning any firearm, limiting the size of a magazine for any firearm, imposing any limit on the ammunition that may be purchased for any firearm, taxing any firearm or ammunition therefore or requiring the registration of any firearm or ammunition therefore, infringes upon Texan’s [sic] right to bear arms in direct violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The representatives’ reasoning is unfounded. After decades of court precedent, Levinson says, “there is really no serious argument that any of the federal laws involving guns are unconstitutional.” “Well-regulated” isn’t a complicated phrase.

Introduced on the same day President Barack Obama announced his plan for national gun control, this bill was and remains a cheap political stunt. So far, similar bills have been filed by Republican representatives in at least one other state legislature, suggesting that it’s more of a national GOP publicity and fundraising move rather than a brave stand for liberty. 

Gov. Rick Perry has a history of signing similar legislation aimed at making a political gesture rather than policy. In 2011 he signed a bill that purported to nullify an uncontroversial national regulation phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs and talked a big game about state nullification of Obamacare. If the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” gets through the Legislature and across Perry’s desk, it wouldn’t be the first time far-right conservatives in the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion made a national laughingstock out of our state.

It’s disappointing that, just one week into the 83rd Legislative Session, we’ve already witnessed elected officials performing radically ideological publicity stunts disguised as fulfilling their prescribed duties.

Stroud is an international relations and global studies sophomore from San Antonio.

BANGKOK — A grandson of the creator of the Red Bull energy drink has been arrested for driving a Ferrari that struck a police officer and dragged his dead body down a Bangkok street in an early-morning hit-and-run, police said Monday.

Police took Vorayuth Yoovidhya, 27, for questioning after tracing oil streaks for several blocks to his family’s gated estate in a wealthy neighborhood of the Thai capital.

He was facing charges of causing death by reckless driving and escaping an arrest by police but was released on a 500,000 baht ($15,900) bail.

— Compiled from Associated Press

As a graduate student who has spent two years learning about human rights, social justice and decolonization, I felt compelled to stand in support of fellow students who are taking action so that UT is not complicit in violating the rights of workers who make Longhorn apparel. These students understand that UT’s decision to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium could have an impact on the working conditions of hundreds of factory workers and is a potential game-changer for the collegiate apparel industry.

But what was most appalling to me was how the administration, apparently as per University guidelines, had 18 students arrested for staying in the lobby after 5 p.m.

Under what logic does the University justify arresting students for peaceful actions? Why is it so quick to bring in the police to intimidate students?

The administration has forgotten that the University belongs to the people of the state of Texas — every space on campus is public, and as long as we are responsible, we are allowed to occupy it. But that is exactly the point; students are not allowed in the spaces where the decisions are made.

I wrote a letter requesting that President William Powers Jr. issue a public apology to the students arrested and that the administration engage in active, constructive dialogue with students on all matters that are of interest to us. Monday afternoon, I walked up to the fourth floor of the Tower to deliver my letter. Invoking my First Amendment right, I wanted to read that letter aloud to the office staff. When I arrived, the police officer who guards the entrance refused to allow me to enter and closed the glass doors. I was forced to read my letter to him and to listen to my echo in the hallway, disheartened and in tears at how the people who are supposed to represent our interests would close their doors at my sight and then go so far as to lock them.

At that moment, I understood what the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition is up against. Students organizing must try to have their voices heard from an administration that will first shut its doors and then ignore your echo.

The staff realized the absurdity of their actions at the presence of a single student and unlocked the doors. I eventually entered the office to deliver my letter, even though the police officer’s presence did intimidate me. The staff’s words were not welcoming, but they did stamp my letter.

I left reflecting on how scared the administration is of students. They keep a full-time police officer to guard the entrance, lest students visit for any reason. Keeping the officer there sends a clear message: You are not welcome in the president’s office.

I share my personal experience so that we all open our eyes to how decisions are made on campus. The people in the Tower decide, and students listen. Try to have your voice heard, and the door will be slammed shut. The actions of those brave students who were arrested highlights what is at stake at UT right now. First and foremost are the rights and working conditions of people around the world who toil to make us those burnt-orange T-shirts. Also at stake is our First Amendment right to freedom of speech, our rights to information (the coalition has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the University that have yet to be answered), how the University treats students and the conception of the public university itself. We are called to question how our university is structured and to challenge the administration to meet students at the discussion table, as equal partners, not as authority figures wielding all the power.

Osorio is a Latin American studies graduate student.

Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, 33, is escorted by federal police officers to a media presentation in Mexico City on Sunday. According to federal officials, Acosta is a key drug cartel figure.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — A former police officer who allegedly admits ordering 1,500 killings during a campaign of terror as a drug gang chieftain along the U.S. border has been captured in northern Mexico, federal officials said Sunday.
Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez also is a suspect in last year’s slaying of a U.S. consulate employee near a border crossing in Ciudad Juarez.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said through his Twitter account that Acosta’s capture is “the biggest blow” to organized crime in Ciudad Juarez since he sent about 5,000 federal police to the city in April 2010 to try to curb violence in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

Acosta, 33, was caught Friday in the northern city of Chihuahua along with his bodyguard, said Ramon Pequeno, head of the federal police anti-drug unit. He did not specify how the capture happened. Acosta’s arrest was not confirmed until Sunday, just before officials displayed him to the news media in Mexico City.

Wearing a long-sleeve dress shirt, the short man with a cleft chin and thick eyebrows limped as he was escorted by two masked federal police officers to stand before the cameras.

Pequeno said at the press conference that Acosta told federal police he ordered 1,500 killings.

U.S. prosecutors also want to try him in that case. A federal indictment filed in the western district of Texas says Acosta and nine others conspired to kill the three. Pequeno said he expects an extradition request from the U.S. government.

Mexican authorities have identified Acosta as head of La Linea, a gang of hit men and corrupt police officers who act as enforcers for the Juarez Cartel.

Acosta acknowledged he ordered the most notorious crimes such as the detonation of a July 2010 car bomb and a massacre that killed 15 people, mostly teenagers, at a birthday party, both in Ciudad Juarez, Pequeno said.

A former state police officer, Acosta built a criminal empire, not only leading a gang of contract killers for the Juarez Cartel but also extorting businesses and kidnapping for large ransoms, said Tony Payan, drug war expert at the University of Texas-El Paso.