The Continued Rise of Houston’s Police State
It’s quite the cluster, isn’t it? In the last few weeks:
- Mayor Sylvester Turner gave CARES Act money, meant for COVID-19 spending, to the Houston Police Department (HPD)for overtime.
- According to the Houston Chronicle about HPD: “Homicide detectives solved 89 percent of homicides in 2011. As of May, that number had fallen to 49 percent.”
- Billionaire, Tilman Fertitta, along with the Houston Police Foundation Board and local elected officials, celebrated (and funded) the new Fertitta Family Tactical Center, apparently “one of only four of its kinds in the country.”
- And, ICYMI, Houston Police Department partnered with the The Neighbors App by Ring in 2019 to monitor crime.
The Neighbor App by Ring
The oldest news is that HPD partnered with Amazon-owned Ring, the video doorbell, so let’s start with that. If it’s any consolation, “public safety agencies” apparently don’t have free rein of looking at the Ring videos whenever they want — they must submit a video request and you can opt out entirely if you want. Read about all of that here.
However, there is a new pilot program being rolled out to have these footages of people’s front doors streaming, in real-time, straight to a police “Real Time Crime Center.” If the pilot program is deemed a success, how soon before HPD becomes involved? Also, the Pasadena Police Department (PPD) is partnered with the app. How soon before PPD is part of it too? This isn’t simply a Houston issue.
With some of this contextual knowledge in mind, let’s look at how the allocation of COVID-19 money to cops, decrease in solved homicides, and the new tactical center funded by a board comprised of Houston’s corporate establishment is terrifying if we maintain this path of the new pilot program under surveillance capitalism in this fascist system.
The Dichotomy of Problematic Police & Their Funding
No matter how problematic HPD is, Mayor Sylvester Turner still manages to give them money. Given the police union’s campaign donations, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Recent internal audit of only one facet of HPD, the narcotics division, revealed 404 errors in 231 cases involving only two officers. Imagine what findings would have revealed if it was a third-party audit and/or if it had been an audit of the entire HPD. The chances of an audit like this is incredibly slim, especially as we consider that not even the the contract between the city and HPD holds any transparency.
Even more recently, according to the Houston Chronicle: “Homicide detectives solved 89 percent of homicides in 2011. As of May, that number had fallen to 49 percent.” Play with an interactive data set from the Murder Accountability Project to see clearance rates for all of Harris County and its individual agencies over the last few decades.
On top of that, Mapping Police Violence shows that from 2013–2019, HPD killed a total of 67 people with Black people being killed at 3.3x the rate of white people.
Now onto the funding.
62% of the safety budget funds went to the HPD. This number is $964,837,483 of policing money for the population of about two million people. Here’s the full list of country military budgets, but you need to know that HPD has a bigger budget than Ireland’s entire military budget ($870 million) with little over four million people. HPD polices half the population of Ireland, but has $100 million more in their budget than Ireland’s military budget.
$4.1 million of CARES Act funds was apparently given to HPD to cover police overtime with the 11% uptick in crime. Jaison Oliver, a local activist, reviewed the activities outlined in the overtime initiative and found that most of the overtime was related to housing insecurity. Find the full Public Safety Agenda, here.
In Turner’s quote defending the allocation, used across multiple news stories across the city, he says:
“Major cities across the nation are experiencing an increase in homicides, shootings and other crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turner said. “There is no denying the virus has contributed to anxiety and stress as people cope with job losses, feelings of isolation, illness or death of loved ones, children learning at home virtually and fear of the unknown.”
Let’s zoom in on that last part.
“….no denying the virus has contributed to anxiety and stress as people cope with job losses, feelings of isolation, illness or death of loved ones, children learning at home virtually and fear of the unknown.”
By giving HPD more money, Turner has indicated that he is totally fine with criminalizing people instead using CARES Act money to fund social services to help address coping of job losses, feelings of isolation, and everything else Turner mentions.
The People’s Liberation Front organized a protest to voice opposition to this decision. The group even went and protested at Turner’s house. Grizzy’s Hood News caught some of the protest at his house, watch it here.
The Tactical Center
Earlier this year, the George Floyd protests lasted a couple of weeks in Houston and peaked on June 2 with over 60k in attendance. Most of the protests ended with the mobilization of militarized police being transported via Metro buses, and protesters and medics being met with tear gas, flash bangs, and violence. Not to mention, cops in tactical gear picking out individual protesters. They used kettling tactics to purposefully trap protesters to charge them with trespassing. Oh and more tear gas which is banned for use in war, but the US managed to create an exception to use on their citizens.
Because time and space is collapsing into itself, it’s hard to think it was only a few months ago the nation participated in what may be largest movement in US history with millions of people activated. This rehearsal of critical mass movement presented an autonomous zone, the shut down of 29 ports on Juneteenth, Minneapolis city council was pressured to dismantle their police department, and so much more.
This tactical center, with the backdrop of the Neighbor App by Ring (owned by Amazon) and the new pilot program discussed earlier, is a key indication that Houston’s neoliberal political and corporate establishment are ready and willing to participate in the increasing demand for a police state under corporate fascism.