Thursday, August 23, 2012

Brainy endorsements: Don Cook

The people of Congressional District 22 have some powerfully poor options on their ballot (as usual). There's the incumbent, Pete Olson, the heir to the legacy of Tom DeLay. Even the Tea P's are down on him. There's the Democratic nominee for the second consecutive cycle, Kesha Rogers, a legend all by herself.

There's also a Libertarian. You have to register at his webpage in order to read his candidate bio (most of the other pages do not require it). I didn't, because I value my freedom.

And then there's the only rational choice, Don Cook.

Cook has presented himself for public office as a Green candidate a few times over the years. As Charles Kuffner noted in his 2011 interview when Cook ran for an at-large city council position (he gathered 18% of the vote), Cook also ran for Harris County Clerk in 2010 -- don't we wish right about now he was in that office? -- and city council as well in 2009.

Some people use the label "perennial candidate" as a pejorative; I'm not one of them. I think people -- especially people who are not lawyers, not wealthy business people, not born into privilege -- are exactly the kind of people who ought to be running for office. And those who are willing to do so, at great expense to themselves and their families, at a time when almost 50% of Americans cannot be bothered to carry themselves to the polls on Election Day, are to be commended.

Cook's Congressional run focuses on the economy (a national work program in the style of the Green New Deal), terrorism (fewer wars mean less of it), immigration (easing restrictions would result in less of it being illegal), and an emphasis on women's reproductive freedom and pay equality. But as a retired parole officer, he understands the prison-to-poverty cycle better than most. He most recently spoke out against the violence and abuses of power being demonstrated by municipal police departments across the country, and the Houston Police Department specifically. As Cook explains...

The issue of civilian review of police might be questioned as relevant to national politics, but throughout the country police crime is happening.  You could even say it is happening all over the world.  Last week police killed 34 striking mine workers in South Africa, for example.  Everyone needs to be held accountable to the people.  After all, even bankers, when left unaccountable, will lie, cheat, steal, and crash the economy as they did four years ago.  Let's hold the police accountable.

Here is Cook's op-ed on the topic, recently submitted to (but not published by) the Houston Chronicle. 

The story "Shootings by HPD on upswing," (Sunday, July 29, 2012), reports an increase in the number of killings by police through July 25th compared to 2011: Fourteen shootings, eight deaths this year, versus eight shootings, five deaths last year.

It’s worth explaining. The sample size is small, as one HPD apologist noted. Police spokespeople (who are neither scientists or statisticians), however, should not refer to this data as "cyclical." Put more accurately, the incidents might be chance, or random clustering. Time, and a large sampling, will reveal if these incidents represent a disturbing trend in an already disturbing situation.

We would have to look for periodicity over a longer time period to argue the existence of some sort of cycle. And if a cycle of HPD shootings does exist, merely noting it in no way explains it. Cycles indicate the presence of underlying causes, which may or may not be known.

Whether or not these shootings are cyclical or random they are troubling. We must take action to ensure that they are appropriately investigated. We must deal with them to make certain that no self-perpetuating, vicious cycle exists. Houstonians need and demand a culture of transparency.

Because of the built-in lack of transparency in our criminal justice system, many groups and individuals cry out for a civilian review board for HPD, one with subpoena powers. The Black Justice Coalition has been circulating a petition for a ballot initiative to create such a board.

The Mayor has established a 21-member Independent Police Oversight Board, but it lacks subpoena power. Without subpoena power, the IPOB has no teeth. Other cities, including Dallas, have civilian review boards with subpoena power. There is more than sufficient justification for improving civilian oversight of HPD.

Lame-duck DA, and former HPD officer, Pat Lykos notes that in 19 of 24 shootings of civilians by the police, the civilian had some sort of weapon—not necessarily a gun or knife. As civilians we find it disturbing that, upon further investigation, in 5 out of 24 such cases, the victim had no weapon or object that could be considered a weapon. Moreover, we must not forget cases of police officers convicted of excessive use of force, sexual assaults, and other criminal acts.

We do not argue that police authorities in Harris County are especially evil or corrupt, but they are human. And humans are imperfect.

DA Lykos' unsatisfying response to calls for public accountability is a weak counter-accusation of slander, and that misses the point. Expecting blind trust of her office is a mistake. Given the secrecy of grand jury proceedings and the very few police shootings that proceed to trial, concerns that the DA's office and the police might be "working hand-in-hand" is not slander. It is a response to a lack both of public information and public official accountability.

The overwhelming number of "no-bills" of HPD officer shootings of civilians—when the standard joke in this country is that any competent DA can indict a ham sandwich—makes it imperative that the public have access to the sworn facts of each incident. We believe the best way to do this is with a civilian review board with subpoena powers. We are not making accusations against the DA's office; as matters stand, we don't have enough information for accusations.

The DA is correct when she says that attacking police officers attacks society as a whole. But systematically ignoring, denying, or hiding civil-rights violations by police officers is also an attack on society. Let's find out what is going on.  Let's have accountability.

Don Cook is the best reason yet for the citizens of the 22nd Congressional District not to vote a straight Democratic ticket. But I will be offering a few more in the coming days and weeks.

Previous Brainy Endorsements...

Nile Copeland for the First Court of Appeals
Alfred and GC Molison for HD 131 and SBOE, respectively
Henry Cooper for HD 148
Keith Hampton for Presiding Judge, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
Barbara Gardner for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals


Greg said...

So let's get this straight -- you are endorsing a white guy over a black woman? What sort of racist SOB are you? And why are you engaged in a "war on women"?

PDiddie said...

That's not straight, Greg. In fact that is probably the gayest comment you have ever posted.

(You see how this distorted reality thing works now?)