AUSTIN – The Texas Legislative Black Caucus, along with white and Hispanic colleagues, called on the state’s top officials and law enforcement associations to speak out on the murder of Jordan Edwards, 15, by a Balch Springs police officer.
“We are asking, we are begging state leadership to speak up on this issue. We need a much more forceful response,” said State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.
“Let’s just do the right thing. We back law enforcement. We want law enforcement to back us also. And when they see a situation that they know from their professional judgment is just wrong. They should say something about it. They’re conflicted and I understand it. But we’re just as conflicted,” said State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
Edwards, a passenger in a car, was shot to death Saturday night by Balch Springs Police Officer Roy Oliver, who was responding to a call of intoxicated teenagers.
Oliver, who had been with the department since 2011, was fired this week – a move the caucus praised.
Oliver reportedly said the car in which Edwards was a passenger was driving towards him, causing the policeman to fear for his safety. But video, which has yet to be released, contradicts Oliver’s statement, according to the police chief.
Edwards’ car was driving away when the shot was fired.
“It’s incredulous that the first response by this officer, as reported by the media, was to lie. Think about that. Had there not been independent video evidence of what occurred, that officer would not have been fired. We want to give the benefit to law enforcement, but thank God that officer had a body camera and there was a dash camera out there as a result of legislation we passed,” said West.
West called for a meeting with Governor Abbott to make sure body cameras are being deployed to law enforcement across the state.
Separately, law enforcement associations support body cameras as a useful tool that can both clear officers and show what happens in disputed incidents.
“We, of course, always urge people to wait for all the facts to come out before drawing any conclusions. If the officer committed a crime then the officer should be held accountable and officers should be held to a higher standard than anybody else because we have a very sacred trust with the public,” explained Kevin Lawrence, Executive Director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.
Lawrence agreed with lawmakers that this is “a conversation that needs to be had” when it comes to examining relationships between law enforcement and minority communities.
“Jordan Edwards bled out in front of his brothers. And then without remorse his brothers weren’t consoled. They weren’t helped. People did not come to their aid. Instead they were put in cuffs,” added Anchia.
“I’m not playing the race card. I’m playing the reality card. If you had Anglo male teenagers leaving a party, do you think a police officer in that community would wildly shoot into a car going away from him?” asked Sen. West.
“Let me be very clear. This is not a Dallas problem. This is not a Balch Springs problem. It is a dangerous disease that is threatening young black males – most of whom are unarmed,” said State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto.
State leaders responded quickly.
“My heart goes out to the Edwards family during this incredibly difficult time. No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child, and the Edwards family deserves a fair and full investigation into this tragedy,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, in a statement to WFAA.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the Edwards family for the loss of their son Jordan. The Texas Senate adjourned in his memory on the Senate floor yesterday. I expect the Balch Springs police department to fully investigate this incident and I have faith that justice will be served," said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Texas.
“The death of Jordan Edwards was an absolute tragedy, and all of us grieve for Jordan, his family and the community. Some very critical questions about Jordan’s death need to be answered fully and transparently. All of us should be deeply concerned about these tragedies and their frequency, and I will work with any of my legislative colleagues who are interested in preventing similar tragedies in the future,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, in a statement to WFAA.
On Wednesday, the Texas House observed a moment of silence to remember Edwards.
"People who look like me don’t have to have the same types of talks with our kids that my colleagues have to have with theirs. And that’s not right,” said State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington.
“Too often I think what is happening is the [police officer candidates] are not completely and thoroughly vetted and investigated before they are allowed on the police force. That seems to be a major problem,” explained Giddings.
“I’m calling on law enforcement that continually asks us to help them with pension funds, host of legislation. I know they feel conflicted because it’s one of their brothers that’s involved in this action. I’m calling upon law enforcement to make a statement about this,” said Sen. West. “Yes, blue lives matter and we’ve celebrated blue lives down here this week. But also black lives matter, especially our children.”
After the Edwards murder, lawmakers called for action on pending legislation at the Capitol.
The Sandra Bland Act mandates county jails to route people with mental health crises and substance abuse issues to treatment and install electronic sensors or cameras to better monitor inmates, according to the Texas Tribune.
The Community Safety Act, sponsored by West, requires public schools and driver’s education courses to teach students how to interact with law enforcement. It passed the Senate unanimously, 31-0, and is awaiting a hearing in the House.
“It’s going to take the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the speaker to take their heads out of the sand and get it done and recognize African Americans are part of this society and we ain’t going away,” said State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston.