Unequal Rights In Rural Texas
Posted June 29
Burnet, Texas — There are 880 mile markers along interstate 10 across the state of Texas from Louisiana to New Mexico. From Brownsville in the south to Texline in the Panhandle, it is another 898 miles, give or take. That is 268,597 square miles of real estate and no matter how you cut it, Texas is a big state.
The landscape of Texas reflects its size. From major metropolitan areas such as Houston and Dallas, to towns so small that there is not even a stop light or a post office, the picture of Texas is one of great diversity and difference. Or is it?
An African American man, Otis Tyrone McKane, stands accused of murdering a police officer in San Antonio. The man has not yet been to trial and is still only accused of his crime and is presume innocent until proven guilty. When the San Antonio Police Department announced the arrest a county judge from a nearby county goes on Facebook and shares the post, adding the comment "time to get a tree and a rope", a comment that almost anybody would recognize as being racially insensitive and inappropriate for anybody to say-especially an elected official.
The comments from Burnet County judge James Oakley were made on November 21, 2016 after the arrest. The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruled earlier this year that after they had received 18 written complaints against Oakley, that they would hear the argument.
Judge James Oakley told the commission that the "tree and a rope" reference came from Old West references to hanging. Then he turned it around to say that he was simply referencing a 1980s Pace Picante sauce advertisement that ended with the threat from an actor portraying a cowboy saying "get a rope" when a man tried New York replaced another salsa for the Pace Picante Sauce.
"My comment was intended to reflect my personal feelings that this senseless murder of a police officer should qualify for the death penalty," Oakley told the commission. "In my mind, the race/gender of the admitted cop killer was not relevant."
That sounds like a logical attempt at covering up one's most inner feelings, or it could simply be an attempt to be some sort of slapstick comic, either way the comment was deemed inappropriate and the commission gave Oakley a 30-hour training program for new judges and participate in four hours of racial sensitivity training with a mentor- neither of which had he completed until this incident.
Some of his comments concerned members of the panel and in the commissions official reprimand the commission stated as much by saying, "During the appearance, Judge Oakley made certain statements that indicated to the Commission that he could benefit from racial sensitivity training with a mentoring judge."
The outcome was little more than a slap on the wrist for the Judge in a county that is made up of only about 2.3% African Americans.
Last year, a Dallas County elections judge was removed from his position after making racially insensitive comments on Facebook. Granted his comments were a little more abusive and consisted of using the "N Word" on a Facebook post, but either way, racial intolerance seems to be the norm, at least in rural Texas.
"I do admit that I said some things on Facebook, but I really feel that that was my personal opinion," former Dallas County Elections Judge Randy Smith told the Commissioners Court at his hearing last year. Even though Smith begged for forgiveness, he was still asked to resign.
In Burnet County though, an only slightly less direct comment earns sympathy and pity from many folks within the county, while a few are outraged at the Judge's comments and seemingly light punishment.
But the story does not stop there in Burnet, Texas.
The community of Burnet had 6,138 residents in 2014. For years, the city has been run by small clicks of families or organizations. These organizations "protect" the community and as one prominent person who works in the financial sector had told me after civic organization meeting "This is how we circle the wagons. If it had not had been for somebody else, I never would have been accepted into this community." That somebody else that this man was speaking of happened to be another well respected member of the financial industry in the small Central Texas town.
You see in a state as diverse as Texas, you would think stories like this would be long gone with the dinosaurs that drew up these "unspoken lines" but somehow, mindsets and thought process like these are still allowed to exist.
They say that time changes everything and perhaps that is true. But in places like Burnet, it may be a very long time before any change is seen and while we wait, a small minority population will live their lives only slightly better than it was prior to 1964. That was the year that the Civil Rights Act was passed.
*Photos Available and Include Original Facebook post from Judge Oakley