Abraham Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago today, but just yesterday witnesses at a House Committee hearing were forced to redebate the entire Civil War. The bill HB 1242 would remove the state holiday “Confederate Heros Day” and replace it with “Civil War Remembrance Day.” Some who opposed it — mostly consisting of Sons of Confederate Veterans members — even questioned whether the term “Civil War” was just Unionist propaganda since, in their minds, the Confederacy was a different country and not a warring faction.
Other members claimed this would be an altering or an erasing our history which it is not — hence the word “remembrance.” Maybe you could make a weak case for that when UT students voted to remove a statue of Jefferson Davis from their campus, but if you really want to see history being rewritten, your most reliable source would be the Texas State Board Of Education. They caught national attention for changing a reference to the ‘slave trade’ to something called the ‘Atlantic triangular trade.’ But the Sons’ point remains, we must remember our history (but that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate it) and not just so we don’t repeat it, but so we can better grasp how it affects our current social and economic inequality.
That’s where John Legend comes in. He will be in Austin this week to kick off his “Free America” campaign to end mass incarceration. He said, “I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.” He will be in good company then on Thursday. A press release from the office of Senator Rodney Ellis stated that, “John Legend will lead a listening and learning tour across the country visiting with incarcerated individuals, law enforcement, legislators, and experts who’ve been thinking critically about America’s prison problem.” Sen. Ellis’ tenure has been a stand out of such criminal justice reforms, and their growing popularity among conservatives only gives more promise.
Ellis has called for tougher DNA testing law, investigations into racial disparities in truancy enforcement, and on MLK Day — which so happened to be the same day as “Confederate Heros Day” — he called for criminal justice reform. He has also authored the Senate Bill to change ‘Confederate Heros Day’ to ‘Civil War Remembrance Day’.
Several Legislative Black Caucus members have filed bills related to law enforcement and body cameras, something Austin’s own police chief Art Acevedo has supported. It is also something that has flared into the national spotlight after a string of viral videos portraying police officers killing unarmed black men sparked the #blacklivesmatter movement. The most recent case, of a South Carolina officer shooting a fleeing man in the back, was raised during the debate by Rep. Ron Reynolds in support of his bill. “Imagine if that officer in South Carolina had on a body camera…It’s highly doubtful that he would have behaved the way he did,” he said.
Body cameras, may reduce direct violence but they will also be far more likely to show black youth being incarcerated than their white peers. This is where structural changes are needed and real reform can make a difference. Instead of focusing on getting the Confederate battle flag on a Texas license plate, descendants of the Confederacy would best fulfill their claim — that the war wasn’t about slavery — by addressing the disparities that most certainly can be directly linked to that horrid institution. Here are a few suggestions: reduce penalties for marijuana possession, support fully-funded full-day pre-K, stop trying kids as adults and make sure we’re working to reduce recidivism.
Texas has the nation’s highest prison population and polls now show Texans believe their tax dollars can be better spent. The legacy of slavery is one we live with everyday when we look at economic disparity — regardless of what the calendar says.
Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.