What are the Texas sheriffs doing?
Evergreen edition; newsletter for August 3, 2021
Governor Greg Abbott meeting with Texas sheriffs, including Roy Boyd. (Goliad County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.)
In May, Sheriff Roy Boyd of Goliad County, Texas, put up Spanish-language signs with red lettering which “warn human smugglers and traffickers to go around the county in lieu of being ‘hunted’ and put in jail.” A recent article in the Victoria Advocate focuses on how these signs may violate the Texas Transportation Code because they are on state land. Sheriffs are not above the administrative state! [Ed. note: I’m not putting a picture of the sign here because it’s offensive and rude, but the link to the article above displays it.]
Since then, he’s been fighting to keep them up in what amounts to a Nextdoor-style feud. Sheriff Boyd, unsurprisingly, does not agree with the state authorities and keeps putting the signs back up and moving them around in what can only be described as total trolling. “I am going to keep doing what I need to protect the residents in my county,” he told the Victoria Advocate, insisting without proof that the signs are limiting smuggling and “stash sites,” places where immigrants hide while waiting for transportation. Now, the sheriff seeks an opinion on the legality of the signs from Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General who is facing criminal charges.
Look, in my view, there’s just no way to show that these signs, which the sheriff says are “for the cartels,” are effective in decreasing immigration or trafficking or whatever he is trying to prevent. On his Facebook page, the sheriff says that TXDOT (the transportation authority) is “sid[ing] with the cartel and their partners in the slave trade over the safety and security of the citizens of Goliad County.” Boyd has obviously staked what little reputation he has in acting like an anti-immigrant cowboy, claiming to do things like drive to the border to look for license plates he claims were stolen and posting APB-style warnings about groups of migrants who flee on foot. ( Often called by sheriffs a “bailout,” these happen when law enforcement chases a vehicle transporting immigrants, who then jump out of the car and flee on foot to avoid arrest.)
Like the posts of migrants on Boyd’s Facebook page, these signs are a dehumanization tactic on par with all of the “border” field trips by politicians and sheriffs, which always involve finding backpacks and other belongings that immigrants drop as they make the treacherous journey across unfriendly terrain. Part of that tactic is to use the terms “slave” and “slave trade” to describe immigrants, many of whom do pay coyotes to cross the border. (I am far from defending the extortion of migrants, which does happen and has for many years.)
The ACLU sent a letter to Sheriff Boyd in response to his, shall we say, overly aggressive and unconstitutional immigration policies. Boyd sent a letter back, accusing the ACLU of condoning “slavery.” (Trigger warning. It’s extremely weird.) I guess now that sheriffs can’t just hang people in the public square, they need to show their toughness by making bizarre and inaccurate representations about immigrants.
In the past few weeks, Governor Greg Abbott has been leaning hard into Trumpism by terrorizing immigrants: he’s opened a prison just to house people who are arrested by local police for “trespassing,” endorsed the enforcement of immigration laws by local and out-of-state police, and signed an Executive Order allowing state troopers to pull over and search any vehicle that may be transporting immigrants. (The DOJ is suing over the last one.)
Texas sheriffs, meanwhile, have been organizing on their own. One new organization, the Texas Sheriffs Regional Alliance, appears to be nothing more than a far-right “constitutional sheriff” organization. The organization’s main tenets are gun rights, “border security” and “[upholding] conservative values that protect your Constitutional rights.” Their funding appears to be wholly donation-based. Roy Boyd is, of course, on the list. A similar list of sheriffs participated in a strange YouTube video produced by Ken Paxton’s office (Paxton is facing criminal charges).
Screenshot of sheriff looking serious in Ken Paxton’s anti-immigrant video.
Texas sheriffs also appeared at a Constitutional Sheriff and Peace Office Association event in North Dakota dubbed “Freedom Fest.”
These events have been part of CSPOA founder and ex-Oath Keeper Richard Mack’s “Resurrection Tour.” Inspired by COVID and the election of Joe Biden, Mack has been back on the road, touring mostly through the West and holding various rallies and other events to drum up support. (Vice News just published another profile of Richard Mack, although there are many others out there.) Having been at one of Mack’s recent events, I can vouch for the fact that his message has largely not changed since he founded the CSPOA in 2011. What’s different now, in my view, is that his anti-federal government stance has found fertile soil in other groups in the anti-mask/ anti-vaxx category. While the CSPOA has always admitted non-sheriff members (anyone can join), the recent events have featured many more women than in the past. I don’t have numbers on this trend, but it is, in my view, significant and a sign of both the increasing importance of social media (since women are the primary users of social media and skilled in connecting, a function that does not conflict with traditional feminine values) and the moral panic over schools, children, masks, and the COVID vaccine.
Mack’s Resurrection Tour bus. May 2021, Battle Mountain, Nevada. Photo by author.
1) Kentucky jails are making money off of people in jail. During the pandemic, Kentucky jails made $9 million in phone calls. Calls are about $10 for 15-minutes, and some agreements with phone companies are not memorialized in writing. (Huh?)
2) San Francisco is implementing a civilian oversight commission for the San Francisco Sheriff Department. The Board of Supervisors confirmed a currently serving sheriff deputy to the commission, raising questions of the oversight commission’s impartiality. As far as I can tell, this is not the norm; the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement specifically says that members of oversight should be “must be independent and permanently secured financially” and “oversight bodies should be independent of the Police Department in all ways.” If someone is employed by the sheriff’s office, I do not see how there are independent financially nor politically.
I got into a little bit of a Twitter feud with the deputy union about my view. (Disclosure: I interviewed for a seat on the oversight commission and was not chosen.)
3) Data shows that police departments which make fewer arrests for low-level crimes have fewer police shootings.
4) Kristin Graziano, the newly-elected and reform-minded sheriff in Charleston, South Carolina, agrees that there are problems at the county jail, as found by a recent audit after the death of Jamal Southerland, who was killed by deputies trying to subdue him.
5) The Riverside County Sheriff released a video of deputies shooting and killing Juan Migual Bejar after chasing him down the freeway.