Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Purely Consensual Sex at the Texas Capitol

      
            The world has changed in only a few weeks and it now seems a legitimate question to ask a powerful politician or administrator if he/she has ever been the subject of a sexual harassment complaint. In a prior time that would have been like asking “Do you beat your wife?” but apparently metaphorically and literally a lot of wives have been beaten and the new inquiry has developed a certain instant legitimacy. 
            To avoid a witch hunt, perhaps the correct question should be, instead, “Have you ever been found to have committed sexual harassment?” since an accusation is just that. Among those in high public positions in Texas who have declined to answer that question recently is William McRaven, chancellor of UT System, with 14 institutions and 234,000 students under his authority; the leaders of Texas A&M System, Texas Tech System and the Texas State University System. House Speaker Joe Straus was at first unforthcoming regarding any issues in the House of Representative—his press person Jason Embry was asked before Straus announced he would not seek reelection and the Speaker’s Office took ten days to respond no the Speaker himself has not done it and Speaker Straus has "no information responsive" to the issue of sexual harassment among the 150 members and hundreds of staff of the House. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who is also President of the Texas Senate and the man who feminists in the state most love to hate, replied without hesitation, through Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw who said in an email that there have been no confirmed cases of sexual harassment in the Senate during Patrick’s tenure. Spaw also said no money has been paid in settlements. A week out Speaker Straus had yet to respond in any way, especially to that more revealing question, if the state paid to settle any sexual harassment cases during his tenure in office. Stats may lie in a way that a trail of money leaving the State Treasury does not.
            The Texas Public Information Act is not helpful when looking at private industry like movie-making but it should have revealed more in the public domain, especially in UT’s response, than it did. University of Texas Chancellor McRaven has gotten a lot of press about ending sexual improprieties on the campuses he supervises but in response to an open records request his General Counsel’s Office said Admiral McRaven maintains no data on sexual harassment on individual campuses. His lawyers responded with stats regarding UT System Office (about 900 employees) citing two cases but not detailing any money paid at System or on individual campuses, payments which would presumably have to be approved in Austin by the UT Regents, but only if over $1 million. "Please note," McRaven's lawyers informed me, "that while UT System might maintain some information regarding complaints of sexual harassment by faculty or administrators at the institutions, not all complaints and/or outcomes would be maintained by UT System, and UT System does not maintain a list of faculty or administrators who have been disciplined for sexual harassment." Why not? Admiral McRaven may have a reason but it's certainly a fair question. 
            Ditto, in College Station. The general counsel of Texas A&M headquarters, with 11 campuses and 143,000 students, said the same thing, that A&M System doesn’t keep stats on what’s happening at individual campuses, on the sexual harassment front. (A&M does admit however to paying more than $100,000 in the last two years to settle such cases, while Texas Tech says there have been a handful of confirmed cases recently, most involving Tech-employed physicians, but no money paid out.) None of these responses seems likely, frankly, but lying in response to open records requests, which was formerly an art form, has become more brazen under the lax enforcement of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. 
              "We have no responsive records and nothing further to say on this subject," was the rather testy response of Texas State University System (eight institutions and 42,000 students) in an email written by Assistant Vice Chancellor Therese Sternenberg. Asking university leaders personally seems fair in this instance: for example UT Austin President Gregory Fenves comes from the University of California’s flagship campus, Berkeley, which has been embroiled in a series of harassment claims through recent years. A UC regent just resigned for harassment. Fenves' press person Gary Susswein said in an email that Dr. Fenves has never been accused at UT, UC "or anywhere else" but he wants $200 to release the university's stats, which sounds like using administrative charges to avoid disclosure, which is illegal. Also at UT's flagship Dr. Clay Johnston dean of the startup Dell School of Medicine said he has never been accused. Like Fenves, Johnston is a UC product, this time from the healthcare campus, in San Francisco, which is source of much of the University of California's latest contribution to the racism and sexual harassment debate. The San Francisco Chronicle just reported that UCSF fired its chief harassment investigator earlier this year, after alleged falsification of dates and hiding of files from auditors, which goes back to a time when Johnston was a high official on the UC San Francisco campus. (Berkeley gets all the headlines for bad practices but it is actually UCSF led by Australian pediatric researcher Sam Hawgood which has had many of the most discriminatory outcomes in public higher ed. To his credit Dr. Johnston has criticized his old employers as regards race.)
            Dr. Johnston's boss Bill McRaven has been less forthcoming. The retired admiral and SEAL-in-Chief just issued a statement on his lack of interest in running for governor, he travels the country telling audiences how to change the world (one starts, McRaven says, by making one’s bed in the morning) and he leads an institution, a university that has historically been fertile ground for harassment, sexually-, racially- and fraternity-related. Notably he also comes from a position of great power in another institution, the U.S. Navy, in which the modern issue of sexual harassment was born with the Tailhook Scandal of 1991, at a convention in Las Vegas, involving 90 victims (men and women) and featuring naval officers (aviators not SEALS like McRaven) as perps. The other three Texas university system leaders, John Sharp at A&M, Robert Duncan at Tech and Brian McCall at Texas State also all came from an institution, the Texas Legislature, that would seem to be fertile ground for wrongdoing, with 181 very powerful men and women and a host of subservient staff and lobbyists. Except, at the very outset, the word from the Texas Capitol is that nothing like that goes on in Austin. One member mentioned a former lawmaker, a black guy from Houston who exposed himself to his aide in his office a few years ago. Mostly, speaking of sex, what was reported early on in Austin, unlike what Jody Kantor and the Times' all-girl crew found in Hollywood, is the consensual kind.
              There is a rumor, as yet unverified and possibly unverifiable, that a male state senator was caught this session in the bathroom of a hotel a few blocks off Congress Avenue getting a blowjob from someone not his wife. What's the big deal? That senator is Caucasian and from an urban district, not that that matters. There’s actually nothing wrong with sex in a public place, it seems to me, unless it wasn't discreet or coercion was involved. A few years back a female member was said to have had sex with a lobbyist on the floor of the Texas House, when not in session, obviously. This liaison like the unnamed senator's clandestine hummer was Democratic action, interracial as well, not that there's anything wrong with that, either. The legislator is no longer in the House but the lobbyist is still very influential in the Capitol and is refusing comment on how their hips allegedly came to meet. 
                Decades ago, a legislative staffer, this is absolutely true, set out to have sex with every member of the Legislature and made it into the sixties, if memory serves, before she was uncovered, so to speak. But the Texas Capitol was majority-Democratic then and, we are told, D’s are more prone to sins of the flesh than are R’s. Still it seems unlikely that harassment is totally absent in our modern-day Republican-dominated state government. And universities are particularly likely locales. Just a few months ago UT Austin bid a tearful farewell to Vice President for Diversity Gregory J. Vincent, who left to become president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York. The reason for Vincent's departure has since evolved and now appears to be that he engaged in a series of extramarital affairs with women from the campus and used public funds to woo his conquests. The relationships were reported, once again, to be consensual but still illustrate the nexus between sex and money in the public domain. (On this matter Mr. Susswein who is UT President Fenves' spokesperson has refused comment as has Dr. Vincent himself.)
             A female House member mentioned recently that Speaker Straus’ leadership at the Capitol has not seemed to be the kind that lends itself to anything in flagrante. Straus is a big family guy, and the Speaker’s silence was not heartening. We have yet to include surveys of much of the gun-toting side of Texas government, including the National Guard which is refusing to answer any harassment questions at all. The last executive director of the Texas Military Department was removed for sexual harassment more than a year before the Weinstein allegations were first made. In law enforcement both the Highway Patrol and Texas Rangers, under the umbrella of the legendary Texas Department of Public Safety, have a long and ugly history, actually. The prior Director was removed after retaliating against a female Highway Patrol staffer who complained that a sergeant exposed himself, and the Director before that was removed for chasing a female employee around the office. She got $100,000 as settlement, by the way, in what seems to be the a popular penalty "in this kind" of case. DPS is still described, even by other cops, as a white male environment with sexist and or racist tendencies. With 6,000 commissioned gun-carrying officers DPS is also a semi-rigid military hierarchy in which women are present but mostly powerless in the upper ranks. Macho is rule one, especially among the Rangers. But of course the likeliest bombshell on the harassment front after the Texas National Guard is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with 150,000 prisoners living in the most dependent position imaginable, across the state. 
            A month after my first open records request, TDCJ lawyer Sharbel Sfeir was still trying to convince me that the Department of Criminal Justice didn't understand what "total payments made to settle sexual harassment cases" or "total number of sexual harassment cases" meant. What it meant was a big problem in the state's prisons: when the stats were finally released they showed, in the past two and a half years, 870 complaints of sexual harassment among employees, per Sharbel Sfeir, and 303 complaints by prisoners against guards. It's unclear from TDCJ's statement whether these were confirmed or merely alleged. More interesting is who in power has answered the question openly. Dr. Fenves did, as noted. Austin’s acting police chief Brian Manley who is being considered for the top cop’s job just said no, that is no accusations have been made against him. Isn't that a fair question to ask of a man would be Chief of Police? Like the National Guard, City of Austin officials are stalling, unwilling to say if they've made any payments to settle with victims. The City has appealed to Attorney General Paxton. In one of the few instances in which the capital city's elected officials, who have a reputation for being holier than thou, actually appear more enlightened than the rest of the state, Travis County chief executive Sarah Eckhardt answered that she has not, either. Women need to speak up in this regard, too. Times have changed for everyone. It may not be the answer that is as important as the answering.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Justice, or Just Us: the Curious Case of Dawnna Dukes

             Dawnna Dukes is no ordinary civil rights heroine. She’s like a superhero in civilian dress, glossy and well-coiffed, a material girl with a material girl’s concerns until it comes time to kick a little ass. In her daily life she’s a state representative from a minority district of the Texas capital city who for much of the last quarter-century has had a successful legislative career until she became the subject of a series of critical stories in the press and was charged by the D.A. with official misconduct. She comes from a once politically-powerful African-American family with a background in accommodation and in civil rights, old-school American Negroes in a black-dominated slice of Texas that no longer exists. Rep. Dukes recently showed up two hours late for her arraignment in district court and if you have a nonconformist streak you may like that even if you don’t like her. Knowing a few aspects of her life and career are helpful in judging her public persona: She has trouble reading a clock, or a calendar, and trouble finding a babysitter. She’s extremely popular in her district and less popular among her colleagues in the Travis County delegation to the House of Representatives. She knows her hometown better than most, including knowing the racial dynamic in a state capital that has not been at all friendly to blacks but, crucially, whites think it has. With these givens—the clock and the babysitter, and the faux-liberal persona of the capital city in the context of the modern civil rights struggle—instead of lying down she has chosen to lock and load. Presumably we will learn more when the trial begins in October.
            In a recent podcast of the Texas Tribune four white journalists contemplated Dukes’ arraignment. The discussion went from the charges she faces to her attendance during the just-ended legislative session.
              A comment apparently made by Tribune executive editor Ross Ramsey was that “her record speaks for itself,” as if absenteeism, and her politics, which has sometimes involved alliances with Republicans, is somehow related to the criminal charges she faces. This is a frequently-cited connection that the prosecution will presumably try to work in, in her trial: because she’s arguably “missing in action” (recently named to Texas Monthly’s list of worst lawmakers) that somehow proves her guilt of the criminal charges. Interesting also is that the comment about her record speaking for itself was made by the Tribune which was the first publication to print charges of malfeasance against Dukes and which she is said to blame for starting the momentum toward a lynching—although the daily newspaper the American-Statesman picked up the story and pursued it relentlessly and without much regard to the evidence. Ross Ramsey the Tribune’s executive editor also mentioned that Dukes’ troubles have not led to any intervention by other legislators, “because there’s no upside,” which is an understatement and an idea that we’ll return to. In the meantime Rep. Dukes is keeping her powder dry but it seems likely that her trial will feature an attack as well as a defense. “They all do it” is a frequent refrain in official misconduct cases and may be a valid response here but is something Duke is mostly not suggesting. She says she’s not guilty. As regards the press, generally, it’s hard to imagine how the coverage could have been more biased.       
            Recently, new District Attorney Margaret Moore who is herself the daughter of a former member of the Texas House gave Rep. Dukes an ultimatum: She had until the end of business on August 1 to resign her office in return for the dropping of criminal charges. In addition Dukes would have to seek drug and alcohol counseling and pay $3000 “restitution.” As it happened I was having a late lunch with Dawnna Dukes the same day, in Round Rock, at a restaurant where the specialty was creole. We’d met a couple of hours earlier at the back door to the Capitol, the northern entrance, looking out on Forty Acres, where my first question as we walked to her car was, “Are you going to resign?” and she responded by pausing with her walker, reaching up with her good hand and tilting down her sunglasses, in order to roll her eyes at me, as if to say, “Are you kidding?”
            On the drive to Round Rock her telephone lit up with email and messages from well-wishers, including legislators. This is her new phone, it should be noted, since her old iPhone will be evidence in court. At the restaurant, Margaret Moore’s deadline came and went without Dawnna even looking at her watch. Then again she never looks at her watch, probably because she doesn’t wear one. She did offer one bombshell over gumbo: Her defense team would include fellow Democratic legislator Rene Oliviera of Brownsville, who is said to be the best courtroom lawyer among some very able advocates in the House. Should be an interesting few days at the Travis County Courthouse—the only questions being why she was selected for prosecution and how the back scenes intrigue will play out. Cell phones and cell phone towers have adopted a particular prominence in recent years in criminology and in espionage, almost as important as DNA and email, and Dukes’ iPhone which is probably the most important tool in her daily legislative duties will be front and center in her trial as well. The representative is accused of claiming a reimbursement granted to House members in between legislative sessions that the D.A. will argue is only granted for work actually done in the Capitol, while her phone will show that she never left home. That’s the technological end of the case. Ideologically there’s race—the issue that the Texas capital city, try as it might, cannot seem to avoid despite the city’s self-promoted reputation as the liberal mecca.
            The Texas House of Representatives where the case arises is a unique environment. Every two years for five months it’s like lemmings migrating or, better, like zebras trying to cross a swollen river with crocs in the water, or, even better, like over-the-top First World War-era France, as the troops are trying to reach the next set of trenches, struggling through fog and fire, except the danger is the guy beside you not what's in front of you. The last World War trenches is probably best: Dukes has spent 24 years in the House, most of her adult life—elected at age 29—a black woman who has not only survived but thrived in the ultimate old white boys’ world. People thought that under criticism by the daily newspaper and the capital's old guard white liberal establishment, people who have never liked her independence, she would fold up her tent and sneak away—and originally that was the plan, to quit. Then Dawnna's backbone stiffened and she decided to slug it out. Guilt or innocence aside you probably wouldn’t see much backing down from self-respecting members of this House, Democrat or Republican. It’s a pretty tough crowd.
            As the district attorney’s deadline was passing, Dukes was telling our waitress to box up the rest of her meal for take-out. The representative was not sweating nor biting her lip with indecision. As she gathered up her things it was a good moment to check her out, especially in light of prosecutors’ claims that she’s using drugs. I’m a RN by training, that doesn’t make me an expert on drug abuse but working in modern American healthcare you do learn a thing or two about opiates and those who use them. To me, Dukes didn’t particularly fit the profile, especially since, not to belabor the obvious, there’s been no evidence presented of abuse. Her sclera were bright and white—of course eye drops will do that for you, too—but her pupils were not contracted, which is a telltale sign of morphine use. Only a pee test would tell for sure and because she may well be taking pain medicine even that would not be definitive. But there was none of the affect you see with people who are taking too much, or taking what they should not: she was neither inappropriately giddy nor did she become morose, there was no word salad—no flight of ideas—she was not “tripping,” to use the vernacular. In our conversation about being black in the criminal justice system as I made an unfair personal comment about District Judge Julie Kocurek whom I believe symbolizes racism in the county courthouse, Dukes quickly corrected me: “You shouldn’t say that,” she said. She was tuned in and appropriate in the conversation, probably more so than me. She was slightly paranoid but then a lot of people are out to get her: including the daily newspaper, the district attorney and some of her colleagues in the House. She’s been wearing a bullseye publicly for the better part of two years.
            Rep. Dukes has been under a lot of pressure certainly and what’s remarkable is how well she has stood up. She has been described as a criminal, basically, by the Texas Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman, called a discredit on the Legislature by Texas Monthly—and now the district attorney is trying to portray her as a junkie. You may say, well, morphine is dulling her senses to what kind of trouble she’s really in. Drug use is always possible, everywhere in society, but that didn’t seem to be the principal dynamic at work with the woman I met for lunch. What I saw—and you have to know the Texas House of Representatives, have been a member or watched the action often enough to understand how the system works—what she looked like to me was a House member who is being fucked with on her legislative program and is deciding how to defend what she wants and screw her opposition in the process. That afternoon she didn’t look like a victim at all. She looked more like a predator: mid-sized cat—not a lion or a tiger—a panther or a puma, not red in tooth and claw, or whatever the poetry is, not yet, but like a feline maneuvering, waiting for an opportunity to sink her teeth into her opponent’s neck.
            At lunch she was completely serious and almost clinical in her approach to her problems, a not-at-all-whiny view of the fortunes of power—not because she’s unconcerned but because she’s experienced and is not only going to fight but also try to obtain an advantage. That’s the House way. What did seem to irk her, to judge by our conversation, was that the people attacking her thought she would be their bitch, my description not hers. The only concrete effects of her legal troubles that she admitted to were that the endless bad press has limited her ability to fundraise, a weakness that can be deadly for any politician. This is already a very expensive legal duel for her and certain to get more so. She also fears the D.A.’s comment about drugs will lead to Child Protective Services scrutiny. “I adopted my daughter!” she said as her voice rose for the single time in our three hours together.
             CPS has been a target of the Legislature recently, due to money issues and bad stewardship, and a member of the Legislative Black Caucus mentioned to me that, in private discussions earlier in the year with CPS bigwigs, the member they most feared was Dawnna Dukes, because of her “knowledge of the money and where the skeletons are buried.” Now Child Protective Services is in a position to turn the tables on the inquisitor. Dukes also said, elliptically, she is already under a drug testing regime, perhaps as an adoptive parent.
            Looking for signs of instability at lunch what I saw instead was a surgical scar across her neck, half-concealed by make-up, from a car crash late 2013 that Dukes says led to many of her absences. I worked for a couple of years on a neurosurgery unit where we took care of patients who had spinal surgeries and her scar looked very much like one of those, an “anterior approach,” the front of the neck instead of the back, probably at C-3 or C-4. But that can’t be, because the press has intimated that the car crash was just an excuse for her absences or inattention, and most recently for drug abuse. That evening with me she was also wearing an arm brace, which could be a prop, but what’s most interesting here is that Democrats and liberals in the press who all claim to “understand” healthcare and the opiate crisis, unlike heartless Republicans, are trying to bury her for the sequelae of a bad car wreck. Her explanation of the famous remark that recently got her into hot water, saying in a legislative meeting that she had just taken morphine and that her speech was suffering, seems plausible: She was having a procedure on her arm, she explained, was given morphine—a wonderful drug by the way, and still very very very widely used in healthcare—and then was contacted by phone, by an aide, and told that she needed to return to the legislative meeting she was missing. She went back to the House and the rest is the stuff of media gossip and prosecutorial speculation. Daily columnist Ken Herman recently wrote about “asking Dukes about her drug use,” as if it has been definitively established she smokes crack. He grabbed her in a hallway of the Capitol, apparently, which is fair, and she refused an interview which is her right—except she told him that the question was insulting, which it may or may not have been. There are questions about who she hangs out with in her spare time but I didn’t ask at lunch because, frankly, it’s none of my business.
               Previously, for the record, she was in a relationship for almost a decade with State Sen. Rodney Ellis (who has since left the Capitol to be a county commissioner in Houston) which made her one half of the most potent African-American power couple in the state. She has made a lot of friends and enemies. The relationship she discusses most is with her family. A Republican member who met with her privately, earlier in the legislative session, and who knows Dukes well said he has seen no sign of dysfunction. Who knows? The surprise is that she isn’t shooting heroin—it’s one of the only accusations that hasn’t been made against her—considering everything else that’s been said. The really poor health habit that she clearly has is smoking cigarettes and, not knowing her well, it’s unclear if she’s smoking more but that’s probably a good bet. Can we move on now from Dawnna Dukes the alleged junkie? 
            The D.A.’s requirement that she undergo drug screening/treatment does indicate something however, a certain desperation on the part of prosecutors.




              Let me say at the outset that I’ve known new D.A. Margaret Moore for 40 years, since she was an assistant prosecutor in the office she now leads, and she doesn’t have a racist bone in her body. I know because I’ve looked for that particular anatomy in white public officials. The same can be said of her new head of special prosecutions former judge Don Clemmer who will presumably be putting together the case against Dawnna. Judge Clemmer was appointed to the Travis County District Court by Gov. Abbott, as a Republican, and served for almost a year and a half before taking over special prosecutions when Moore won the D.A.’s Office last year.
             In his short time on the bench Clemmer got rave reviews for fairness and hard work and he was also viewed as colorblind: as one black defense attorney said, he would rather try a case before Don Clemmer than before any of the black Democratic judges in the courthouse who have reputations for slamming African-American defendants in order to please white voters. Both Clemmer and Moore are decent people in other words. But having said that, Margaret Moore probably doesn’t have any more concern about seeing that Dawnna Dukes “gets help” for an alleged drug problem than Special Counsel Robert Mueller cares about Donald Trump’s need to stop tweeting-from-the-hip. Moore is there to put people behind bars. Which is fine, that’s her job: She did it as an assistant under longtime former D.A. Ronnie Earle, she did it as Travis County Attorney back in the day and she’s doing it now as the new D.A. The issue here is not Moore, or Judge Clemmer, personally, it’s institutional racism, which is a phrase you hear a lot in the capital city these days, meaning that whenever the system has to make a “mistake,” or make a sacrifice for the good of the wider community—that usually means minorities and the poor are going to get it in the neck. Yet affluent white brothers and sisters still pat themselves on the back for being liberals.
             This is the same district attorney’s office, after all, that has prosecuted blacks at far higher rates in Austin than in Houston or Dallas, which are not liberal meccas, and that has lied to African-Americans for decades about police shootings: using a trick, in the secrecy of the same grand jury room where Dawnna Dukes was charged, a ruse only recently revealed—never asking for indictments of bad cops while the procedure in every other kind of case, including Dukes’ own, has been for the D.A. to present a recommendation for a particular charge.
              So, it’s not like blacks have no reason to believe Margaret Moore, it’s that we have no reason to believe in the institution she heads. It’s institutional, built into the system through decades of discriminatory practices, although Moore didn’t help by going after Dukes on alleged drug abuse, to force a resignation and “save” everyone a trial, raising an issue that has nothing to do with the case, actually, but was portrayed as concern for Representative Dukes’s health. And, coincidentally tainted the jury pool. Dawnna has been totally slimed by the Democratic Party, too. Previously, the D.A.’s Office is said to have tried to prevent Dukes from using social media, to talk about her own case, in order to insure that she got a fair trial, prosecutors said, another effort to "help" her. I don’t know if Dukes is using drugs or not but I do feel fairly certain that the probability of her illicit drug use is about as likely as the probability that anyone in the D.A.’s Office gives a shit. This is about a conviction. The D.A.’s protestations of concern for Dawnna’s health are like asking a man being lynched if the noose is too tight. But it’s also kind of understandable, in context. And mildly entertaining, if you’re not African-American and specifically if you’re not Dawnna Dukes.



2

            The Travis County Courthouse and down the street the Texas House of Representatives— these few square blocks are not for the squeamish, you hit your adversaries early, often and preferably when they’re not looking.
            Dukes herself is no shrinking violet, presumably we’ll see a few of her moves at the trial, because this should be quite a contest, important for the community as well as for her personally: the people involved are all competent professionals, with elevated, tight games, and with the House and the courthouse as backgrounds to the action. It’ll be like the Moscow show trials of the 1930s—the crime is political and the potential punishment is a bullet in the back of the head. Race and racism and legislative backstabbing are the overriding motifs. The D.A.’s office will argue that Dukes’ former aides, who spoke against her, were motivated only by not liking what they saw in her office. The facts point to another dynamic entirely. Normally in a criminal case it doesn’t matter why someone goes to police or prosecutors but this is a political prosecution, in every sense of the phrase, in two environments, the Texas Capitol and Travis County Courthouse where a lot of bad shit gets done, which leads inevitably to the question of selective prosecution. Why is it always an African-American? Or a Latino? The D.A. needs to answer that for our sake and for her own.
            In the meantime, people are trying to take advantage of Dukes’ perceived weakness. In her car, riding back to the Capitol after that late lunch she played a phone message left by Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt asking Rep. Dukes to support a proposition that she had previously said she would not agree to, and threatening to attack her from the dais if she did not. The context was of course that Dawnna is already in trouble and can’t afford any more criticism, but apparently she can, because despite Eckhardt's threat she still did not do what was demanded of her by Travis County's top elected official. She didn’t play ball, in other words, which is what the Democratic establishment has been asking of her all along. She did however previously play ball, with the Republicans, working with former Speaker Tom Craddick, and some Democrats have never forgotten or forgiven. This doesn’t make her a martyr, or a victim, it makes her a practical politician, as is the district attorney: One of the former Speakers of the House with whom I chatted about the case said that the charges against Dukes would have never gotten this far if Margaret Moore not Rosemary Lehmberg had been in office when the Statesman’s stories first started to appear. But the case is Moore’s now, she went to the grand jury and she must accept responsibility for her actions in office just as Dukes is expected to take responsibility for hers.
            One of Margaret Moore’s most important goals, which she has repeated publicly, is to get Republican-controlled state government to return funding to the D.A.’s Public Integrity Unit that was defunded because of complaints that the unit prosecuted R’s in preference to D’s. Moore can hardly begin her own tenure in office by dropping charges against a Democratic lawmaker. Still, good luck with that—getting refunded—said the second former Speaker of the House whom I talked to, who didn’t think it will ever happen, noting that the D.A.’s Office has historically left “a bad taste” in the mouths of many Republicans. Now it’s leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some black people. That’s why this is a no-win situation for the new prosecutor, at risk just as is the defendant—simultaneously with her pursuit of the state representative the D.A. is also dealing with a revolt by blacks and Hispanics over disproportionate prosecution of minorities, a problem that Moore promised would be her top priority in office.
             Yet she is starting her tenure with a high-profile prosecution of an African-American legislator and she must now square pursuing Dawnna Dukes on possible bullshit charges—if they are bullshit which appears likely—pushed by the ever-clueless and racially-obtuse American-Statesman. That’s why everyone wanted Dukes to resign, not because she’s necessarily guilty or because of her alleged personal habits but because a lot of other people’s bare asses are feeling the wind. A former Speaker of the House, talking off the record, or not for attribution, said that the way this would have worked in the old days is that Dukes would have been persuaded to resign, with charges dropped of course, and then she would have been given a sinecure job in state government to fatten up her pension. That was if it was the old days and if Democrats were still in charge of state government and if Dawnna were willing to take the fall for the “greater good” of the Party establishment which she is not. The debate over selective prosecution that is potentially so deadly for Democrats would never take place, much to everyone’s relief. Instead race hangs over the Dukes case today as it does over much of “justice” in the capital city, with whites in power and in the press remaining happily in denial about gentrification, segregated schools, bad policing and, crucially, the role of the racially-backward business-dominated daily newspaper in maintaining all of the above. What Moore and Dukes are both experiencing is the lingering effect of a criminal justice system and a political system in which, in this city, in the end—when push comes to proverbial shove—blacks are still supposed to bend over for white people.
            If you walk through the Travis County Courthouse any day of the week, for example, and look in the courtrooms, the vast majority of defendants are still black, Hispanic or poor in a largely affluent and plurality-white town. What’s wrong with this picture? I peeked in on Julie Kocurek’s courtroom a few days ago because it’s usually Ground Zero for discriminatory prosecution and that afternoon Maximum Julie was on the bench, busy as usual sending a Negro away, with a Hispanic woman in the wings waiting her turn at sentencing.
            Dukes’ sole luck is that she did not draw Kocurek’s court or end up facing any of the African-American judges, ex-prosecutors all and, combined, responsible for knocking a couple of percentage points off the black population of the city. Nothing changes: Stats show that black defendants are sentenced to twice as long stays in Travis County Jail as whites for the same offense. “They all do it,” is not a particularly effective defense in public integrity cases like Dukes’ but if, as a former speaker and a former lieutenant governor both told me, whatever Dukes has done (or has not done, keep in mind that she says is not guilty) pales in comparison to other legislative sinners, the question remains, why Dawnna? Race is a good bet. An opportunity has presented itself that no one could resist for the party to rid itself of a troublesome black woman. The other dynamic is of course that in Austin white Democrats like their minorities grateful and subservient and Dukes has been neither. “Dawnna has not played well with others,” said a longtime political operative who is white and who is appalled at the treatment of the African-American state rep. He said that Dukes has always refused to kowtow to the “white elites” that run the city, a group he said is headed by Congressman Lloyd Doggett and State Senator Kirk Watson. “The Travis County Democratic party is not very democratic,” he added sotto voce.

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            “If they do that to her,” one of the former Speakers of the House said, that is, convict Dukes, “there are two or three hundred former legislators who need to look at their hole card.” In other words bringing to trial this black woman when you consider the vast panoply of abuse and bad practices in the Texas Capitol—to quote the movie Apocalypse Now is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. The second former Speaker said the rule that the D.A. is using against Dukes, that she had to be in the Capitol to claim reimbursement—that’s not his understanding of the law. The handful of legislators and former legislators with whom I spoke disputed the D.A.’s understanding of the rule, which means that even if Margaret Moore is correct, and legislators are wrong, Dawnna Dukes is certainly not the only one to have incorrectly claimed the money. But she is the only one who has been charged. This will all be settled by a trial of course, by the jury and by Judge Brad Urrutia, who is new to the bench and like his predecessor Don Clemmer is said to be fair, but you can’t escape the feeling that the disproportionate prosecution of minorities that Margaret Moore wants to end is alive and well and will be taking place on October 12, in Travis County’s 450th District Court. The entire Democratic establishment is watching Judge Urrutia because there needs to be at least one guilty verdict: Margaret Moore only inherited the case but it’s her baby now and an ugly little thing it is. I ran into a member of the Black Caucus a couple of days ago, in a Capitol hallway, and this member pointed up at a fellow legislator’s office and said she knows the guy is paying himself back for travel from his campaign fund and still seeking reimbursement from the state. Which would be illegal. That was part of a five-minute conversation. The Texas Rangers couldn’t do better than 13 counts of Dukes’ use of a $61.50 per diem?
            The first former Speaker added, talking about the most-widespread public claim against Dawnna, that she used her aide to take care of her daughter, which the public has been fixated on, “What she did was wrong but there are plenty [of legislators] who have done worse.” Why weren’t they charged? It’s a fair question. Race as an issue in prosecutions aside you’re also struck what a small Southern town Austin really is.
              Dukes claims kinship to Heman Sweatt, the first black admitted to the University of Texas School of Law and the civil rights pioneer after whom the original courthouse is named. Presumably he’s already spinning in his grave. Margaret Moore, as already noted, is the daughter of Tom Moore, a former representative from Waco and member of the House’s “Dirty Thirty” who fought for ethics reform in years past. Dukes’ first choice for her defense counsel was Mindy Montford, daughter of former State Senator John Montford (who later became chancellor of Texas Tech) but Mindy Montford was hired as First Assistant D.A. by Moore when she took office and is now a co-captain of the opposing team. The case will be tried in Don Clemmer’s old courtroom where he might have been presiding as judge, had he beaten Brad Urrutia in last year’s election, but Clemmer is now part of the prosecution instead. A member of the defense team is also a member of the House Democratic caucus: Rene Oliveira whose law partner is the mother of Gina Hinojosa who sits in front of Dukes in Travis County’s House delegation and whose father is state Democratic chairman. The interconnectedness goes all the way down to the detective in the case. The lone witness who testified before the grand jury that indicted Dukes is Texas Ranger Sgt. Richard Henderson whose name also appears on a list of prosecution witnesses in the upcoming securities fraud trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Lawyers and politicians are apparently not the only people who are well-connected: Sgt. Henderson has only been with DPS a little over eight years and spent barely six months with the Highway Patrol after leaving the academy, before promotion to Gov. Perry’s security detail, and a couple of years later became a Ranger—an opportunity that most state troopers never get a shot at, or only after a long, long time on the road.
            The good sergeant may have a few high-placed friends himself, in what is described as the original old white boys’ club, the Texas Department of Public Safety. Which doesn’t mean he’s a bad investigator—he certainly knows the Capitol, which could be a good thing. The cause for concern is that Henderson is yet another part of a practically all-white system that constitutes a criminal justice apparatus that does not have a good reputation for unbiased treatment of Negroes. Dukes said that she made a complaint to the Rangers, by the way, before she was indicted, that the aides involved in “outing” her also illegally entered her legislative email account after they left state employ and diverted her correspondence to others. (Duke's main accuser among her former aides was found by DPS investigators not to be credible.) Presumably Sgt. Henderson will shed some light from the witness stand. When the trial starts, look for a white guy with a white cowboy hat, standing in the hallway outside the courtroom, waiting his turn to testify, and that’ll likely be our man, because almost all the Rangers are white guys in cowboy hats. Also look a for a few black people there to support Rep. Dukes but you probably don’t want to look for members of the Legislative Black Caucus. In the House courage is high but not evenly distributed. Corruption accusations are viewed like the plague, contagious and often fatal.
           The original pursuit of Dukes was conducted by then-D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg who was the last local public official to be accused of substance abuse and in that instance it was documented. Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, as you may recall, and then-Gov. Rick Perry was busted for trying to force her from office. Question: As one of Lehmberg’s former assistants asked recently, commenting on the Dukes case, what’s the difference between Gov. Perry giving an ultimatum to Lehmberg that she quit or he would defund her special prosecutions unit and Margaret Moore telling Dukes to step down or face trial? A threat is a threat—what is the ethical implication of telling an elected public official to quit or face the consequences, whatever those consequences may be? Why is it that what was so offensive to the sensibilities of Democrats about Perry’s threat is so acceptable in the case of Representative Dukes?
           Interesting also is that Lehmberg faced relatively little blowback for her actions. She was arrested in flagrant violation—she threatened her jailers—she called for the sheriff to intervene to provide her special treatment and she had to be placed in restraint for acting out. With the exception of the governor, calls for her resignation were muted although Lehmberg—who was responsible for thousands of felony prosecutions—was in a far more sensitive position than is Dukes. But Rosemary Lehmberg is a white liberal and lesbian in a political environment, Austin, where being gay and white and liberal is a formidable combination while being a black straight female is not. The former lieutenant governor with whom I spoke said that double standards are not a conversation you really want to have at the Legislature: sending aides out to pick up dry cleaning or lunch or do other personal tasks for their employers, for example, is common, and something that prosecutors already know. But the press even more than the D.A. has been mindboggling in its use of two standards, one for whites and one for minorities.
          Ross Ramsey of the Tribune has repeatedly attacked Dukes’ ethics but Ramsey himself worked for Texas’s last political boss, former Lieutenant Governor/Texas Comptroller Bob Bullock who did more evil in one afternoon than any dozen legislators, Dukes included, will do in their entire careers. To recap: Bullock routinely threatened to kill people who criticized him, as in, “I’ll shoot you,” literally, to those who opposed his wishes, and not as a joke either. Bullock kept the FBI and Travis County grand jury occupied for years on end and although he was never indicted he later admitted doing exactly what he was investigated for, using state airplanes for political and/or personal reasons. There’s a long story in Texas Monthly from a few years back in which Bullock’s former aides recount trying to convince him not to fly a state plane to Las Vegas, to party.
             More ominously the Dallas newspaper caught Bullock, as lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the Texas Senate, doing “quick counts” in which he misrepresented Senate votes (done by hand, with the lieutenant governor doing the tally, not electronically as in the House) to favor outcomes he wanted. But no one is critical of Bullock who is routinely described as a genius and who happened to be a white guy and an old boy in the old boy atmosphere of the Texas Legislature. In many of the stories critical of Dukes the primary expert witness on ethics has been Randall “Buck” Wood, a local attorney/lobbyist and Democratic stalwart who was quoted extensively by the Statesman and Tribune on Dawnna’s lapses. Recently I spent a half an hour on the phone with Wood, in a kind of Kafkaesque experience, him pontificating over the course of thirty minutes about Dukes’ wrongdoing, unwilling to concede a single point, even as regards any similarity between the Perry/Lehmberg dynamic and Moore/Dukes. “I see absolutely nothing wrong with that,” he said of threats to indict Dawnna if she did not resign. But Buck Wood was Bob Bullock’s number two in the Comptroller’s Office before the big man became lieutenant governor and Wood is mentioned in the TM piece as trying to dissuade Bullock from going to Vegas after Bullock had already used state aircraft for a variety of inappropriate flights that cost the government tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. What was the consequence of Bullock’s wrongdoing? The State History Museum was named after him. 
         Incumbent Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was not on the list of Worst legislators and the former lieutenant governor with whom I spoke had a theory about that. “If Texas Monthly had named Patrick a worst,” the former lite governor explained, “Patrick would’ve sat down with a copy of the magazine and started flipping through the pages,” not looking at the articles, the ex-politician said, but looking at the advertisements, instead. Then Lt. Gov. Patrick would have picked up the telephone and started calling advertisers in an effort to shut down the Monthly’s business model. A former Speaker, hearing that scenario, thought for a moment and then chuckled, “You know, he probably would,” speaking of Patrick.

        But instead of challenging someone who might hit back, the magazine chose Dukes, whose effect on the State of Texas is considerably less noticeable than is Lt. Gov. Patrick’s but who is defenseless to the magazine’s attack. In its citation of Dukes as a Worst member of the Legislature the Monthly specifically noted Dukes’ change of heart and refusal to resign (“Who can ever trust her again?”) as if it was a personal failing that she decided to seek a trial on a criminal charge. Or does the right to trial only apply to white people?  In any case in Austin now, black is the new white: If Dukes is convicted her replacement has already been chosen, another African-American woman, a lawyer named Sheryl Cole who was mayor pro tem and an unsuccessful candidate in the last mayoral election. Cole is a team player, “she plays ball,” you might even say. Most of the white institutions in the city are pushing her candidacy because Cole has never given the city’s Caucasian leadership cause for fear which is a sign that, for blacks at least, Cole’s presence in the House of Representatives might not be in our best interests. And it’s hard to see now how her ethics are any better than anyone else’s. In the last 18 months she has received over $140,000 in payments from Travis County’s Central Health District, which has become the local Democratic Party's favorite slush fund/sugar titty, for unspecified, unbid, “lobbying” services, voted by members of the Central Health board of managers, some of whom she voted to appoint when she was on the City Council. A small world, indeed.
            There are two incidents in the long history of the Texas House of Representatives that help in understanding the curious case of Dawnna Dukes, neither about her personally but both instructive in explaining her present circumstances. Back, back in the day, when Dawnna was a child and unaware of her destiny, three young white guys from West Texas were students in the same class at Texas Tech: Jim Rudd, Pete Laney and Tom Craddick, from Brownfield, Hale Center and Midland, respectively, all three ended up in the House, Rudd and Laney as Democrats, Craddick as leader of the tiny but growing Republican Party in the state. When Speaker Gib Lewis took a fall, courtesy of the Travis County D.A., Rudd and Laney opposed each other for the top slot with Craddick throwing the support of his membership to Laney. A decade later when Republicans became the majority Craddick took the speaker’s gavel from Laney in a fight. Dukes’ relationship to these events was passing, she tried to help Laney remain in power but it was an effort doomed to fail when Republicans reached the tipping point in the balance of power. What’s important here is how things turn out at the Legislature—fate plays a big role—people who might appear to be friends or allies or who were allies often end up on opposite sides. Something to keep in mind: Personality can be just as important as party. The second incident that played a role in Dawnna's fate regards a previous attempt at prosecution of an African-American member of the House. His name was Ron Wilson and he drove a Lamborghini, which is not germane, and represented Houston as a Democrat which is.
            Ron Wilson also worked well with Speaker Craddick, and was busted concurrently by his own leadership for a reimbursement issue. “Something Wilson had been warned about” was at issue, according to a Democrat who was involved. Rep. Wilson’s alleged deeds ended up on the desk of then-Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle who was preparing to indict when (according to a Texas Rangers’ intelligence file obtained by open records request) Earle was visited by former House member Craig Washington, who like Wilson is African-American. Washington had been a regular Texas Monthly best, also back in the day, a brilliant legislator in every way who after service in the House took over the legendary Barbara Jordan’s old Texas Senate seat and eventually her seat in Congress. But the key is his time in the House. He had been Ronnie Earle’s seatmate there, the Rangers noted, when Earle represented Travis County as a state rep, small world again. After Washington’s visit the D.A. dropped the case, per the Rangers, who don’t get involved much publicly, most of the time, but whose Company F—covering the Capitol—keeps a file on everyone, just in case, kind of like the KGB. The point is not that Wilson escaped a prosecution because he was black, which would be an unlikely event and was not what happened here, but because he was tight with a powerful politician who was tight with another powerful politician, the D.A. That’s how the system often works. Dukes lacks that kind of connectedness now.
            The two misdemeanors charged include the issue of her use of staff for personal tasks. The felony charges against her all read the same: “Dawnna Mathilda Dukes, on or about October 30, 2013 and before the presentment of this indictment, in Travis County, Texas, did then and there, with the intent to defraud another, to wit: the State of Texas, knowingly make a false entry in a governmental record, and present and use said governmental record with knowledge of its falsity, by instructing her staff to add a false entry to her State of Texas Travel Voucher, and by signing and submitting said voucher to the State of Texas when she knew it contained the false entry, said false entry being that she traveled by personal car on October 5, 2013 to attend to legislative duties in the State Capitol in Austin, Texas.” There are thirteen of these, Counts I through XIII, identical in wording except the dates, a baker’s dozen of alleged felonies for a total the District Attorney describes as “greater than $750 but less than $2500,” and apparently closer to the $750 than to the $2500. There are a couple of details that stand out. One is that the D.A.’s Office guidelines are that prosecutors won’t even consider a fraud case, for example, that is worth less than $50,000—but somehow thirteen felonies have been pulled out of a figure that Dukes’ team indicates is $800 less change. Two is that it was absolutely crucial in the indictments to raise the specter of Dukes’ aides being “forced” to make a false entry even though it was Dukes who signed the voucher, because for the prosecutors the testimony of her aides will be necessary to sway the jury—as a member of the D.A.’s staff described it, the aides were offended at being told to make a false entry.
            Both Dukes’ guileless ex-aides and their alleged repulsion at her lack of ethics will be on display but there’s good reason to believe they may be less innocent than they seem. Talking to the first former Speaker of the House, I mentioned that the aides apparently went to the press and he said, yes, but the real question is who approached the aides before they went to reporters? In other words, who prompted the leak? When I mentioned the first former Speaker’s take on the action to the second former Speaker, that someone may have prompted Dukes’ aides to go public, he said, “I think that’s probably right.”
        There’s a lot going on, most of it behind the scenes, and what gets revealed gets revealed for a reason. Also, as both former Speakers said, much of what happens in the Legislature involves personalities, grievances and grudges—likes and dislikes—this is a very human institution. We’re used to thinking that a particular no vote by a legislator, for instance, is related to the needs of that member’s district, or even a lobbyist’s influence, but a commonly-mentioned dynamic that is often overlooked is that Representative A just doesn’t like Representative B’s face, or Representative A got screwed on a deal last legislative session or the session before and is returning the favor now. People wait years for revenge. Asked what might be the circumstances for seeking revenge, the first former Speaker mentioned specifically playing with the other team, which is what Dukes did as a Craddick supporter. As to the issue of the possible motivations of her aides, and the possibility that they were coached, there’s evidence, purely circumstantial but particularly powerful, that points to other House members, specifically Democrats, and more specifically members of her own delegation.
            One of the former Speakers describing the two political parties in the state today said that the Republicans are like the once-dominant Texas Democrats used to be, a large party full of differing factions, the rightwing Freedom Caucus for example, the moderates, the old-style patricians like the Bushes, whoever. The Democrats on the other hand, he said, are much more cohesive and on message, as minority parties need to be and as Republicans used to be. Anyone breaking with the Democratic program or who is not toeing a party line in Texas must be held to account, as the Wall Street Journal also said recently.

4

             The Journal was describing what it called Texas’ propensity for political trials, recent examples being Gov. Perry, former Senator Kaye Bailey Hutchison and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, all of whom are former House members and all of whom were busted by the Travis County Grand Jury, although the Journal was specifically referring to the upcoming trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton (“another dubious case against a politician who riled the status quo”) who is a former House member too and whose case is not in Travis County but did start here. That also describes Dukes’ career, she broke ranks for a time, which is especially offensive in Travis County which sees itself at odds with and victim of the rest of the Republican-controlled state. That's the Democratic  narrative and Dawnna is accused of going off script. That’s two counts against her. There’s yet another reason to believe some of her colleagues may have been involved in her misfortune and that comes from the D.A.’s Office itself.
            The head of the D.A’s Public Integrity Unit under Rosemary Lehmberg when it first took up its pursuit of Dawnna Dukes was a lawyer named Susan Oswalt, who was let go by Margaret Moore when Moore took over the office. It was Oswalt who helped develop the threat strategy that was first used against Dukes, resign or be indicted. In a speech to the Travis County Rotary Club before the Dukes case even unfolded, Oswalt made a presentation about legislators pursued by the Travis County D.A. using as an example Latino state rep Kino Flores who had just run afoul of the Public Integrity Unit. Oswalt told her audience that most of the indictments involving state legislators begin as complaints from other state legislators, in one way or another, for whatever reason—one representative ratting out another, for political or personal motives—which, surprise, is what the former Speakers said too.
             There’s long been a rumor that Flores, another Democrat who worked with the Craddick-led Republicans—“a Craddick D,” as they were called, like Ron Wilson and like Dukes—as he entered the grand jury room, to defend himself, saw a member of his own party leadership going out the other door after testifying.
        So, let's see: we have three minorities, two blacks and one Hispanic, each worked with the Republicans led by Tom Craddick, and all three have been pursued by the Travis County Grand Jury. The only other state legislator whom we know was investigated by the Travis County D.A. during the same era is Craddick himself, a probe that went nowhere but did tie up Craddock defending himself and force him to spend a lot of money on lawyers. The Travis County Grand Jury investigates Republicans, and Democrats who have worked with Republicans.  Sen. Kirk Watson is a walking ethics violation, a legislator who practically has a "For Sale" sign on his forehead, but will never see the inside of the grand jury room because he's a good Democrat. In the cases of each of the black and Hispanic D's mentioned above it's important to note they were denounced by their own party, which does not happen to someone like Watson or Lloyd Doggett because they run the party. If that analysis is correct the pool of suspects this time around with Dawnna narrows pretty quickly. We can eliminate Gina Hinojosa who is new to the delegation and has been described as being “surprised” by her colleagues’ vehemence. Elliot Naishtat the longterm rep whom Hinojosa replaced this year did not have a great relationship with Dukes and has been critical of her privately since leaving office but he’s out of the hunt now and wasn’t around for the most recent attacks. That leaves three members, good Democrats, all: Eddie Rodriguez who represents southeast Travis County, Donna Howard who is rep for northwest Austin, and Celia Israel who represents an arcing swath of local population. One other former representative might also seem to be a possibility.
            Glen Maxey was a member of the delegation with Dukes and Maxey is now head of legislative affairs for the state Democratic Party. He was the first openly gay Texas state rep which is, frankly, historic, and that makes him the very important leader of a major caucus in the Democratic Party and especially in Austin. One of Dukes’ few primary challengers in recent years was a gay attorney who claimed Dawnna was out of touch with gay issues, an odd claim since she is credited with one of the most important speeches on the House floor against anti-LGBTQ legislation, and is graded “A” by Equality Texas which tracks legislators in this regard. Still, the claim is floating out there in the ether, that Dukes has gotten on the wrong side of the gay caucus, which would be deadly for her career in Travis County and, specifically, that she’s out of favor with Maxey which could be even deadlier. In an email response to a query, former Rep. Maxey denied this. On the other hand Eddie Rodriguez who was Maxey’s aide before taking over Maxey’s seat was caught speaking in favor of Dukes’ opponent in the previously-mentioned primary, something that is just not supposed to be done. As regards the more recent efforts to bust Dukes, Rodriguez seems, frankly, neither that bright nor that calculating.
            There is an overriding dynamic entirely at work here, jealousy. I may not be able to spot drug use with 100% certainty but I do like to think I know something about women—not in my own life, where I remain clueless—but in female-female interactions. Working for the last 20 years at a nurses station with 90% women, conflict among women is very rarely face to face but can still be just as brutal as men squaring off in the parking lot. The whole “Dukes Affair” looks a lot like women at work. The campaign manager for Sheryl Col who has been selected by white elites to succeed Dukes is a former assistant to Travis County Rep. Celia Israel and is called “Celia’s guy” in the local party apparatus. Two is that Rep. Israel's name is being openly used as a sponsor for Cole. Three is that Celia doesn’t deny any of the above.

5

           One of the cool things about the Capitol if you’re looking for someone is you can always find him or her. Only the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker are out of reach, because of big offices or apartments or separate entrances.
            Everybody else walks the halls to get from Point A to Point B which may be committee rooms or the House/Senate floors or their own offices. So, one afternoon in the waning days of the most recent special session, I staked out a hallway that Celia Israel would have to pass through to reach her office and I was rewarded shortly thereafter with her appearance. She looked to be coming back from the House floor, with an aide at her side. In an exchange of messages she's already informed me that she had no email with the newspaper—but she had not replied to a request for an interview. Time to track down the representative, personally.
            At the outset, let me mention in a purely personal vein, I have a thing for Latinas, especially lawmakers. My last crush was Marissa Marquez of El Paso who represented District 77 for four terms but called it quits last year. There was just something about the way Marissa orated (“Mr. Speaker!”) and I got some of the same vibe from Celia, although she plays for the other team, personally, and politically as a gay leader, so I knew my interest would not be, you know, requited. She’s an attractive woman nonetheless—and a strong one—you could see that right off, in the same way Dawnna radiates a certain ability so does Celia. As a matter of fact Celia also looked like a predator, but it was harder for me to distinguish what kind. Luckily we had never met so when I rose from my bench in a hallway of the Capitol Extension to approach her she didn’t know to run. “I’m Lucius Lomax,” I said and we shook hands. Her aide didn’t look happy at the prospect of an unscripted interaction, but Celia smiled.
            Rep. Israel didn’t respond directly, what she said instead was, “I’ve known Dawnna over the course of many years. I have a lot of respect for her as a representative.” She also said she had “concern for Dawnna’s family,” and I thought she was going to start on the drug abuse thing, which would have been tacky, so I cut her off and re-iterated that I thought she was involved in political bullying. You know what’s interesting? There was no denial, or even a non-denial denial.
            A curious fact, which you yourself can judge: No one has been voting for Dukes, using the voting apparatus on her desk—which means, as a practical matter, her record of absences is not really that bad compared to others’ records of attendance which are really not that good. Everyone votes for everyone else. The practice in the Travis County delegation is said to have been that the freshman, in this instance Gina Hinojosa, would vote for or show present anyone in her delegation who was not present but she has not been doing that for Dukes, apparently under pressure from her colleagues. A member of the Black Caucus said that Rep. Dukes has asked members of the African-American group to vote for her in her absence or when she’s late, like most members do, but this black rep with whom I spoke said that African-American members have refused because Dukes, who sits alone behind Hinojosa, is too close to press seating and it would be noticed if a black lawmaker walked over and showed her present or voted for her. “We’ve never stepped away from her,” though, said the member of the Black Caucus, speaking of support for Dukes, but no one can afford to be sucked into Dukes’ troubles. The result is, like the indictments, she’s being singled out. Dawnna Dukes is not entirely innocent here, however. Even her friends say that a certain aspect of her character makes Dawnna her own worst enemy. You’ve heard of CPT, or “Colored People’s Time”—also known as “M.S.T.,” Mexican Standard Time? That is the alleged propensity, a completely racist sterotype, uncalled-for and unfair, describing the colored peoples of the earth arriving five minutes later for all commitments than our white brothers and sisters—but in Dawnna’s case is completely true. Dawnna is so far beyond C.P.T. it’s hard even to describe. To call her chronically late or “not prompt” doesn’t begin to describe her relationship with a clock. That’s part of the reason the D.A.’s deadline to resign was so counter-intuitive. Dawnna doesn’t do deadlines.


6

            Through the years, and with a certain glee, we've watched Dukes’ inability to file campaign paperwork on time. It appeared, frankly, like a “behavior,” because it seemed unlikely anyone could be tats clueless about filing times. Then, last year, as the Statesman was in the middle of its hatchet job, and feeling, like, nobody can be this bad—I made an appointment to meet her. I don’t drive and she agreed to pick me up in front of the downtown central library. My suggestion was Starbuck's but she wanted to have a real meal.
             We agreed on 11 a.m., at the bus stop directly in front of the library doors. It was August 4th, hotter than hell, the sun was reaching its zenith and I was completely exposed on the sidewalk. By the time she was an hour late she’d already sent me three or four texts to tell me she was on her way. The babysitter was the issue again, and I have no real reason to believe it wasn’t true, she's a single mom—but like 12:15, 12:20, I just got on a bus and left, in order to get out of the heat, you feel me?
            The upshot is that she’s in like complete denial about timeliness. She has no idea that people see this as rudeness—that some might think, based upon her approach to time commitments, we are not important to her. Looking back, it seems to me now, the only way we met at the Capitol was that it was completely unscheduled. I texted her that I was in the Extension, stalking her colleagues to ask about her, and she called me to say she was pulling up to her parking space and we could go get lunch. If it had been a scheduled rendezvous I might be waiting still. In all respects, for me, however, meeting Dawnna was worth the wait. Not everyone else may feel that way, though. Judge Urrutia is one. He comes from the defense bench and probably has wide experience with tardy defendants but he’s a judge now and he has made clear that a contempt citation already has her name on it, she only needs to delay the court one more time.
            What got me interested in her again, you may ask, after that hour waiting in the sun? In the Austin History Center next door to the library there’s a small Dawnna Dukes file and included is an interview from a few years ago—question and answer, like you see on the inside back flap of magazines, her saying what she had to say without editorial commentary, Dawnna Dukes unfiltered, you might call it. This was before gentrification became an issue in the city and she was way, way ahead of that particular curve. “There are new businesses where old African-American businesses once stood on East Eleventh Street,” she told Austin Monthly. “I remember this pink building that housed a record store when I was about four years old. One day, my sitter walked me to the store, and inside, dancing wildly, was James Brown. He scared me. I could not believe my eyes.” I remember that store, too. Her next comments were prophetic. “When I worked for a criminal justice planning firm, I conducted research in jails and prisons,” she said in the interview. “The data showed that by the sixth grade you could determine who was heading toward the criminal justice system. I felt the state could choose to educate or incarcerate,” she said.
            “Politically, the best advice I received was from my predecessor, Wilhemina Delco,” she told the magazine, “who reminded me of the motto of the Congressional Black Caucus, ‘We have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent issues.’” Recently, Delco was seen at a Sheryl Cole event. She told someone that it’s a shame what has happened to Dukes, the railroading—Ms. Delco has made clear she believes that Dukes has been unfairly targeted—but even if Dawnna is acquitted her career may still be over, or so said her former mentor. Backing Cole now are also the three most important figures of White Austin leadership, County Judge Eckhardt, Congressman Doggett and State Senator Watson. Still, this was the woman I met for lunch, the Dawnna Dukes of the old interview: strong, proud, intelligent and fearless. It’s not just because she’s black but because she’s black and of a certain generation. I have about a decade on her but we were both raised in the civil rights era and the idea of rolling over for white people? It’s just not going to happen. But the one thing that everyone agrees on, friends and enemies alike? She needs to get a watch.
              That’s not the reason she wasn’t concerned by the passing of the district attorney’s deadline, by the way, as we were having lunch—that she didn’t know the time or that “time slipped by” or something like that. Her new cell phone was on the table in the restaurant and it has a digital display, she was merely unconcerned, let’s put it that way. The point is she needs to get into the habit of timeliness. She appears occasionally to be unaware that clocks even exist, not because she’s a junkie, as the D.A.’s Office would have you believe, she’s always been that way, time is a dimension Dawnna mostly does not move in. That could be a particularly dangerous liability in her coming trial.
            When Speaker Gib Lewis was on trial for accepting free travel from lobbyists, and arrived two hours late to court, District Judge Bob Perkins was not amused.
             My friend Gilbert Soto was Perkins’ longtime bailiff and Gilbert—recounting the scene recently for me, in preparation for Dawnna’s appearance in Judge Urrutia’s court—he said succinctly, you will agree, “Perkins got tired of that shit.” When Speaker Lewis finally showed up, the judge told Gilbert, “I want him taken into custody.” That was kind of cool for Gilbert, right? Like how often do you get to arrest the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives? No handcuffs or anything, no billy club needed, Lewis is white after all—no need to spray pepper or employ the reliable Taser—Gib Lewis didn’t resist or run for the door or try to take the D.A. hostage, either, but still an enjoyable day, all in all, for the bailiff if not for the Speaker. It’s an anecdote that Dawnna Dukes might do well to keep in mind. She needs to be there when the bailiff says, “All rise.”
            She also needs to win. In her car, as we sat outside the Texas Capitol, an institution where she has grown up so to speak, the House that has been her home for the last two decades, more, that’s what she said she’s planning. She lowered her shades again and looked over.  “I am going to win,” she said.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Better Call Jamal

             
            Like a lot of other people who don’t work “in the industry,” my store of useless information includes some details of how television works on a business level. For example someone told me years ago, and this may apply to movies as well as to television, or may have actually been an anecdote about movies, if you run into a producer or star you have five minutes to pitch a plot or concept. If you can’t convince someone of a storyline in a few minutes or a few sentences, chances are that what you’re proposing is too complicated or too confused to be commercial, because Hollywood is a commercial endeavor after all.
            So, here’s my pitch for a new series, as briefly and succinctly as the above rule demands: the series would be about a government agency which we’ll call the Race Reconciliation Bureau, that sends out investigators across the country—from Manhattan to Manhattan Beach, from South Dakota to South Carolina—to deal with various ethnically-charged disputes, issues like gentrification or public education, basically anything related to race. Because most new television involves borrowing from old television, my idea is that each episode would see two agents, whose fictional careers are being dramatized, receiving instructions on a case that would be the subject of that week’s story, a la Mission Impossible back in the day. The agents themselves would be a biracial team but instead of the salt-and-pepper pair we’ve become accustomed to in cop shows, one white and one black, it would be salsa-and-pepper, one Hispanic and one Negro. A black guy and a Hispanic chick, actually. Instructions and a description of the case would be given at the beginning of the action by the agents’ supervisor, who we never see, named Mrs. Wu, who speaks in Hong Kong-accented American English. The show would be called Better Call Jamal. What do you think so far? If you’re still with me, and you approve the concept, a fuller treatment follows.
            Better Call Jamal: that’s the working title, even though it’s been shamelessly ripped off and is totally negotiable. The aforementioned Jamal is Jamal Washington, or Jamal Jackson, or Jamal Jefferson, one of those stand-up black guys whose family name reminds of us of a dead president—and of sobriety and security—who’s our title character. He’s a little like one imagines a young Barack, post his “Barry” phase but pre his political career, still working as a “neighborhood organizer,” paying his dues, picking up experience but not a mere neophyte. That’s not original now, nor is it likely to get any more original in the future, actors portraying a young Barack Obama, but remember that the small screen is not about originality, it’s about what sells and Barack was and is an attractive character, both in the flesh and in plot development. Jamal’s not a player, either, that’s part of his attraction, just like the original he’s married and faithful even though so much time on the road presents plenty of opportunities to stray. Part of his attraction is fidelity: as with Barack there’s flirting and awareness of his sexuality but never anything more because he’s a family guy. There’s a great scene in one of Obama’s books, just after he gets to Washington as senator, when he’s calling Chicago to speak to his kids all the time just because he’s lonely in D.C. That kind of vibe could be pretty effectively borrowed here. Jamal anchors the series, he has some moves, and a sense of righteous black indignation that can be called upon on rare occasion, for dramatic effect, but his professional cool is what keeps him going week after week. Besides, he’s not really the main attraction. That would be his Latina sidekick who we’ll call Lourdes, or Mercedes, something religious but not Maria. Anyway, Lourdes we’ll call her, has the ethical underpinning of a bottom-ho, not to be demeaning of women or anything. That’s what makes her interesting, she’ll do anything to close a case and fuck as many white people as she can along the way. Literally and figuratively. Sponsors might be a little wary at first but as long as people are tuning in to watch, what do they care?
            Lourdes is a couple of years older than Jamal, sure of her sexuality, sure of her game, and completely ruthless, which is what makes her a good partner for the almost professorial Jamal. In a pitch to a Hollywood producer, presumably you have to make things as simple as possible, not because he or she is dumb but because he or she doesn’t need every detail in order to say yes or no, only an outline, with pertinent possibilities, and to that end—while there are any number of young black actors to play Jamal—one big-name Latina positively screams for the role of Lourdes: Jennifer Lopez. She’s got the talent, she’s got the booty, she’s got the attitude and you can see her fucking over white people, like, no sweat. Throughout the show JLo’s whole facial expression, when dealing with The Man, or The Woman, says, “This can get worse but it won’t get better.” In fact that’s the Race Reconciliation Bureau’s motto, on the wall at the regional office Jamal and Lourdes work out of, a message to The Man, “This can get worse but it won’t get better.” It’s like a cop show where the veteran cop is dealing with a thug, cynical but offering a break if the criminal gets religion and cooperates. The point is that a lot of whites are ready to move on, on race, after 400 years of white privilege, but Lourdes is there to tell them, not so fast, we have some accounting to do. Jamal on the other hand is a healer and genuinely wants to help white people to accept change. What you end up with is a kind of good-cop, bad-cop routine which translates into a good-minority bad-minority thing but—and this is a departure from real life, where most often whites view Hispanics and Asians as good minorities, and Negroes as bad ones—the Latina is the bad minority and the brother is sympathetic. Surprise! Maybe it’s not realistic but this is TV.
            There’s often a backstory in good TV, and Better Call Jamal’s is this: You’ve heard of African-American calls in past years for the government to pay reparations for slavery? In fictionalized history, in a prior Congress, certainly not this Congress, the law passed, $20,000 per person just like former Japanese internees from World War II received, but because of the problem of many mixed-raced individuals, and some wealthy African-Americans—Oprah for example, who doesn’t need the money—the law allows the cash to be administered by the Race Reconciliation Bureau, which means that in addition to jawboning, and pressuring outcomes, and bringing the two sides together, Jamal and Lourdes can write a check for up to $20,000 to any abused person of color. This hails back to an old show, back, back in the day, when an anonymous stranger used to go around handing out million-dollar checks to ordinary people. $20,000 may not seem like much today but, to some people, it is a million dollars. So, that’s Better Call Jamal, in a nutshell. There’s sex, race and money, the trifecta of American daily life, the only missing element is gunfire, and should make for great TV. Important to note that BCJ is not a continuous storyline, that stretches from one episode to another. Each show, that lasts an hour, is a different story, the way TV used to be. One possible addition is an assistant to Jamal and Lourdes, who is white and makes wry or snappy comments, like so many black or Hispanic assistants to white title characters in shows past. There also needs to be a theme song, something beyond my artistic sensibilities to describe, but instead of the usual catchy Hollywood tune my idea would be something “dark” and haunting, maybe based on an old Negro spiritual or the kind of music that slaves sang while toiling in the fields. That’s just an idea but definitely you don’t want Brady Bunch music, obviously, and you wouldn’t want something procedural, like for a cop show, because this is higher-brow than a weekly whodunit. This is about America evolving, not to get self-righteous or anything. The theme needs to have soul, not the kind of soul you can dance to, but something almost mournful. Not as a downer though, only to lend to the inevitability of the drama.
            Let’s see, about two minutes left for this pitch: An obvious question would be an example of an episode’s plot. Like music, that’s not really my realm, there would be well-paid writers for that, all they have to do is pick up the newspaper every day to get material, my responsibility is more the big picture. But it is a legitimate question. One idea for a script that has crossed my mind—we’re just brainstorming here—comes from my hometown, Austin. So, in the Texas capital city the biggest race offender, historically, has been the University of Texas which is what you can call a very non-diverse institution. And that lack of diversity stretches from the administration through the teaching ranks and student body but not to the football team or basketball team or track because where would any university sports program be without black athletes? But as regards sports there is one aspect that is almost totally segregated and that’s the cheerleading squad.
            My daily jog is at Clark Field on the university campus and sometimes the cheerleaders practice there and it’s an unnatural number of blonds, that’s the best way to put it, and maybe one sister or one Latina if you’re lucky. So, this particular episode begins with a really hot little Mexican-American co-ed, whose name is not Maria, “Brittany” let’s say, she’s got the looks, she’s got the moves and she’s got the brains, which is what cheerleading is about—having met a couple, back in the day, but never scored, because they were too smart to fall for my shit—but her position on the squad is taken by a blond sorority sister even though the Latina has bigger pom poms and more spirit. If you’re the Latina and you know you’re being screwed, what do you do? Better call Jamal. In the introductory scene, before the first commercial break, after Mrs. Wu’s instructions of course, my idea would be to rip off a movie, Up in the Air with George Clooney? Not the whole movie, just the part where Clooney and Anna Kendrick arrive somewhere, in an office in some city, pulling rolling suitcases and carrying briefcases, which are actually props, for the show and for life. The briefcases are like a gun or a badge in a cop show, briefcase-as-weapon, not that that’s new either. So, they show up at the university, and Lourdes goes one way and Jamal the other.
            There is possible tweaking here, but this is a serious pitch. So, in this episode, Jamal goes on to deal with the administration and the university’s “vice-president of diversity affairs,” who is an Uncle Tom, while the camera preferentially follows JLo who starts right off by meeting and fucking the captain of the football team and the university athletic director, who is a woman, which raises the question in the audience’s mind if JLo’s character goes both ways. Gradually, it becomes clear though that for JLo-aka-Lourdes sex isn’t about sex, it’s about power, and she understands what many women understand, that by screwing someone you have a better chance of screwing someone. Then, after a commercial break, Lourdes goes to the sorority, Kappa Kappa Whatever, to interview the girl who got the position on the cheerleading squad. And there’s this great scene, JLo walking into the sorority house and looking around at all the white girls doing whatever young women do in a sorority house—in my imagination, never actually having been in one, they walk around in their underwear, or read fashion magazines or talk about guys—and JLo dismisses them all with a glance. You can see the girls are completely intimidated by this hot, self-possessed brown woman. Lourdes then interrogates the white girl in question about her tumbling skills and how much spirit she really has. We’ll leave it to the writers from that point on because, like, what makes a good cheerleader, is it really all about the size of your pom poms? The conversation turns into a discussion of beauty and how the perception of beauty is influenced by race, something we’re just beginning to talk about in this country.
            There’s another great scene between Lourdes and the Mexican-American undergraduate who lost the position on the squad. What starts out as an interview, “for the file,” as Lourdes puts it, evolves into just two Latinas rapping, as they talk among themselves, without the need to be polite, without the need for some white chick to “translate” or hog the scene, about what pisses them off about white women or men of any race, or all the bullshit societal expectations that Latinas smile when they’re being screwed. Meanwhile, we haven’t forgot Jamal and there’s another good scene, not as good as with Lourdes, but with a certain gravitas, where he’s talking to the university Tom who asks what Jamal knows about life in the South, coming from Chicago as Jamal does, like Barack, and Jamal lets loose that his ancestors were slaves in Texas and left for Chicago during Jim Crow. Then, because there has to be a happy ending, the Latina still doesn’t get the position on the squad—although the captain of the football team is suddenly more supportive—but Jamal whips out the checkbook and pays for the rest of her tuition. That’s America. There may not be justice but you might still get a check.
            There’s at least enough material to last twenty seasons, like Law & Order. If that’s going to be too much stress on Jamal and Lourdes the show can go to a bullpen-type series where there’s a whole bench of investigators and a different pair appear each week. The plotlines are probably inexhaustible because there’s new raw material in America everyday. Throughout white privilege, and fundamental racial prejudice, that is still ongoing, whites remain in denial. They just want to move on, without necessarily giving anything up. What to do?
           Better call Jamal.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Four-Star Review of Spike Lee's Next Five-Star Movie

               Last year a friend went to the University of Missouri to visit her son, who is a student there. She came back with a photograph of herself and Spike Lee. That it was the famous auteur is without question: he’s a little guy, with a big pair, two aspects of his persona that were both somehow evident in the photo, together with his trademark tortoiseshell eyeglasses and the deadpan cool brother expression. Rumors of Spike Lee’s next film project floating around at the time were that it would have something to do with race, because his work usually does, specifically the student protests at Missouri which led to the departure of U of M’s senior leadership, or alternatively about the Texas cops and the death of black motorist Sandra Bland, outside Prairie View, which was the race scandal du jour for such a long, long time. Who knows? Lee may simply have been passing through or was there to offer support to the kids.
            If you like movies, and who doesn’t, you may wonder from time to time how bad movies get made (“What were they thinking?”) or, more critically, how an entire kind of filmmaking gets created, especially one that doesn’t continue to resonate through the years. Westerns come to immediate mind, a genre with a storied past, including many great movies, that gets resurrected from time to time but is basically dead, for many reasons, not least of which that the films produced have borne little relationship to how the West was really “won.” Cinema doesn’t have to be realistic, sci fi for example, but if it’s trying to be and isn’t, that’s a problem. It seems sometimes that Spike Lee is headed in the same direction, in his own work, that he's at risk of creating films that may be popular and artistically-merited but that bear little relationship to the history of civil rights in this country or race relations in modern America, while trying to be. Someone needs to talk to him before his next film debuts. Let’s try that here.
            If race protest in America today most resembles the ‘60s and ‘70s variety, as some believe, there is a missing element. Those old enough to remember the heyday of the Black Panthers, et al, may wonder about a bit of missing jargon and ideology this time around: Where are the Toms? If you take a look at revolution/revolt in other areas and other eras, you’re struck how much time, expense—and how many bullets—revolutionaries have devoted in years past to fighting their own counterrevolutionary elements. Mao used a trip to the countryside, the Soviets used a trip to the Gulag or a trip to the morgue, and Fidel eventually used a boatlift to Florida in order to rid his brave new society of undesirable reactionary elements. So too civil rights in this country. The revolution has spent a lot of time fighting the counterrevolution, in other words, represented by the Uncle Toms and Tomasinas, the Aunt Jemimas and “handkerchief heads” who have had more interest in the status quo than in civil rights or who have made a living by pleasing The Man. You don’t hear about these folks so much today. It’s not that we’re too P.C. to call someone a handkerchief head anymore, it may actually be that there are fewer around. The loosening of strictures on being black in America, through the years, may mean there’s less to be gained by selling out. An example of an Uncle Tom or a Aunt Jemima is therefore helpful for those who haven’t met one before.
            During the last Bush administration there were two high-profile black members of the Cabinet who both took shit for joining the Republicans. One was a Tom by any reasonable measure and one was not. Secretary of State Colin Powell, like the rest of us, was deceived regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when he signed off on the invasion. National Security Advisor (and eventual secretary of state) Condoleezza Rice chose to promote the invasion for her own reasons, which amounted to accepting a full-scale attack on a sovereign country and the deaths of tens of thousands of brown-skinned people under conditions that, and based upon “evidence” for which, she almost certainly would not have agreed to an intervention in Europe. Aunt Jemima or Handkerchief Head—you can choose—but there don’t seem to be many other options. Today, in the Trump Era, we have Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee, allegedly a black man, who was rumored to be joining the Department of Homeland Security. Come the revolution there’s no need for a trial for Sheriff Clarke—we can go straight to, “Up against the wall, motherfucker,” and “Fire.” Some people would like to out Trump’s lone black cabinet member, Ben Carson, of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as a Tom, but he’s actually a surgeon, a form of life that transcends race. Like many surgeons Dr. Carson is almost totally self-obsessed which may be why he doesn’t often identify with blacks, it’s because he identifies mostly with God. It's sad to say but does grant him a certain immunity in the present context.
            Spike Lee is also no Tom. He has shown courage throughout his career and one can only imagine the struggle he himself endured to break into the whites-only country club called Hollywood. But as with everyone else, every other kind of art and artist, we have to look at the work he’s producing too. The struggle is one thing, the product another. Everyone is a critic, after all, but the arts also play a critical role in conflict and since film-making usually involves a look back, at things that have already happened or conditions that previously existed, as in, in this case, pre-Barack Obama America, well, Mr. Lee may have issues. There’s less of a market for selling out today, at least for black people, but it was a booming business at one time and almost certainly one of the principal reasons why the civil rights struggle has spanned so many generations is that not all black people have been on board with the plan. We need to get that on film. Civil rights has turned out to be such a long-running drama not merely because whites have been so recalcitrant, although they have been, but because it was in the perceived best interests of some black people, especially successful black people, or black people who wanted to be successful, to give whites a helping hand. At a price, usually power. And you don’t see that in Spike’s movies, basically—or in any movies about civil rights in this country. The theme of American filmmaking, as it is expressed in this genre, is almost always dastardly, corrupt white people versus noble long-suffering African-Americans. We are noble, and long-suffering, but some of that suffering has been at the hands of our own people.
            One is reminded of the black nurse who ran the Tuskegee syphilis experiment for the U.S. Public Health Service, and the African-American cops who, even today, are still showing themselves just as willing to shoot a running black man as their white counterparts. For every black church leader who, like Martin Luther King Jr., preached integration, there were just as many who promoted the status quo in order to maintain their own positions as important middlemen between whites and the black community. There were black businessmen who didn’t want integration because that meant the end of segregated markets, with captive clienteles, and the unwelcome reality of competing with established white enterprises. Integration meant the end of many black-owned concerns and some African-Americans foresaw that and didn't want it. And there’s also Spike’s own stomping ground Hollywood where there’s been a history of black stars who cut ties with their own race as quickly as they could. Instead of helping other people of color, these Toms took full advantage of being part of a mostly-white elite. Bill Cosby comes to mind, a brother who had no use for other blacks until his rape trial when he suddenly re-discovered the travails of being a black man in America.
            A few years ago Spike Lee had a well-publicized dispute with Clint Eastwood after Mr. Lee accused Mr. Eastwood of downplaying the role of non-Caucasians in this country’s history and culture. Eastwood’s filmmaking tends toward portrayals of old-school white guys with square jaws who shoot straight and get the bad guy/guys who very often have darker skin. Lee is right, it is an oversimplification of whatever struggle Eastwood is portraying, stick-figure white heroes versus stick-figure villains, but the same thing can be said of recent and more sympathetic films about blacks and racial struggle in this country. One advantage Spike Lee has is that he often works with Denzel Washington, the American actor who bests conveys an evil, opportunistic side, even when he's doing good. You can easily visualize Denzel as a revolutionary or a collaborator or both. In any case though the script has got to change. Post Obama, post Dallas, post Ferguson, having shown Caucasians a thing or two, for black people it’s now time to take care of our own business. That means outing the Toms, both on film and in life.