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Back of the bus again: Seeking justice for families

RUSSELL FISH | 2/19/2017, 5:39 a.m.
We live in a world turned upside down. A new president is the enemy of both Democrat and Republican leaders. ...
Russell Fish

We live in a world turned upside down. A new president is the enemy of both Democrat and Republican leaders. A major Black Christian leader is sent to stand in the hall by the office of the most senior Black member of the Texas Senate. You cannot guess who took that same bishop into their offices and furthermore went to bat for Black interests.

Two years ago, The Dallas Examiner readers read about the illegal prosecution of Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson for spanking his son. Last month, I described another case right here in Dallas. Keith Mcguire was illegally arrested, illegally indicted and continues to be illegally held for spanking his son.

The crux of both these cases and apparently many others is a $3 billion agency, Child Protective Services, that insists on jailing parents who spank their children despite the crystal clear law protecting them. Parents who discipline have been protected in the Texas Penal Code since 1856. That protection was significantly strengthened by the Texas Legislature in 1973. It states:

“Sec. 9.61. PARENT-CHILD. (a) The use of force, but not deadly force, against a child younger than 18 years is justified: (1) if the actor is the child’s parent or stepparent or is acting in loco parentis to the child; and (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is necessary to discipline the child or to safeguard or promote his welfare.”

The jailed Mcguire is a constituent of the long serving Sen. Royce West. West sits on the Senate Finance Committee that is now hearing budget request for Child Protective Services. He is in an ideal position to ask some tough questions and stop the illegal jailing of Black parents.

I first asked West’s office for comment on the illegal jailing on Jan. 10. A week later, he had offered no response, and I was told he was really busy. I asked two additional times over the following three weeks. Finally, Bishop Sterling Lands requested a meeting at the senator’s Austin office. The bishop presides over several hundred congregations worldwide for Family Life International Fellowship. He has been a well-known civil rights activist in Austin for more than three decades.

When the bishop arrived at the capitol office, he did not get to meet with the senator, who apparently was out. He did not get to meet with the senator’s chief of staff. He did not get to meet with a lesser aide.

He was told to discuss his concerns with a White female intern in the hall!

Two unlikely legislators did manage to find time in their busy schedules to meet with the bishop. Before you read the rest of this article, take a guess who agreed to meet. No peeking.

I bet you didn’t guess Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Fort Worth. That’s right. The Tea Party fire-breather invited the bishop into his office, brought in two aides and listened intently. He then pulled out a report on CPS done by his office, and he and the bishop went through it shoulder-to-shoulder looking for relevant information.

Next to meet was Sen. Don Huffines, who represents Highland Park and the surrounding area. The number of Black constituents in the senator’s district might be counted on one hand, but he also invited the bishop into his office. The real surprise was to come when we reviewed the video of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services the following day.

Huffines does not sit on this committee but invoked senatorial privilege to temporarily sit with the committee and interrogate the Commissioner of Child Protective Services, Hank Whitman Jr.

The key exchange was:

Huffines: Are you aware that we have a law that permits physical spanking in the Penal Code … to protect parents.

Whitman: I am not aware of that law.

Huffines told the bishop after the hearing he’d asked the commissioner to return with responses to the questions of which he expressed ignorance. Lands invited Huffines to address his Austin congregation.

We certainly live in strange times.