Gov. Greg Abbott traveled to Dallas on Thursday to announce a legislative proposal to increase penalties for rioting.
A news conference to announce a package of legislative proposals wouldn’t normally involve the campaign staff, but that is who has been coordinating these recent back the blue events for Abbott, signaling they are more likely aimed at helping President Donald Trump and his re-election campaign than they are part of the governor’s administrative duties.
In an apparent effort to capitalize on potential fear among voters, Trump has been attempting to make public safety and the violence associated with some of the ongoing protests for police reforms the centerpiece of his campaign. Abbott’s Thursday news conference appeared to be a page taken directly from the Trump playbook.
“Texas will always defend the First Amendment right to peaceably protest, but Texas is not going to tolerate violence, vandalism or rioting,” said Abbott as he was surrounded by members of the Dallas police union.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement following the governor’s news conference.
“Instead of talking about the issues that matter most to Texans — ending the coronavirus crisis, protecting and expanding health care coverage, and building our economy back better — Abbott chose to introduce nonsensical proposals that will not hold up in court. This was done in a pathetic ploy to help Trump and Texas Republicans’ election chances. It won’t work,” Hinojosa stated.
Abbott wants legislative approval of the following enhanced penalties for rioters:
- a felony charge and jail time for causing injury or property damage during a riot
- a mandatory jail sentence of at least six months for striking a police officer during a riot
- a felony charge for using a laser on an officer during a riot
- a felony charge for blocking a hospital entrance or exit
- mandatory jail time for using fireworks during a protests
- a felony charge for aiding or abetting rioters with funds or organizational support.
Two weeks ago, Abbott was in Austin to announce that he wants to take away the annexation powers of any city that defunds their police department. Before that, he threatened to forever freeze the property tax rates of cities that cut police funding. He has also confirmed he is considering a state takeover of the Austin police department.
His increasing level of attention to these issues might seem to indicate the existence of a growing problem related to maintaining adequate funding for police at the local level in Texas, but that isn’t the case. Only Austin has cut funding for police. In fact, Houston and Dallas have added more dollars to their police department budgets.
Abbott’s growing list of threats are just that, threats. He hasn’t provided much in the way of details and he can’t move forward with anything in the absence of legislative approval.
There have been ongoing protests in Texas cities since the death of George Floyd early this summer. Wednesday’s news that a Kentucky grand jury will bring no charges against Louisville police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor ignited another round of protesting in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, but they have been peaceful.
“Our goal tonight is to be present but not visible unless we have to be visible,” said a Dallas Police spokesperson Wednesday evening in a story broadcast by CBS 11. “Everything has been peaceful thus far with no arrests.”