September 07, 2004
More on Waller County

If the charges in this LA Times story are true, then the problems in Waller County go way beyond whether or not Prairie View students can vote in local elections.

In lawsuits, documented complaints to authorities and interviews, civic leaders pieced together a detailed allegation of what they called a "reign of terror" shouldered by the black community here.

Kitzman and other white officials denied that anyone had been targeted or harassed because of race.

But black leaders described the county as a throwback to a time the South had tried to overcome a time when black men were called "boys," or worse, and whites walled off the political and justice systems to keep blacks out.

They allege not only that crude intimidation techniques were used rocks thrown through house windows, police cars passing slowly and repeatedly by homes of black "troublemakers" but even schemes to suppress blacks' voting rights.

They charged that authorities routinely declined to pursue cases brought against white residents by black residents. Conversely, they said, flimsy charges and indictments were frequently drummed up against black community leaders, only to result in dropped charges and acquittals, but not before damage was done to reputations and meager bank accounts.

"It is selective prosecution. This is the new front in civil rights," said Waller County Judge DeWayne Charleston, a black justice of the peace who repeatedly faced ethics and timecard falsification charges. He has been cleared by state ethics officials and has not been convicted of a crime.

"The objective is not to get a conviction," he said. "They don't care about that. The objective is to hit you in your wallet, to discredit you, to disenfranchise you."


[Herschel Smith, the head of an activist group called the Waller County Leadership Council] said many black pastors, government officials and civic activists had become accustomed to an unsettling pattern.

"You get charged, so you have to post bail," Smith said. "Then you have to hire an attorney. Then you've got to take days off of work so you can go to court and deal with the charge. So you lose your job. So you're broke. So you get evicted. Can you believe this still goes on today?"

Smith alleged that he had been assaulted last year by a white politician after a tense meeting. A police detective confirmed that she has filed a misdemeanor assault charge in the altercation, although the district attorney's office so far has declined to pursue the case.

Smith's allegation was one of many contained in the lawsuit and in other documented complaints to authorities.

Jerryl A. Brandyberg, a science and ROTC instructor at an area high school and an election judge, said he had been falsely accused of voting in the wrong place because he maintained a home in San Antonio.

He said he had been charged even though he had told authorities that his family had a second home there because his wife, who is in the military, worked nearby. Brandyberg, who is black, said he had been targeted unfairly and accused of voting irregularities simply because white officials did not like the outcome of a municipal election he recently had overseen. His case is expected to go to trial this year.

"Any charge these people can muster against you, they will take it," he said. "You hear about a new case all the time. Everyone in this county knows it goes on."

Nasty stuff. I'm curious - what does it take to get a federal civil rights investigation going? Via Lasso.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 07, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

These days? A federal civil rights investigation? Surely you jest.

Posted by: david in NY on September 7, 2004 3:55 PM

What David said. Once upon a time, it would have taken a Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights interested in enforcing civil rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act. It would have taken a fully funded, not a politically , fiscally, and administratively eviscerated, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to begin an investigation. Basically, it would have taken the interest of any of the federal agencies' civil rights bureaus to begin an investigation. Now, since Reagan (who can forget Brad Reynolds at OCR?) all of those agencies are filled with appointees (board and staff) who actively oppose civil rights, the very thing they are sworn in public service to protect. When you need them, nobody says "boo".


Posted by: charles on September 8, 2004 9:20 AM