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Durrel Douglas

Project Orange

This is a good thing.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

This past Friday, January 12th, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez held a press conference along with Houston Justice representative Charnelle Thompson and Harris County Tax Office Communication and Media Relations Director Tracy Baskin, to announce what many are calling the most ambitious effort ever undertaken to help qualified incarcerated citizens register to vote who are currently in the Harris County Jail. That initiative is called Project Orange.

Project Orange is the brainchild of Houston Justice co-founder and Executive Director Durrel Douglas, whose first job out of high school was as a prison guard at a Texas prison. Douglas was moved to start this initiative after seeing how incarcerated individuals, who happened to make a mistake in their lives, were treated before and after being behind those prison bars.

“When we sat down to plan Project Orange, our goal was to reach out to eligible voters who are often ignored,” said Douglas. “When people have paid their debt to society, they should be able to rebuild their lives. Point blank…we want as many eligible voters to register, and vote. I don’t care what party they prefer, or which candidates or issues drive them. Our goal was, and continues to be to engage as many citizens as possible.”

As part of the Project Orange initiative, for four consecutive Sundays, beginning this past weekend, volunteers from Houston Justice will be escorted through the jail with voter registration cards that qualified inmates will be able to fill out. In addition, Houston Justice is staffing voter registration booths in the visitation waiting areas at the 1200 Baker Street and at the 701 San Jacinto locations.

“In our first Sunday, we registered 100 new voters,” said Douglas. “We have three more Sundays to go for our inaugural push. In the future, we plan to do this in other cities across the state as well.”

“Qualified” means just what it says – people who are legally eligible to register to vote. As the story notes, some 70% of people in the Harris County jail have not yet been convicted of anything. Many of them will not be convicted of anything, and many of the rest will plead to or be convicted of a misdemeanor. All of them have as much right to vote as you and I do. And if you still don’t like the idea of a dedicated effort to register a bunch of mostly low-level inmates at the jail, I have good news for you: You can support bail reform, so that there are far fewer of those inmates in one convenient place at a time to be registered. It’s a win-win.

“Unholstered”

Some really good work by the Trib here.

The Texas Tribune spent almost a year attempting to collect information on police shootings from departments in the state’s 36 largest cities, which have a population of 100,000 or more, and was able to confirm 656 fatal and nonfatal shooting incidents involving 738 individuals that occurred between 2010 and 2015. Those 36 cities make up almost half of the state’s population.

It remains impossible to determine exactly how many more times police officers in Texas pulled the trigger, and the data vacuum isn’t just about total shooting incidents. At a time when much public attention — and political debate — is focused on police shootings of minorities, it is also virtually impossible to know how many shootings in Texas involve Hispanics, the state’s largest minority group, because some departments don’t distinguish between race and ethnicity in their records.

Frustration over the lack of readily available, standardized and reliable data on police shootings is widespread among lawmakers, criminologists and the general public, particularly after several deadly shootings — like those in Ferguson, Missouri, Minnesota and Baton Rouge — that have garnered national attention.

With such an information void in Texas, it’s difficult to find a starting point in assessing police interactions with communities — and any possible reforms or solutions, said Durrel Douglas, co-founder of the Houston Justice Coalition. “If we can’t get there, it’s absolutely frustrating,” Douglas said. “We have absolutely nothing to even start with.”

The FBI tries to collect nationwide data, but its statistics are incomplete and riddled with mistakes. Texas lawmakers passed legislation in 2015 requiring statewide reporting, but those efforts won’t capture all police shootings in the state.

Access to comprehensive information rests almost completely in the hands of local police departments. Departments in big cities, such as Houston and Dallas, post information on every police shooting on their websites. But a list from most departments can only be obtained through an open records request — and often after a fight over what information should be made public.

[…]

National record-keeping efforts are also inconsistent. The FBI’s database of police shootings — based on voluntary reporting by departments, which fluctuates from year to year — only includes fatal shootings, and even those are often undercounted.

From 2010 to 2014, the latest year for which FBI data is available, the Tribune confirmed at least 198 fatal shootings by the 36 departments examined. But it appears at least 89 fatal shootings were either not reported to the agency or reported incorrectly.

Additionally, the FBI’s incomplete database only counts fatal shootings, which the Tribune’s analysis shows made up just 36 percent of all shootings in Texas during that time.

Calling the current system a “travesty,” the FBI has said it plans to revamp its system for tracking police shootings in 2017, including expanding reporting to note other injuries caused by police. That would still miss instances in which police shoot but miss. From 2010 to 2015, 142 of those incidents made up more than one-fifth of all shootings in Texas’ biggest cities.

Read the whole thing, and be sure to click on the other stories in the series as well. We can’t understand the situation, let alone make sensible reforms as needed, if we don’t have the basic facts of it. Shootings are also only one piece of the puzzle, as people die in police custody for other reasons as well. That information is supposed to be collected but often isn’t, and the information we do have is not readily available. Grits for Breakfast contributing writer Amanda Woog, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the UT-Austin Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, has been working on this, with the data she has gathered at the Texas Justice Initiative website; here’s a podcast conversation with her about it. We need to know what is actually happening, we need all relevant entities to report their data in a timely and cooperative fashion, and we need to ensure there are consequences for not complying. Then we can move forward.

Your official slate of candidates

Yesterday was the filing deadline. Here’s the official list of candidates, modulo any challenges or subsequently invalidated applications. The highlights:

– There are thirteen candidates for Mayor. The City Secretary might consider starting the ballot order draw now, this may take awhile.

– Dwight Boykins in D, Dave Martin in E, and Larry Green in K are the only incumbents not to draw opponents. No new contenders emerged in G or H.

– Kendall Baker became the third candidate in District F. Here’s a reminder about who he is.

– Former HCC Trustee Herlinda Garcia filed against CM Robert Gallegos in I. She was appointed to the HCC board in 2013 to fill Mary Ann Perez’s seat after having served before, and was supported in the 2013 runoff by Dave Wilson.

– Frequent commenter Manuel Barrera filed in District J, joining Jim Bigham and some other dude against CM Mike Laster. You can search for his name in the archives here. I think we have our 2015 vintage “straight slate”.

– Former District A candidate Mike Knox is in for At Large #1, and performance artist Eric Dick has graced us with his presence in At Large #2. Again, “straight slate”.

– I am disappointed but not terribly surprised to see that Durrel Douglas did not file in At Large #5. He hadn’t filed a July finance report, and as far as I could tell had not screened for endorsements. I know he’s been spending a lot of time in Waller County and working with the Houston Justice Coalition on the Sandra Bland case. Sometimes the time isn’t right.

– Former District F Council Member and 2009 Controller candidate MJ Khan filed for Controller. Not sure what’s up with that, but I’m guessing Bill Frazer isn’t thrilled by it.

– Here’s the Chron story, which includes the HISD candidates. The main point of interest there is former Trustee Diana Davila running for her old seat in District 8, against Trustee Juliet Stipeche.

That’s all I know for now. I’ll be updating the 2015 Election page over the next couple of days to get all the changes in. We’ll see if anything else shakes out. What are your impressions of the candidate list?

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Two challengers emerge in At Large #5

After Jan Clark bowed out in At Large #5, incumbent CM Jack Christie was left with no opponents after he announced his intent to run for re-election. That lasted until yesterday. Early in the morning, this email hit my inbox.

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif is proud to announce his candidacy for Houston City Council At-Large Position 5. This seat is currently held by a council member whose out of touch policies and outdated ideas do not reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of Houston.

“Houstonians deserves an elected official that will represent the changing demographics of the city, and who can accurately represent their needs and vision for Houston’s success.” Philippe said.

Philippe is a proud Houstonian, non-profit leader, and community organizer. As the son of two successful immigrant parents—a Mexican mother and a Lebanese father—he believes strongly in the power of this city’s economy. His story is Houston’s story. This city has provided unparalleled opportunity for both newcomers and Houstonians that go back generations. He is running for City Council to tap into the potential of all of Houston’s communities and help lead the city into the future.

Philippe is the first of his family to be born in America–his parents moved to Houston because of the opportunities the energy industry offered them. The opportunities Houston has afforded Philippe drove him to give back through public service– which includes a career working for Mayor Annise Parker’s administration, The White House, President Barack Obama’s campaign, and now at a women’s empowerment organization where he lead advocacy efforts across 14 states to improve women’s rights around the world.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas and a Masters degree from St. Mary’s University, and currently lives in The Heights neighborhood. He is building his campaign the grassroots way — from the ground up.

“My campaign will focus on addressing our traffic crisis, pushing our city further to welcome startups and new businesses, fairness in policing, and ensuring equality for all Houstonians.” For more information visit www.NassifForHouston.com.

Nassif had previously been a candidate for At Large #1. He had previously criticized Lane Lewis for remaining on as HCDP Chair while running for that position. My guess is that Lewis has sucked some of the oxygen out of that race for other Democrats, as many people thought might happen, and Nassif decided to take his chances elsewhere.

And for a brief while, Nassif was the only Democrat and the only challenger in the AL5 race against CM Christie. Then later in the day, this email arrived.

Durrel Douglas

Durrel Douglas

I’m running for Houston City Council, At-Large Position 5. Visit www.douglasforhouston.com and save the date for our campaign kick-off:

Sunday, April 12th
5:30-7:30 PM
The Ensemble Theater
3535 Main
Houston, Texas 77002

I’m running because I’ve seen the amazing strides we make as a city when we work together, and, what happens when our elected officials ignore the voices of the people they serve. As your city councilman, I’ll continue to fight for hard-working families and together we’ll build a better Houston.

I grew up in Houston’s South Park on Selinsky street. After High School I went to college online majoring in Social Science at Western Governors University and worked full time for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a correctional officer–eventually moving up the ranks to sergeant and lieutenant. After five years, I decided to leave the prison system and instead work to improve the communities that led so many people from neighborhoods like mine to prison. After resigning, I worked for the Harris County Democratic Party before moving to Austin to work for a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives. After the 2011 legislative session, I eventually moved back to Houston with the goal of empowering communities here. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting amazing Houstonians while working to make our city a better place.

For the past five years, I’ve worked as a community organizer standing shoulder to shoulder with Houstonians. From the fight for the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) to recent wins with justice reform through the grass-roots organization I co-founded, I’ve seen great things happen.

In 2011, I met Debra Walker and Betty Gregory who were among those leading fighting for IKE repair funding.

In 2012, when our city considered expanding Hobby Airport, I worked with community leaders like Pat Gonzalez to include community members in the decision making process.

CLICK HERE FOR HOBBY AIRPORT NEWSCLIP

In 2013, we came together at city hall to pass the #DownWithWageTheft Ordinance which ensures an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. That same year we challenged HCAD to make wealthy downtown commercial building owners to pay their fair share of property taxes into the revenue stream. CLICK HERE FOR HCAD ARTICLE. We can address our city’s looming budget problems if we work with other government entities to close loopholes like this one.

In 2014, I met Houstonians like Fran Watson and Kristopher Sharp who worked together to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) protecting every Houstonian from discrimination. That same year we fought school closures and launched a grass-roots organization to address local criminal justice reform CLICK HERE FOR LINK.

In 2015, we’re running for city council. Together.

I ask not only for your support during our campaign and vote in November, but for your ideas for our campaign and our great city. I’m inviting Houstonians to add their thoughts and ideas to our campaign platform titled “#OneHouston.” Sending suggestions via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, our platform will be of the people, by the people, for the people. With our fresh, bold ideas we’ll build a better Houston. Feel free to email [email protected] or give me a call/text at 832.857.5737.

Not too long ago, my opponent Jack Christie voted to give Valero a projected $17 Million tax break. CLICK HERE FOR LINK. With our crumbling roads, infrastructure and pension gaps, we don’t need elected officials who make decisions like this one. The men and women who work for the city (like my father who’s worked 29 years for the City of Houston) shouldn’t have to take a furlow day or cut in benefits at the expense of elected officials like my opponent who’d prefer to balance our budget on the backs of hard working families.

We have two choices. We can either sit back and allow others to continue making decisions on our behalf, or, we can seize this opportunity to change the way Houston does business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, transgendered or cisgendered, all of us deserve an equal seat at the table.

Let’s build a better Houston.

To say the least, the race for At Large #5 just got a lot more interesting. I know both Phillippe and Durrel – I noted that Chron story he linked above about the new generation of black leaders in Houston – and they’re both exciting candidates. Between them and Atlas Kerr in AL3, they are also among the youngest candidates we’ve seen for city office recently. If they can succeed in boosting the participation rate among younger voters this November – it wouldn’t take much to do that – they could have a big effect on the composition of the electorate, and maybe on the issues that get discussed. I look forward to seeing how they campaign.

Finally, on a tangential note, Metro Board member Dwight Jefferson announced his intention to resign from the Board and run for City Controller. Jefferson had been considering a run for some time, so this will make it official. He joins a crowded field that includes HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson, 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, former Council member Jew Don Boney, and Deputy Controller Chris Brown.

The next generation of leaders

The future looks good.

Durrel Douglas

A new generation of black activist leadership in Houston has emerged from the protests over the officer-involved deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.

At one point during a town hall last month, the clergyman-moderator acknowledged a fresh face in the audience wearing a T-shirt with a blazer who was given a few minutes to talk about a burgeoning movement of young people organizing in Houston.

As Bishop James Dixon, who is in his 50s, descended the steps from his pulpit-turned-dais toward Durrel Douglas, the microphone and that moment could be viewed as a metaphorical passing of the baton to the next generation.

Douglas and two others have formed Houston Justice. The organization is so new that it didn’t exist the week of Thanksgiving when a multi-ethnic multitude marched for miles in Houston’s Third Ward to protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict the Ferguson officer who fatally shot Brown.

Douglas had the spotlight that day too. At one point before participants briefly blocked traffic, he began shouting into a megaphone and wondered aloud why no elected officials were present to rally with the people.

By Thanksgiving weekend, he was caucusing with Shekira Dennis and Damien Thaddeus Jones about how to bundle the energy that had fired up hundreds – if not thousands – of Houstonians. Intentionally rejecting the pattern of mainline social justice organizations like the NAACP or the National Urban League, Houston Justice’s leadership structure was designed as a trinity of equals with no single figurehead.

“We said: We have to do something. We can turn this into something,” Douglas explained.

The born-in-the-1980s leaders settled on three initial goals: Convince the Houston City Council to pass the “Mike Brown Ordinance” to require Houston Police Department officers to wear body cameras while on duty, strengthen the power of the HPD citizens review board and increase the diversity of Harris County grand juries.

The group adopted the mantra “Less Talk, More Action” to emphasize that they’re not impressed by rhetoric.

[…]

Law enforcement issues have personal importance for Douglas. The 28-year-old worked as a jailer in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for five years after high school. He found himself guarding former classmates who grew up with him on Houston’s south side.

“I saw so many, you’d be surprised,” he said.

Four years ago, Douglas switched to politics, first working for the Harris County Democratic Party and state Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, then the Texas Organizing Project, which advocates for poor and working-class families. Later, he was the Texas state director of Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO. Today, he’s a consultant.

Dennis, the youngest at 26, was raised in Houston and cut a path from standout student at Texas Southern University to Washington intern in the Office of Presidential Personnel.

She served as TSU student government association president during the 2011-12 academic year and interned with then-City Council member Wanda Adams. In addition to organizing for Texas Together in Houston’s Alief area, she worked in Charlotte, N.C., for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Some have questioned the authority of the younger generation to challenge established and elected leaders, but Dennis said the coalition’s actions are part of a mandate.

“I’m simply doing what our elders have asked us to do: Step up, take responsibility and take it to the next level. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” she said.

Raised in Jackson, Mississippi, the setting for many battles of the 20th century civil rights struggle, Jones is the closest the clan comes to having a preacher at the helm. The self-styled cultural critic comes from a family of clergy, usually wears a suit, leans heavily on morality in his arguments and is prone to offer Biblical references to illustrate a point.

“The movement is in me,” said Jones, 29, an Air Force veteran who served as TSU student government vice president. “This is what God put me here to do. When the people you expect to be fighting for you are not, we have nothing to lose.”

I’ve gotten to know Durrel Douglas, and I’m impressed by what he, Dennis, Jones, and others like them have been doing. The need for the kind of reforms that they and Houston Justice are pursuing is great and immediate. As for the leadership matter, I recommend you read Douglas’ open letter to Oprah about why their movement won’t have a “leader”. Honestly, they’re all leaders, and we need them. Grits, who thinks there’s more to be done on these issues at the state level, has more.