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Letter from Texas #3
I don’t get asked a lot of questions, though I tend to make people feel like they are being investigated when I let my curiosity loose with anyone I’ve just met or that I find interesting. The one inquiry I do receive a lot of, however, is why do I still live in Texas. The context for that, of course, is our state’s politics. Even if you have only recently moved down here, the venal nature of our politics is in the air you breathe. Every facet of a person’s life in Texas is affected by our legislature’s misguided notion that taxpayers don’t really want a government that functions and provides useful services. We also have a governor whose only creative bent is to come up with new ways to hurt people, emotionally, psychologically, physically, and financially; unless, of course, you are a corporation, and those, apparently, now count as people.
I’ve honestly thought about leaving, but I can’t. My youth and memories are stored here along the Rio Grande, in the Hill Country, South Padre Island, the Davis Mountains, and motorcycle rides through the piney woods and up through the broken country north of Amarillo. I’ve wandered the Caprock and the South Plains, got blown over by the wind at the top of Guadalupe Peak, stared in amazement at the petroglyphs at Hueco Tanks, floated the Brazos and the Guadalupe and the Rio Grande, sat in the water with a col’ beer till I nearly froze on a summer day in the Frio, leaf peeped at the bright Lost Maple trees in the fall, and sailed into Corpus Christi watching the lights come up on shore and flicker in a way that I took to be a welcome home message.
The place gets to you, and when it does, I reckon you suffer a kind of emotional tether and cannot be too far away for too long. Of course, there is great frustration in having this kind of addiction. The history and the food and the geography and the diverse cultures suggest we might have a different kind of politics in Texas, but we don’t. We have a gerrymandered one-party rule by Republicans determined to wage a culture war against demons only they can see. They are also compelled to force their religious beliefs into public schools, convinced that Christianity ought to be a part of a child’s education, which has prompted legislation to set aside daily time in classrooms for Bible study. Unsurprisingly, the measure made no mention of Muslim students bringing their prayer rugs to school or copies of the Koran.
My disclosure here is that I ask myself, too, why I don’t leave, and the question recurs ad nauseam. I was prompted to confront myself on the issue again in recent days when there was another profoundly sad mass shooting. You’ve heard all the details by now but if we are going to allow ourselves to vacate any and all laws that might add friction to the gun buying process, we can expect to live in a state where angry people are able to pick up their personal weapon of mass destruction and wipe out a single family for politely asking to stop firing a gun until the children are asleep. Texas has become the place where mothers throw themselves atop their babies to absorb the bullets to save their children.
Predictably, the governor of this state immediately went about the business of de-humanizing the dead. Greg Abbott quickly jumped on Twitter and described the victims as “five illegal aliens.” There was no expression of profound sadness about the loss of life in a state he is supposed to be governing and caring for all its citizens. He offered up the solace to gun lovers to help them infer that it wasn’t like a real loss of Texas lives because these people were here illegally. Just as predictably, he got that wrong; one of the slaughtered was a legal, permanent resident. Abbott later offered what has been described as “regret,” but it wasn’t for mentioning their immigration status before he even contemplated their humanity. He was apparently sorry he’d been given bad information about their legal status, which was the same excuse he used in Uvalde when he incorrectly praised the DPS for preventing further tragedy. I guess they did accomplish that much since there was no one left for the gunman to kill in that classroom.
The killer of the family in Cleveland, Texas, was, in fact, in the country illegally, and reportedly had been arrested and deported four or five times and kept re-crossing the border. If you need to ask what comes next, then you are an outlander who hasn’t lived in Texas very long. Much will be made of his status by politicians, and most especially the governor, and the narrative will focus on his time here as an undocumented immigrant. Not a Republican with a bank account will wonder how in the hell the killer got his hands on an AR-15 because they know; our elected officeholders are the people who made it possible for any jackleg to get any gun and not have to suffer through background checks. There is nothing for Texans to talk about other than the suspect’s status as an illegal immigrant. Guns don’t kill people, illegal immigrants kill people.
Abbott is such a rank coward he didn’t bother to address his mistake personally. He had a staffer put out a statement, which did not have his name attached and used plural pronouns to make certain people realized it was a group insensitivity, not just his. In fact, he had blamed “unnamed officials.” What the governor originally told the public was the alleged killer, 38-year-old Francisco Oropesa, was “in the country illegally and killed five illegal immigrants.” The statement from his office only enhanced his soulless comportment. “We’ve since learned that at least one of the victims may have been in the United States legally. We regret if the information was incorrect and detracted from the important goal of finding and arresting the criminal.” The quote was attributed to Renae Eze, a media spokesperson, and not Abbott. He couldn’t be bothered; they were, after all, just future deportees in waiting. His only regret was that his language might have slowed down the search for the killer.
Oropesa, who was arrested late Tuesday evening, appears to have been as much of a coward as Greg Abbott. Authorities found him curled up in a closet of someone’s home, hiding behind laundry. They had been acting on a tip from a call to an anonymous FBI hotline. San Jacinto County authorities are holding him on a five million dollar bond. The suspect allegedly had a history of violence and, according to the local prosecutor, had beaten his wife with a closed fist while intoxicated, kicking her as she lay on the floor. She had filed a protective order against him. The FBI offered no details on how a drunken murderer was able to evade them for days and end up being arrested in the town of Cut and Shoot, just sixteen miles west of where he had committed his crime.
A fella could write about these Texas tragedies for days and day and into months and years, and part of the reason I left daily journalism was to avoid being exposed to repetitive sadnesses, both human and legislative. I guess I overestimated my ability to stop. I try to avoid the horrors of Greg Abbott’s Texas and concentrate on the state’s glories, which I seek out often, but when a man who has been accused by authorities of beating his wife in a drunken furor, can easily buy, and repeatedly shoot an AR-15 in his yard, and then at his neighbors, something has gone horribly wrong. If he’s come in and out of the country illegally that many times, Abbott’s border crackdown can’t be too effective, and since we have virtually no gun control laws, Abbott appears to have made it simple for an undocumented immigrant, with a record and in the country illegally, to get a gun and kill innocents.
Yet, I haven’t even mentioned the most unsettling example of life among the gun crazy in Texas. Matthew Delaney, who was playing baseball for Texas A and M University, Texarkana, and was standing next to the bullpen when he took a bullet to the chest. The projectile was errant and had been fired from about a quarter mile distant during a gunfight in a nearby neighborhood. The dispute happened between two young men but one of those arrested was a felon, who was charged with possession of a firearm, just more evidence anybody can get a gun, and anybody does. Delaney is in critical condition in ICU but is said to be recovering. However, he cannot move his leg, a lung collapsed, and doctors have not been able to remove the bullet because it has lodged in his spine.
We have reached a point in Texas where people think twice about going to the movies because they envision gunmen in the back of the room coming in and firing into the dark, and now we are treated to the notion that not even a college ballpark is not safe because anyone can be hit by a stray bullet. Guns are still more important than people in Greg Abbott’s Texas. That singular fact is reason enough to not move here, or to move away. How can there be a quality of life if every place you intend to go has to be evaluated as a potential killing field by a depraved loon with an AR-15? And if that isn’t a part of your calculus surrounding your social life, you haven’t assimilated to our culture just yet. Don’t worry, though, your children should be safe at school. The legislature is considering offering teachers $25,000 to take training and pack a gun daily to their classrooms.
Ain’t it just great in the Lone Star State?