A month after a white Fort Worth cop bullied a black mom and earned a 10-day suspension, some residents still consider the punishment another example of racist cops abusing people with little or no retribution. The mom, Jacqueline Craig, along with her lawyer, local black ministers, and community members, want the cop gone.
A community meeting was held, attended by the white mayor and black police chief. The mayor supported the police chief’s decision to suspend rather than terminate.
The end. Right?
The next logical step was for the mom, ministers, and activists to boycott the, uh, Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo?
Isn’t that like slapping the cat when it rains?
On January 13, Fox News reported that Craig’s supporters were calling for the boycott to hurt the city in its pocketbook. The reporter quotes black community activist Corey Hughes comparing the community meeting to a PR stunt and accusing Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald of making up their minds before ever meeting with residents.
“We’re asking every citizen in the city of Fort Worth that believes in justice and that believes in equality — black white, Latino, whatever you are — to boycott this event,” Hughes told Fox.
The anger remains strong after police officer William Martin showed up at the Craig home on December 21, responding to Craig’s complaint that an adult neighbor had choked her 7-year-old son over a minor littering incident. The cop seemed instantly annoyed by the woman. Within minutes, he knocked her to the ground and handcuffed her and arrested her 15-year-old daughter, who had tried to intervene. Another teenage daughter was taken down as well but not before she videotaped the altercation on her cellphone and posted it live on social media. About 100 people gathered at the Tarrant County Courthouse the next day to protest the arrests.
The chief described the cop’s actions as rude but not racist. The mayor characterized it as an isolated incident.
On January 14, the day after the Fox News report, Pam Minick fired a strong salvo on her Facebook page. Minick, a rodeo queen and former marketing honcho at Billy Bob’s Texas, believes slopping hogs, feeding cattle, and tending to the Back Forty builds character in addition to calluses.
“I am beyond disappointed in activists who are initiating a boycott of the Fort Worth Stock Show and for local news, KDFW Fox 4, for spreading their message of hate,” Minick wrote. “The Fort Worth Stock Show provides millions of dollars of educational opportunities to young men and women of all race, creed, and colors. To attempt to send a message by boycotting our Western heritage and tradition is ridiculous. If you plan to boycott the Fort Worth Stock Show or any other worthwhile community event, you will be unfriended from my Facebook and my life. RANT NOT OVER.”
Within a few days, Minick’s post had garnered 2,500 likes, 1,100 shares, and hundreds of supportive comments. Some comments expressed rational reasons for opposing the boycott.
“Many people of all races, all ages, from all over the world have benefited from the Stock Show for many years,” a woman wrote. “Apparently those wanting to boycott are not thinking logically at all.”
Some commenters blamed the Obama administration for empowering minorities. Some blamed the news media for sensationalizing things and serving as a mouthpiece to whiners without valid complaints.
Many comments were simply dismissive.
“People like this have no idea what they are doing,” a man wrote. “They mainly do it for attention.”
It’s true the protesters want attention. They want people to know that a Fort Worth cop can drop your mother to the ground, stick his knee in her back, and handcuff her when she refuses to be treated like a second-class citizen for reporting a crime.
Fitzgerald described the cop as apologetic afterward. Martin, however, apologized to no one publicly and appealed his suspension. The activists were further dismayed to learn that the chief had offered Martin a promotion if he accepted a shorter suspension without appeal. Martin refused the deal.
The protesters said the Stock Show boycott is just the beginning. They want a citywide boycott. They want Martin fired and charged for manhandling Craig. They want the neighbor charged with physically assaulting the Craig child. They want charges against the Craig family dropped. Family attorney Lee Merritt said Craig family members are being charged with interfering with a public duty, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest.
“People are still concerned,” Merritt told us in a phone interview. “People are still upset about it and want something done about it and are holding back their dollars in protest until the city addresses those concerns.”
About two dozen protesters stood outside the Stock Show on January 16, including one of the Craig daughters who had been arrested. That same day, their cause got a boost when Bob Ray Sanders, former Fort Worth Star-Telegram associate editor and senior columnist, typed out his own status update for Facebook, one in stark contrast to Minick’s.
Sanders described the video as proof that the officer was disrespectful and physically abusive. Sanders said he was “terribly disappointed” in the chief’s decision.
The Stock Show is a significant and “iconic” event each year, Sanders wrote, but he would not be spending his money there this year. He recognized the Stock Show’s attempts to be more inclusive, such as by adding the Cowboys of Color Rodeo.
Sanders remembers other things as well.
“As a native of Fort Worth,” he wrote, “I’m also keenly aware of its past – when black people could attend the Stock Show (like the State Fair of Texas) only one day out of the run, and even then could never attend the rodeo.”
The boycott makes more sense in the context of history, he wrote.
“As in the days of Martin Luther King – from the Montgomery bus boycott to the strike by the Memphis garbage workers in 1968 – it has been understood that the best way to communicate with the establishment is talking to it, not through its heart or its ears, but through its pocketbook. Therefore, I reemphasize: I will not be spending any dollars at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo this year.”
Sanders’ Facebook post received about 300 likes and 50 shares – and both support and criticism in the comments section.
“We stand in solidarity with the Craig family because that could have very well been my mother or my aunt being assaulted by Fort Worth’s finest,” someone wrote.
A supporter with the first name of Craig said he thought it counter-productive to boycott on MLK Day – the day of the Cowboys of Color Rodeo. Sanders stood firm.
“Craig, you have my utmost respect for your contribution to the Cowboys of Color Rodeo,” Sanders replied. “And most certainly I appreciate the fact that you would support some of the people who are most close to me. However, the protest today was not against the Cowboys of Color – or the Stock Show per se – but against the Fort Worth power structure in general, which the Stock Show represents. This is a protest against injustice, and calling on the powers to be to exercise their voice to ensure justice for all.”
In a recent phone conversation, Sanders told us that he had served on a committee that helped pick the police chief and was disappointed in the chief’s handling of the matter.
“I haven’t called for the firing of this officer, even though others have,” Sanders said. “But a 10-day suspension was not appropriate. I haven’t heard an official apology from [Martin] or the city of Fort Worth. I know they don’t like to do apologies because that is almost like an admission of guilt, but it is clear that there is no contrition here. And the fact that this mother and daughter are still accused of crimes is ridiculous to me. Those charges should have been dropped.”
Sometimes a boycott is the only way to get anyone’s attention, and protesting the Stock Show – particularly on January 16 – makes historic sense, according to local minister Kyev Tatum.
“It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” he said. “The last speech he gave, they were protesting inequitable pay scale for garbage workers. When an unjust system is at work, you boycott them so people can feel the pain. The Stock Show being the No. 1 crown jewel of Fort Worth, we were asking people not to spend their dollars there until the city realizes you can’t manhandle and taze our women and treat people like you don’t care.”
Fitzgerald is trying to appease the police labor group and the white establishment at the risk of losing support from the black community, Sanders said.
“If they decide they don’t want [Fitzgerald] around anymore, without the support of the black community,” he will be gone, Sanders said.