The Mountain Still Standing
Six weeks had passed since Code Compliance sent an eviction notice to the inhabitants of the Mountain — a homeless encampment on the East Side — and four weeks since our story “Mountain Shutdown” (May 15). We made a return trip to the hillside late one sultry afternoon recently. What we found was not abandoned property but rather new faces, ones we had not seen on our initial visit. Most of the current residents were women, along with one tiny baby, and a man called Pops.
Although much of the Mountain was void of trash and debris, the grass and weeds were high due to recent rains, and, unlike before, there were no tents in the open space. The current residents had set up on the south side of the area, all under large shade trees.
Nay, a 26-year-old woman, stepped out from behind a tree and welcomed us with a smile. She has been homeless since graduating from Arlington High School in 2011. Her mother is not in the picture, Nay said, and her father is dead.
“I’m only here today to dog-sit for my friend who had to go to hospital,” she said, adding that her tent is across nearby Lancaster Avenue.
The two dogs are Duke and Grim, docile little animals, seemingly well fed.
“I don’t hang out with too many people,” she said, “just stay to myself mostly.”
Next there was Pops –– a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger and a Dr Pepper bottle nearby, his shirt open to stay cool — propped in a chair not too far from Nay and her dogs. Pops is from Jacksboro and has a trailer there, but he is letting his cousin live in it. Although he receives a $776 disability check each month, he says it is not enough for housing.
“I mostly sit right here all day,” he said.
Cris was last. A gay woman, about 40 years old, she lives under a nearby grove of trees. Monica, her partner, is in county jail for check fraud. Both will return to their home state of Oklahoma when Monica is freed, Cris said.
“Yeah, I spent 15 years in a Texas prison myself,” she said.
Cris invited us into her home, not a tent but blue plastic strung together to provide a privacy fence. She warned me to be careful when we parted the barrier to enter as she had created a booby trap, a thin wire to cause unwelcome visitors to trip.
“The code people told us we could stay here as long as we keep it clean,” Cris said. “A lot of people out here don’t pick up their trash. I don’t know where their manners are.”
Code Compliance did not respond to our requests for confirmation.
Although we were able to speak with only a couple of the inhabitants highlighted in the May story, word is that the article created problems for them. One complained they had been banned from the shelter. Another texted me saying, “What you wrote made it worse on our end.” A number of attempts were made to contact the shelter’s management, but no one will provide comment.
Tarrant County Renews ICE Contract
Last Tuesday, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court, after a contentious public hearing that lasted over two hours, voted to renew the contract with the Department of Homeland Security that allows sheriff’s deputies to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the identification and holding of suspected undocumented aliens in county detention facilities. The vote to agree to renewing the contract was 3-2 and split along party lines, with the two Democrats on the court voting no.
The dozen deputies involved in the program all work in detention and are not authorized to carry ICE credentials when they leave the jails. They would not be allowed to work with ICE in city or county sweeps of undocumented aliens.
As a rule, the deputies involved contact ICE when they suspect that someone who has been picked up on suspicion of a crime by the sheriff’s department or local police is undocumented. While those crimes are occasionally violent, the majority of arrestees are picked up for minor infractions. Once identified as a possible undocumented alien, they are held until ICE agents can make a determination on their legal status — which Tarrant County Sheriff Bill E. Waybourn has said is done in 48 hours or less. If they are deemed to be undocumented, they are immediately put on a fast track for deportation. And that’s where the problem lies.
Several problems, really. The first is that when people are afraid of authority, they avoid dealing with it, and in this case, that means that a huge slice of the Tarrant County population is probably not reporting crimes and not appearing as witnesses to criminal activity. That undocumented group in Tarrant County, mostly Hispanic, is estimated to be more than 100,000 people. That’s a lot of people afraid they’ll wind up suspected of being illegal and put on the fast track for deportation if they report a domestic dispute or volunteer information on a car theft.
“We are victimizing victims of crime,” said Gabriela Rodriguez, who works with ICE Out of Tarrant, an activist group that aims to protect the rights of the undocumented community. “The sheriff says the program keeps the county safer, but it promotes racial discrimination and produces fear in the community. If people are afraid to report crimes, how does that protect them?”
In addition to sowing fear in the undocumented community, Rodriguez said that frequently the target of the sheriff’s deputies working with ICE is the sole breadwinner in a household, putting entire families at financial risk, even if everyone else in the family is a legal citizen.
The vote to continue the contract with ICE came on the same day that President Trump announced a plan to deport “millions of illegals,” beginning with ICE raids on 10 major U.S. cities last Sunday, with the intention of deporting 2,000 families who had received their deportation orders but had not appeared for deportation proceedings. That plan was scrapped at the last minute — after nearly all of the cities involved said they would not cooperate — when Trump said he would give Congress two more weeks to come up with a way to handle illegal immigration problems before he pulled the trigger on the major deportation push.
Lon Burnam, former long-time state representative for Fort Worth, was blunt in his assessment of the Tarrant County ICE contract, which he opposed at the hearing. “Policies like this make people afraid to interact with any authorities, because people do not differentiate between the type of uniforms policemen wear,” he told us. “You either understand that a vital part of policing is community interaction, community cooperation, or you prefer the heavy-handed tactics like this, which undermine the community and the authorities.”
Immigration enforcement is the provenance of the federal government. It should be kept there.
Going All Pacino On Somebody
Not long ago, Joe King and some of his Carter-Riverside High School buddies came up with what sounded like a swell idea. They would raise enough money to install a monument on the campus honoring the school alumni who served in Vietnam between the mid-1950s to 1970s.
“Last year, we started experiencing a die-off of our friends who were veterans of Vietnam,” said King, who graduated from the school in 1968 and is now a semi-retired owner of a construction company in Fort Worth. “We said, ‘Hey, let’s do something for these guys before all of them pass away.’ ”
King belongs to a volunteer group of alumni called The Eagle Cup and Ball that hosted a golf tournament for about a dozen years to raise money for scholarships.
“We gave scholarships away to kids to let them know that someone who went to Carter-Riverside still cared about them and wanted to give them the best possible chance for success, sight unseen,” King said. “They never knew who we were. They just know they received a scholarship to try to advance their education.”
But the world kept spinning, the members kept aging, and the tournament fizzled a few years ago. Now, the volunteers have a new goal and have raised about $5,000 so far.
“We want those kids to know there were people who sat in the same seats and walked the same grounds, who served and were willing to sacrifice their lives and health for those kids’ freedom,” King said.
King’s group said they contacted the school principal, who seemed excited at first. Eventually, though, King said the principal consulted with the school’s ROTC instructor, and they decided a monument should honor all veterans who served during the Vietnam War, whether they fought in country or not, King said.
This is the part of the story when King’s voice grows stronger and louder and he starts channeling Al Pacino’s character in Scent of a Woman. King’s group isn’t interested in honoring veterans who didn’t attend Carter-Riverside or who did but spent the war somewhere other than in Vietnam. Hell, King knows vets who spent most of the war somewhere far away smoking hash or chasing women.
“You look at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and it doesn’t have the name of a person who died in a car wreck in Japan during the war,” he said. “They have the names of every person who died within the territory of Vietnam.
“These [veterans] have been getting the shaft all their lives. When they came back [from war], they were frowned upon and disapproved of. It’s continued apparently up to this date. They are not getting the honor, recognition, and respect they deserve for their honor and sacrifice. They came home to no parades, no celebrations.”
He stops just short of taking a flamethrower to the place.
Instead, King called us, saying his volunteers were planning on presenting a petition to the school.
“We’re going to contact politicians and powerful people to endorse this, and we’re bringing in the press to illuminate it and say this ain’t right,” he said.
We contacted the school district’s communications executive director Clint Bond to inquire about the brouhaha brewing at Carter-Riverside. Bond considered it not a brouhaha but a “misunderstanding on how to make a formal proposal to the district.”
Bond suggested King’s group make a formal proposal in writing outlining exactly what they would like to do and send that letter to the superintendent’s office and copy campus principal Greg Ruthart and chief of district operations, Art Cavazos.
“This may come under the auspices of any number of policies dealing with gifts,” he said. “And there are a number of rules about that which would need to be consulted. I’m not personally aware of any rules prohibiting privately funded monuments unless they fall into certain categories that would not be in alignment with our educational purposes. I’m not saying the proposed monument falls into that category, but, again, I’m in the communications department and not the legal department.”
Bond said he would “make sure the superintendent’s assistant is aware and looking for the letter.”