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Laws are funny business. What appears like protecting the peace to one person may seem yet another example of institutionalized racism to another. It largely depends on where you stand on the #BlackLives/#AllLivesMatter divide. Case in point: criminal trespassing. Private business owners can levy charges against unwanted loiterers in Texas with few restrictions. To some, it matters little that the Class B misdemeanor too-frequently targets Black men and women.

Last year, Dallas Criminal District Attorney John Creuzot took steps to de-weaponize the law that has long been aimed at minorities and the homeless.

“I have instructed my intake prosecutors to dismiss all misdemeanor criminal trespass cases that do not involve a residence or physical intrusion into property,” Creuzot said in a public statement. “All pending criminal trespass cases meeting these guidelines will be dismissed and where appropriate will be referred for outpatient mental health services. I urge Dallas County and its municipalities to use the savings to provide affordable housing and mental health services to this vulnerable population.”

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Between 2015 and 2019, Dallas County spent $11 million incarcerating individuals (many of whom were homeless or mentally ill) with the crime, he said.

In Tarrant County, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office filed 1,516 trespassing cases in 2018 and 1,658 in 2019. In both years, around 20% of the defendants were female and 46% of both genders were Black. Black men and women represent 14.9% of Tarrant County’s population. That nearly half of the men and women facing trespassing charges in our county are Black speaks to the extent that prejudice continues to drive and fuel the local criminal justice system and society in general.

Laws that protect local residents from would-be robbers or hostile exes are needed, but the arbitrary and vague nature of some petty crimes allows for the types of police abuse that cities across the United States are now rising up against.

Warrants for unpaid vehicle citations, the criminalization of recreational or medicinal marijuana use, and trespassing laws are spokes in a wheel that feed the incomes of assistant district attorneys, jailers, and police. By refusing to allow trespassing laws to target the poor or homeless, district attorney Creuzot has shown one way to begin ending this country’s seemingly insatiable appetite for incarcerating the poor.

 

The Weekly welcomes submissions from all political persuasions. Please email Editor Anthony Mariani at anthony@fwweekly.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Using percentages to prove bias is a logical fallacy because it begins with the assumption that different demographic groups act the same. They don’t. Take the crime of murder. The black 13% of the U.S. population commits over 50% of the murders. This is a disparity, but it’s attributable to different behavior. Overwhelmingly it’s blacks killing other blacks — so we can’t forgive the perpetrators because it would be treating the victims as though their black lives didn’t matter.

    The article notes that in 2018 and 2019, 46% of Tarrant County trespass defendants were black, and 20% were female. The writer worries that the 46% represents a disproportionate number of blacks. True — but perhaps blacks trespass with the same disproportionality as they do murder.

    The writer seems not to mind that if 20% of trespass defendants are female and the other 80% are male, this, too, is a significant disparity. Does it prove that Tarrant County hates men? No . . . but if you’re willing to look for a behavioral explanation for the gender disparity, but not for the racial disparity, then you’re a hypocrite.

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