This article has been updated to include comments from participants from the Tuesday afternoon press conference.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Hours before Governor Greg Abbott travels through her legislative district to meet with law enforcement and local elected officials, State Rep. Lorraine Birabil, D-Dallas, has urged him to call an emergency special session “to address the police violence against the black community.”
“We need accountability and we need it now,” Birabil wrote on Facebook, addressing recent protests around Texas sparked by George Floyd’s death, among others. “Employing militance is not an acceptable alternative to lawmaking.”
“The message that Gov. Abbott is sending to the black community is that his first response will be force,” she added.
Birabil was sworn into office in February. She won the House District 100 seat in a special election after Eric Johnson vacated it when he won the Dallas Mayor’s race.
Birabil has dubbed her legislation proposal the “See Something, Say Something” Bill. She plans to file it when the filing period opens in the fall.
In her proposal, Birabil calls for a requirement for law enforcement officers to file a formal report if they witness an act of police brutality or misconduct. Possible charges could range from a Class A misdemeanor to a felony charge of aiding and abetting a criminal, though Birabil said she’s working out some of those details with the Texas Legislative Council.
“It asks law enforcement officers to do no more than what the general public does, that they ask us to do,” Birabil said in a Tuesday interview.
“It’s something that officers should be encouraged and actively wanting to do because at the end of the day, it is those bad actors that make the department look bad when we truly do have officers who want to do the right thing are working hard every day to do so,” Birabil said.
Birabil’s proposal also calls for increased access to internal affairs investigation evidence.
“A recent audit of the Dallas Police Department revealed that many of the complaints had not actually been processed or forwarded to the appropriate area,” she said.
“Not only that, but the Director of the Office of Community Police Oversight, did not have access to the internal internal affairs portal or to the evidentiary portal in order for them to conduct a thorough investigation of these complaints,” she said. “These are critical call to actions that are required in order to increase transparency and ensure that officers who are responsible are actually held accountable.”
In response to protests over the weekend, Abbott declared a state of disaster, summoned more than 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the state’s major cities, and dispatched more than 1,500 state troopers to those cities. Some protests turned violent at times, causing damage to businesses as well as the Texas Capitol building and grounds.
Abbott traveled to Dallas on Tuesday for an afternoon press conference on the state’s response to continued protest violence. He was joined by law enforcement and local elected leaders from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“What happened to George Floyd is a horrific act of police brutality,” Abbott said. “This should never have happened. We must ensure that it never happens here in Texas.”
“People are rightfully angry, but the beautiful thing about America is that every person has the right to make their voices heard, to protest against this injustice,” Abbott said. “However violence and vandalism is never the answer.”
Forth Worth Mayor Betsy Price referenced the killing of Atatiana Jefferson seven months ago as an example of a “tragic” injustice in the North Texas region.
“Our community is still hurting, still reeling, much hard work has gone into that, but nothing more than listening and compassion, where Texans can hear us and know that someone cares, and I think that helps get the healing further along in nearly anything,” Price said.
“Our people have been through extraordinarily difficult times in the past few months, the ongoing pandemic, the economic turmoil and the unrest of the past few days have been heartbreaking to watch unfold in our great city.” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said. “We’re doing all that we can to help our residents get through these difficult times. As usual, our people are responding with dignity, and with grace, they’re helping each other out, and that’s how we’re going to get through this together.”
The heads of the Texas Military Department and Texas Department of Public Safety also attended.
“There’s not a police officer in Texas that’s not sickened by the murder of George Floyd,” DPS director Col. Steven McCraw said, adding that the agency embedded special agents to try “to identify criminals that are leveraging these or using this as an opportunity exploiting these demonstrations.”
Abbott was the only elected official during Tuesday’s press conference to reference minority communities.
“We can put an end to the violence that is gripping our cities,” he said. “We can remedy the injustices that have plagued African American and other minority communities in Texas, and we will seize this moment to bridge the divides that exist in our state, so that we can and we will keep Texas the greatest state in the United States of America.”
Asked about possible legislative action to address criminal justice reforms, Abbott said, “Today is going to be the beginning of a dialogue that we have among the members, and the Texas Capitol to focus on issues like this, understanding that in order for us to get information that is needed to start crafting legislation, begins not in January when we meet for session, but begins now as we start that process.”
“I signed a law that places body cameras on law enforcement uniforms to make a record of all police encounters,” Abbott said. The Governor stated Texas has exonerated more individuals than any other state since 1989, and said the Innocence Project has labeled Texas the gold standard for innocence reform. He also cited the Timothy Cole Exoneration Review Commission, which he signed into law, that studies wrongful convictions in the state.
Pressed specifically about Birabil’s proposal, Abbott said the legislature as a body should have the opportunity to weigh in. Abbott did not say whether he planned to call a special session.
“There are going to be ideas like that come forward,” Abbott said.” I think it’s important that we have the opportunity to be able to have dialogue with all legislators and round out the completeness of all these issues, consider the pros and cons and modifications to any of these issues and so one off answers are incomplete— we need to have the complete dialogue of everybody in the House and Senate.”
Birabil says her personal experience is a component of her intention to promote her proposal.
“I’ve lived in District 100 for 20 years,” Birabil said. “It’s the place where my husband and I are raising our small child, she’s one years old, I know the weight of that, that that carries…”
Birabil faces a primary runoff to retain her seat on July 14.