Wrongful Partisanship

The actions taken by Houston Police at the Commissioners Court were wrong.

Law
Politics
Houston
Author

Joe(y) Carpinelli

Published

October 17, 2022

This article is my opinion and response to HPD action at the Harris County Commissioners Court on October 11th, 2022. See Jen Rice’s article outlining the timing of events. Banner image credits to Jen Rice and the Houston Chronicle.

Resources paid for by taxpayers should not be used as props for a partisan political stunt. The Houston Police Department (HPD) actions taken at the Harris County Commissioners Court on October 11th were wrong. Harris County taxpayers deserve to know how this event was planned, and the organizers and attendees within HPD who used government resources for partisan political gain should be held accountable.

The line between personal and professional actions may sometimes appear thin. For governments, extra care must be taken to prevent even the appearance of impropriety. As a result, government employees have more to consider when planning political action, relative to other Americans. If an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation wears an FBI baseball cap while they attend a political rally in a personal capacity, might they appear to be representing the agency? If Environmental Protection Agency employees use their government email accounts to organize a sit-in on the steps of the Supreme Court in protest of decisions relating to climate change, are they violating federal regulations? In my understanding, the answer to both of these questions is: yes.

The laws and regulations which relate to the previous two examples are not superfluous. They help us — as a nation — walk that line between protecting the autonomy and rights of individuals, and trusting the institutions we’ve assiged with running our society. The spirit behind these guardrails is important. These rules protect you from the government. This is what it means to live in a country of laws. I am proud to live in a place which takes care to protect the independence of the institutions assigned with service to the public.

The actions taken by HPD officers at the Harris County Commissioner Court on October 11th were not nuanced, or anywhere close to the “ethical line”. Officers in official uniforms brought K-9 units and weapons into the halls of the Commissioner Court. They boo’d the commissioners as the meeting adjourned. They posed for a picture with a banner that read: STOP DEFUNDING.

To me, the implicit intimidation on display by HPD officers against elected officials is chilling, and the political action predicated on a falsehood — the falsehood that Harris County officials have proposed defunding law enforcement — is cynical and condescending toward all voters. That latter point is, to me, worsened by the fact that the officers have to know that their funding is not in jeopardy; this necessarily means their actions at the Court were in furtherance of a politically expedient lie. Still, I understand that for Houston residents who are wary of national calls to re-allocate police funding, the rule-bending by HPD at the Court may feel like a small price to pay for a dramatic and public display of support for law enforcement funding. To those readers, I say this: no matter the issue, we cannot allow publicly funded apolitical institutions to participate in partisan politics. To let HPD off the hook for their misuse of taxpayer dollars is to fail to provide the guardrails necessary for all Americans to have faith in the institutions sworn to their service.

This is personal writing; the words here do not reflect the views of any organization, employer, or entity, except for the author as an individual.

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