In today’s Houston Chronicle, Bill King wrote an article about how the chief of police in Houston was offended by an anecdote he used in a previous column. I will elaborate more later, but essentially, King was asking some very pertinent questions about how police resources are used. Instead of answering those questions, Charles A. McClelland Jr. chose to go on the offensive instead. As they say, the best defense is a good offense. However, I’m getting way ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of this controversy to provide some context.
It started a few weeks back when it was reported that there were literally thousands of crimes that were not only not solved (completely understandable), but were not even investigated even though they had workable leads. McClelland and Mayor Parker both asserted that it was a problem of lack of funding. They simply didn’t have enough boots on the ground. Then, McClelland came out and stepped in it. He said that it was never a goal for HPD to investigate every crime. I’m sure that was comforting the hundreds of families that have been victims of theft, assault, or even worse. The response was tone deaf and angered a number of people including myself.
Some, like King, called for a third party to take a look at the HPD budget to determine whether there was waste. King’s previous article was very well written and did a good job of outlining the concerns that citizens should have with simply writing a blank check to HPD. I’ll have to say a couple of things before I move onto my main point. It is usually a good idea to admit potential areas of bias, but it is also instructive because all of us have legitimate points of view. A second cousin of mine was murdered several years ago. While there was an investigation, several members of my family even went on the news because the body wasn’t released to them in a timely manner. We had concerns then and those concerns continue.
Furthermore, I like Bill King’s articles. I don’t agree with him 100 percent of the time, but I usually find his articles to be well-constructed and well thought out. So, it was surprising to see him come out and apologize today. Is it because he is a prideful individual? No, it’s because he really has nothing to apologize for. I’m not going to speak for him, but I imagine he already knows this. I imagine the lesson learned is not that words sometimes get in the way, but that some people will go to any lengths to avoid answering questions they don’t want to answer.
The “controversy” occurred when King used an analogy of a watermelon salesman trying to figure out why he was losing money. Apparently, the use of the watermelon was grossly offensive. It was so grossly offensive that not only did King not catch the slight, but several editors missed it as well. While I can appreciate the fact that watermelons, fried chicken, collared greens, and malt liquor are stereotypical cuisines in the African American community. I understand that in some ways they may be used to demean. King’s analogy wasn’t demeaning and there was obviously no intent to demean.
All we have right now are some good questions. Yes, those questions were based on facts, but facts can be taken out of context and used in ways that no one intended. So, I’m not going to accuse the chief of anything except an elaborate attempt to avoid answering questions he doesn’t want to answer. I don’t know why he didn’t want to answer the questions. It could be because he has something to hide. It could be because he doesn’t have a good answers to those questions. Maybe, he just doesn’t feel like justifying himself and his department to a newspaper columnist. Who knows what the answer is. All we know is that he chose to play the race card rather than answer the questions.
I’ve talked about these issues before. The problem is that when people play the race card in these situations it cheapens the situations where racism really does exist. The idea that Bill King is racist because he told a story about a watermelon salesman is laughable at best. What isn’t laughable is that the HPD isn’t investigating more than a thousand cases a year and the chief of police would rather invent cases of racism than answer questions about where our money is going. Based on this alone, Annise Parker needs to stand up and get a third party evaluation of the police department.