Intimidation of Hispanics and threats on the Texas House floor are poisonous behavior

Dallas Morning News, Editorial

With a few fighting words, state Reps. Matt Rinaldi, Poncho Nevárez and Ramon Romero managed to turn a protest at the Texas Capitol against the so-called sanctuary cities ban into a physical scuffle and allegations that Nevárez and Rinaldi threatened each other’s life.

Such an exchange would be lamentable if it had occurred outside a bar at 2 a.m. That it took place on the floor of the Texas Legislature is stunning. 

Tension in the House gallery rose after protesters crashed the House gallery to protest the sanctuary cities bill. A few Democratic lawmakers waved in support, which angered Rinaldi, R-Irving. He approached his Democratic colleagues and informed them he had called Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report the demonstrators, most of whom were Hispanic.

The Democrats were outraged. Rinaldi says Nevárez threatened to “get” him. Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said he heard Rinaldi say, “I’ll put a bullet in your head.” There was pushing; other lawmakers stepped between the two men.

We know the politics are heated at the end of the legislative session. But what makes these lawmakers think such a display was OK?

Even Rinaldi’s attempts to explain himself went awry; he tweeted that he would shoot Nevárez in self-defense. That’s your justification?

And Nevárez tweeted: “He’s a liar and hateful man. Got no use for him. God bless him.”

Obviously, public debates can be spirited, but threats of violence from elected officials are beyond the pale.

Rinaldi’s call to ICE is worth a separate discussion. He says he saw protesters with signs saying, “I am illegal and here to stay.” But others in the House saw something different: Rinaldi’s call to ICE smacked of political retaliation, intimidation and abuse of government power that both conservatives and liberals should find abhorrent.  He underlined what the Hispanic community has feared about this “show me your papers” legislation.

“Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4,” Romero told the Texas Tribune. “Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racially profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”

The demonstrators were provocative, as protests often are; the Department of Public Safety quickly broke it up. Rinaldi, however, tried to frighten protesters into silence with threats of arrests and deportation, an unacceptable use of power. 

And if Rinaldi feels he can wield this power indiscriminately in the Legislature, is it really any wonder that so many Hispanics, even victims of crime, worry about over-enforcement on the streets?

As Texans, we should be embarrassed by such behavior and call it out for what it is — poisonous, thuggish, disrespectful and dangerous.    

 

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