Forcing Allegiance Is Fascism

The Texas Standard – KEN PAXTON INTERVENES IN SUIT – September 26, 2018

Lauren McGaughey is reporting on this story for the Dallas Morning News. She says the case stems from a suit filed by parents of a student who was kicked out of school for not standing to recite the pledge. The student and her parents say the school violated her First Amendment rights with that punishment.

“Attorney General Paxton says that it’s a ‘moral good.’ He said, in a statement, that kids learn about citizenship and patriotism from saying the pledge every morning,” McGaughey says.

A First Amendment expert McGaughey talked to says he believes the Texas requirement that students recite the pledge is unconstitutional.

The Texas Standard

Ken Paxton is a Christianist. He wants to force Americans to worship his God. This is a documented fact that anyone can find out for themselves with a simple Google search. A good portion of Texas agrees with him and his fascist views concerning the Freedom of/from Religion guaranteed by the US Constitution. If evil exists, and I am agnostic on the existence of evil; but if evil exists his views and the views of his fellow Christianists are an active evil in the mind of modern America. Ken Paxton should be shunned. He should be rejected at the polls. If you vote for Paxton, you are voting for evil.

I have a distinct opinion on the subject of forcing children to pledge allegiance, as the title of this article and the above paragraph should make abundantly clear. My qualms about the wisdom of making children pledge allegiance before they are old enough to know what words like allegiance mean go back to an early reading of The Children’s Story by James Clavell. In that story the children in a generic classroom are introduced to a new teacher sent to them by their new government. That teacher explains the intent behind the words of this pledge they’ve been forced to recite all their young lives, but the explanation she offers is a lie, and the children are too young and impressionable to know that they are being lied to by an authority figure.

These qualms came to a head when Texas passed a law requiring that children pledge allegiance to the Texas flag as well as the U.S. flag. I received a flyer amongst several other pieces of documentation sent home from school with my children the year this law went into effect, a flyer informing me that Texas law required all students to mouth the words of the United States pledge of allegiance, as well as the then newly revised Texas pledge of allegiance (HB 1034) in addition to observing a moment of silence once each day (SB 83) a practice that intended to re-introduce morning prayer into Texas public schools. The sponsor of HB 1034, when queried on the subject of religion, had this to say (source, Capitol Annex: More HB 1034 Exchanges):

BURNAM: Are you aware that Governor Perry has recently said, “Freedom of religion should not be taken as freedom from religion.” And my question is, do you agree with that statement, Ms. Riddle?
RIDDLE: I would say, Amen.

Which pretty much sums up the intent of the modification of the pledge, and the accompanying minute of silence. It also showed the utter contempt the governor and the majority of the legislature had for anyone who didn’t share their particular christian beliefs. Freedom of religion is a meaningless concept unless it includes freedom from religion; requiring someone to have a religion places constraints upon the person, negating any freedom that might be present.

The requirement to recite the two pledges has been on the books since 2003. When they changed the pledge in 2007 they felt they needed to inform parents, once again, of their children’s duty to stand and recite the pledges. This prompted me to fire off a letter to the school in response, telling them in no uncertain terms what I thought of their forced indoctrination into religion and what has become a transparent attempt to create an American theocracy.

Dictators and cult leaders require the slaves under their rule to swear allegiance to them, because power is jealous of rivals. In a free society, pledges of allegiance should not be required, because individuals are free of any allegiance other than to rational self interest. Additionally, pledges required of the public are contrary to the sentiments of the founders of the United States, as it reverses the role of the subservient state and places it above We The People.

Obviously, from the tone of this letter, you will be able to discern that I am hereby notifying you in writing that my children will be exempted from this practice. They will not be required to recite any pledges, nor will they be required to observe a minute of silence. This notice is given pro forma, because my children have abstained from reciting the pledges for the entire time that they have attended school; and they have done this without asking me or the omnipotent state for permission to do so. They have remained silent during pledges even in my presence, when I have recited the pledge autonomically; and I applaud them for their strength of will.

If it was possible, I would extend this exemption to any student of AISD, of any school district in Texas, or of any state in the United States, who wished to abstain from reciting the pledge, but lacks the permission that the state requires.

The Religious Right, the Christianist right, have simply become more strident over the years since 2007, not less.  They do not appear to have learned anything from the many battles they have engaged in and lost when it comes to the subject of making the US a christian nation against the will of the majority who like it just the way it is.

Nor is this an issue of socialism versus fascism, the author of the pledge having been a card-carrying Socialist of his timeSocialism itself is not a bad word. Socialism is another in a long list of bogeymen that really should be retired, since the mindset that inspired the pledges and Marxist Dictatorships of the twentieth century now looks as alien to us as most of the other concepts of the time do. However, it does remain fascist to force conformity to any ideology; fascism being the sole surviving ideology that holds up Authoritarianism as a benefit to society. Freedom of conscience requires that we allow people to believe what they want to believe and to act according to their own conscience. That means that allowing people to abstain from reciting the pledge is the least we can do in acknowledgement of their freedom of conscience. Imagine what it would be like if football fans could be reasoned with in this fashion.

The article that included the letter sent to AISD

Texas Trying to Secede. Again.

Hanging around the fringes of Texas politics as I have off and on over the last 20 years, you hear a lot of strange ideas. Texas is conspiracy fantasy central in many ways, and Austin being the capitol of Texas means that the conspiratorial currents all lead to the vortex located at 15th and Congress.

Since the clean sweep that the GOP experienced in 2014 the wackos have come out of the woodwork and aren’t embarrassed to let their freak flag fly. Over the last year we’ve had the whole Jade Helm 15 teapot tempest, the newly elected governor calling out the Texas Guard to defend Texas against the largest military on the face of the planet; calling out the underfunded and understaffed Texas Guard to face down the unquestionable might of the US military. Facing down a US military that maintains troops in superior numbers to the Texas guard, just at the bases inside Texas (not to mention Texas citizens in the service of the US Army) troops that are included in the Jade Helm training exercises.  We’ve seen the governor’s replacement in the office of Attorney General arrested and booked while embroiled in a scheme to deny marriage certificates to gay couples who wanted to get married in the wake of the SCOTUS decision.

Texans are also suffering due to continued resistance to the ACA by our sitting legislature and governor.  The ACA may be the law of the land according to the federal government, but the overwhelming majority of Texans spit at it as Obamacare, while at the same time whole segments of the Texas population who can’t afford to buy health insurance are left without any healthcare options because they make too much money to get Medicaid under the old rules, but are still supposed to have health insurance or face penalties.

Since all of this is Obama’s fault, it should be no wonder that a perennial favorite of the Texas conspiratorial fantasists is making the rounds again. Yes dear readers, we are faced with the dreaded initiative to secede from the Union. Again.

As I said previously, those of us who’ve been paying attention are not surprised to learn that the beast has raised its ugly head again. The history of the Texas secession movement is both long and checkered. I’m not going to go through all of it (the wiki page does a decent enough job of it) but it bears mentioning that many shady people for many long years have declared not only that Texas should secede, but that it probably isn’t legally a state of the Union.

Help, help we’re being repressed!

Texas not being a state would be news to the rest of the United States, since Texas manages to pretty much have its way with all sorts of things that affect other parts of the country. Make no mistake, the rest of the US knows that Texas is a state, much as many of them might rather it wasn’t.

The problem is, most Texans can’t be bothered to read;  and those that do read really can’t make heads or tails out of the Texas Constitution.  Or maybe it isn’t a problem with reading.  Maybe it’s a problem with who writes the books, especially the text books. In any case, these factors have lead to a number of interesting fantasies considering the nature of Texas’ relationship to the rest of the nation, as well as its status as a state.

Most Texans have heard the 5 states story, I’m sure.  The theory that Texas could be split up into 5 different states? The first time I heard it, the provision was in the Texas Constitution; which would be quite a feat I quickly discovered.  Upon the briefest of searches I learned that Texas has had seven constitutions since she left Mexico. So it isn’t in the Texas Constitution, not that we can tell among the nearly 500 amendments that have been passed (second only to Alabama. Saved again, Texas) The provision was actually imposed by the US Congress (those imperialists!) in their legislation which annexed Texas into the Union.

This is the tidbit that most people have probably never realized. Texas has already been split into 5 states. There are pieces of Texas in Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Wyoming; and while this may not have been the intention of the drafters of the legislation, Texas was paid for the severance of these lands, and they are no longer part of the state. So, yes. Texas could be subdivided, and those crazy plans to have Texas dominate the Senate by breaking itself into 5 or 6 more states that would somehow still vote in lockstep are all too late.  The deed has already been done.

The southwestern tip of Kansas was claimed by Texas. Dodge City was in Texas. Glad to know that. “Gunsmoke” always seemed like a Texas series. We know that Marshal Matt Dillon was born in San Antonio. His father was a Texas Ranger. It’s all coming together.

KUT, W.F. Strong, Sure, Texas Is Big – But It Used to Be Even Bigger

Another one of these fantasies is that Texas has permission to secede from the union.  This feature would be a truly curious development considering that all the slave states reacquired by the union after the civil war were required to renounce any intention to leave the union again as a condition for readmittance as states, as well as adopt the 13th and 14th Amendments. Most scholars agree that there is no basis to assume that a State could secede from the Union; it would be hard to see how this would be possible outside of the failure of the United States as a political entity and a military power.  These facts didn’t stop Governor Rick Perry from voicing his opinion that Texas could secede at a rally full of supporters chanting for secession.  This wouldn’t be the first time that Rick Perry was in error, especially when it comes to the subject of law.  I wouldn’t put too much stock in his remembering facts about secession, or evolution, or whatever that third thing was…

…in hindsight Rick Perry’s governorship feels like a walk at the wildflower center compared to the level of crazy currently ensconced in the capitol building. Between Governor Abbott’s blatant hypocrisy as a disabled person who was uniquely situated to keep other disabled person’s from taking his road to Wellville, his trumped-up war on Planned Parenthood, his initiative to remove local control from Texas cities, and the legislature’s rejection of a minimum wage hike, it’s hard to imagine how life could get more grim than it currently is for the average Texan.  Which goes a long way towards explaining the desperation present in movements to secede as a political entity from the United States. Again.

A side word here for my fellow Texans.  Ya’ll might want to go back and read my piece on Greece in Perspective (hint, it really isn’t about Greece) and ponder at the level of desperation that you feel today and just who really is to blame for that.  Is it at all possible that that blame currently resides in a white house a good bit closer to you than Washington D.C.?

As an illustration of just how well history rhymes, here are the words of Governor Sam Houston as he was forced out of  office by confederate zealots in 1861.

Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.

Texans have once again been lied to and betrayed; not by Washington, but by the leadership of the conservative religious power base that dominates all of Texas politics.  They are lied to nightly by the talking heads at FOX news, in the hopes that we will blame each other rather than the leadership in this state that has brought us to this impasse. From the moment that conservatives declared that science was a matter of opinion, that critical thinking was something to be avoided,  their entire ideology became a house of cards which could be blown down by the slightest breeze.

Imagine Sam Houston’s outrage at the knowledge that in a park that bears his name, in the city that bears his name, stands a monument to the folly that he gave up the leadership of Texas for rather than embark upon.  What would he think of the even more foolish notion that Texas could or should leave the union again?

I love Texas too well to bring civil strife and bloodshed upon her.

Sam Houston

Texas Rising. Too Bad They Didn’t Shoot it in Texas

Bill Paxton as Sam Houston

Seven minutes is all it took to pop me out of the History Channel’s Texas Rising event that they’ve been advertising for weeks. Texan Army Camp – Gonzales is a picturesque mountain hilltop – a location found NOWHERE in Texas (well maybe Big Bend) this is Texas people. It’s big. It’s flat. Very Flat in most places. Especially around Gonzales.

If I’m not mistaken this is part of a location used for Dances With Wolves‘ final sequence. Not Texas, in any case. I did end up watching the whole thing, just like the guys at Texas Monthly. I agree, it could have been much better, it could also have been much worse.

Facebook status updated backdated to the blog.

Wendy Davis

13 Hours to Midnight: The Wendy Davis abortion filibuster, 5 years later June 25, 2018

This entry is a placeholder. A place for me to collect my random thoughts over the course of the months that followed our introduction to Wendy Davis. And when I say our I mean Texas and me, because I’m reasonably certain that most Texans had never met a woman like her before. I will be adding things that I wrote on Facebook at the time About Wendy Davis. Hopefully there will be enough to make this entry look less miniscule. From the time that she first emerged on the scene as a woman willing to stand up to Texas Christianists, to the failed campaign for governor, this article will weigh in. I hope. I know I had thoughts at the time. I talked about her incessantly to the children and the wife, they can vouch for that. I will collect those thoughts here as I stumble across them wherever I left them.

She would have been a better governor tha Abbott has proven to be, without a doubt. The publication date marked the beginning. The day she took to the floor and brought progress on this misogynistic bill to a stop.

Facebook status backdated to the blog.


Texas Tribune

I find it mildly amusing that Republican leaders can’t get enough government interference when the activity is something they don’t like; activity like women choosing to not have children, or democratic candidates who have too much money. In those cases, there just can’t be enough government interference.

Facebook status backdated to the blog.


Texas Tribune

News of Abbott’s appearance with Nugent, a Republican, generated a flurry of news stories and thousands of tweets — many of them referring to the entertainer’s smash talk and controversial past. State Democratic Party leaders criticized Abbott for campaigning with Nugent. Several of them are hosted a teleconference Tuesday prior to the campaign event to condemn Abbott and call on him to cancel the appearances, and Sen. Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, said in a statement that “Greg Abbott’s embrace of Ted Nugent is an insult to every Texan — every man, woman, husband and father.”

TxTag; It’s Not Very Friendly.

The Wife has been driving to Lockhart for the last three days, using the toll roads. So TXtag, in their infinite wisdom, disabled online access to our account because the increased activity drained the account down into a negative balance. No emails saying “account suspended”, or more wisely, no email saying “here’s how to pay, pay now”.

Even better, when I finally get to talk to someone at TXtag (the first operator hung up on me, she apparently had virgin ears) manage to figure out what the toll charge was per day, and got the account back open, there isn’t any way to check usage and see what the current charges are. Most annoyingly, while waiting on hold, I’m told every 30 seconds about how I can go online and pay, when I wouldn’t have been hearing the message if that were true.

I don’t know which petty little modo thought it was a good idea to disabled online access when accounts go negative, making it harder for people to actually pay their tolls, but I don’t think that person is qualified to sweep floors, much less make important decisions of this nature. Yes, I’m looking at you Governor Perry.


I scalded both sets of ears of the people I talked to. I got the account reopened and all additional charges dropped, but I have a real problem with the way they’re doing this stuff. The State should be handling this themselves if they want to charge us for the roads, or at least have the contractors answer to the state (which they don’t do know. They only answer to the gov) it has to change and the only way to change it is change who is running the state.

Facebook status and comment backdated to the blog. I still don’t like TxTag, and it is getting harder to avoid toll roads.

Pledging Allegiance is contrary to Freedom

Below is the text of a letter I sent to the local school district (and my state reps) in response to a notice informing me that my children would be required to recite the pledge of allegiance, and observe a minute of silent prayer.

To Whom It May Concern:

I received a flyer amongst several other pieces of documentation sent home from school with my child yesterday; a flyer informing me that Texas has taken another step down the path towards worshiping the omnipotent state (and the christian god that walks hand in hand with it here in the US) and will be requiring all students to mouth the words of the United States pledge of allegiance, as well as the newly revised Texas pledge of allegiance (HB 1034) in addition to observing a moment of silence once each day (SB 83) a practice that is obviously intended to re-introduce morning prayer into the public schools.

I don’t recall ever seeing this particular notice (even though the requirement to recite the pledges has been on the books since 2003) but having noticed it, I now feel compelled to respond to it. Dictators and cult leaders require the slaves under their rule to swear allegiance to them, because power is jealous of rivals. It is far more than mere coincidence that the author of the United States Pledge was a self-proclaimed socialist, and that most pledges currently in existence came into being at about the same time; a time before the discrediting of socialism. They are an outgrowth of socialist sentiment, the elevation of The State above the individual. In a free society, pledges of allegiance should not be required, because individuals are free of any allegiance other than to rational self interest. Additionally, pledges required of the public are contrary to the sentiments of the founders of the United States, as it reverses the role of the subservient state and places it above We The People.

Obviously, from the tone of this letter, you will be able to discern that I am hereby notifying you in writing that my children will be exempted from this practice. They will not be required to recite any pledges, nor will they be required to observe a minute of silence. This notice is given pro forma, because my children have abstained from reciting the pledges for the entire time that they have attended school; and they have done this without asking me or the omnipotent state for permission to do so. They have remained silent during pledges even in my presence, when I have recited the pledge autonomically; and I applaud them for their strength of will.

If it was possible, I would extend this exemption to any student of AISD, of any school district in Texas, or of any state in the United States, who wished to abstain from reciting the pledge, but lacks the permission that the state requires.

Finally, I’d like to add this tidbit of information. The sponsor of HB 1034, when queried on the subject of religion, had this to say (source, Capitol Annex: More HB 1034 Exchanges):

BURNAM: Are you aware that Governor Perry has recently said, “Freedom of religion should not be taken as freedom from religion.” And my question is, do you agree with that statement, Ms. Riddle?
RIDDLE: I would say, Amen.

Which pretty much sums up the intent of the modification of the pledge, and the accompanying minute of silence; a blatant attempt to force religion back into the government schools. It also shows the utter contempt the governor and the majority of the legislature has for anyone who doesn’t share their particular christian beliefs. Freedom of religion is a meaningless concept unless it includes freedom from religion; requiring someone to have a religion places constraints upon the person, negating any freedom that might be present.

Sincerely,
R. Anthony Steele


As I sit here in 2015 looking back on this letter, I wonder how the leadership of the school read this letter when they received it.  I hope they had protective face shields for the spittle-flecked rant they were about to embark on.

The sad thing is that the bogeyman of the omnipotent state has faded away, yet the insistence by the blindly religious that we should all be christian remains.  If anything the Religious Right have simply become more strident over the years, not less.  They do not appear to have learned anything from the many battles they have engaged in and lost when it comes to the subject of making the US a christian nation against the will of the majority who like it just the way it is.

Socialism is not a bad word, and socialists are not bad people as long as they aren’t state socialists.  State socialists like the ones who wanted to get children to say pledges before they understood what pledging really means.  Another bogeyman that really should be retired, since the mindset that inspired the pledges now looks as alien to us as most of the other concepts of the time do. 

It’s Not a Free Country Anymore

This will not be published until the case is settled; so if you are just now reading it then don’t be too upset for my predicament. The events described are well in the past, and I waited this long to publish for legal reasons. This was the first post I wrote on the blogger edit interface, nearly fifteen years ago today. The wife convinced me that I shouldn’t make this my first post. She has always been more cautious than I am. “Let sleeping dogs lie” she told me. Let them lie until you are beyond their reach. Fifteen years should be long enough.


I see the cop’s flashlight beam from across the street hesitate on the expired inspection sticker on my windshield. Bicycle cops using a 4th street traffic jam as an excuse to run a impromptu checkpoint. Make a few bucks in fines for the city. Captive audience with no place to go. I move forward a few car lengths, and I have a brief moment of hope that perhaps they have better things to do tonight. But no, there is a tap on my window, and the traffic is stopped again.

I have tried and failed to get the car inspected 3 times in the previous week. I’ve only been driving this car for that amount of time. Before that it was The Wife’s car. I suggested she get the car inspected, a loathsome Texas ritual, several times over the course of the more than a year that the sticker in the windshield has been out of date. Now the lapsed inspection sticker is my problem. None of the mechanics that I frequent seem to want to be punished for improper inspections that they aren’t allowed to profit from, so they don’t want to inspect old cars. State inspections now require carbon monoxide metering equipment, equipment which must be maintained and adjusted to work properly. So here I am with an expired inspection sticker visible on the windshield, stuck in traffic, about to have a memorable encounter with a police officer.

I had just called The Wife and told her I would be by to pick her up shortly. It’s the big weekend of Austin Film Festival, Saturday night on 5th Street. Lots of parties to hobnob with movie types and wanna be movie types are occurring all around town. This is probably why 6th street is closed, and traffic is at a standstill on the neighboring streets. Tourists and investors are in town for the big weekend. She got a AFF Producer’s badge for her birthday, and has been enjoying herself immensely all week. Tonight she’s partying, and needs a ride home. I didn’t see the problem with that. Told her I’d be right down to pick her up.

I hate driving downtown. Everyone downtown has a corncob up their ass, and they’re always in lemming-like flight to get wherever they should have been 5 minutes ago. I get confused easily these days, with the disorientation and the tinnitus. I take wrong turns, I drive too slowly; basically, I get in everyone’s way. So I don’t go downtown unless I have to.

Another tap at the window, this one much harder. Clearly, he’s expecting an answer. Checking that the doors are locked, I crack the window and ask, in my usual manner “may I help you”. The words are “may I help you”, but the tone is clear that I would prefer not to be of help. I’ve been perfecting that double entendre for years. I probably should have stuck to “what” or “Yes Officer”. I might actually have answered “yes”, which is my other favorite. Yes, which clearly sounds like “No”. Again, not a wise move.

His response was “What do you mean, can I help you? Your inspection sticker is two years out of date.”

That annoyed me. It’s not two years out of date. Admittedly, the second anniversary of the cars last inspection is rapidly approaching two years, but it hasn’t been two years yet. I respond with a negative. “It’s hasn’t been two years yet.” Oh, that’s bad. It’s about to get worse.

He’s blunt again. “Gimme your license and insurance.”

Gimme. That’s not even a word. Is please too much to ask? Stupid question. Oh well. I grab my wallet off the passenger seat (where it generally is these days, sciatica doesn’t respond well to objects in the back pockets) and proceed to get my driver’s license.

Another directive. “Pull over onto these tracks and get out of the car”

OK. Now there’s a problem. All along the street, in about 4 places so far, are signs warning you not to drive on the tracks. My car has just had new tires put on, and I’ve spent the better part of a month’s income getting the front end aligned and the brakes done, in preparation of getting it inspected. There are huge (and I mean, huge) city titties along the driving side of the tracks. On top of all this, there is a temporary barricade very close to being parallel to the front of my car. I know the road widens ahead. Pull on the tracks? No, it’s illegal, it’s barely possible, and I might damage my car. Can I pull ahead instead? I get as far as “I can’t drive on the tracks, it’s illegal. There’s a sign back there…”

He said “that’s enough of that” and opened the door. I panicked. The door was supposed to be locked. I checked it. I wasn’t even sure he was a cop until he started talking in his cop voice. I reflexively grabbed for the door handle and tried to pull the door closed. He then said “Oh, you are not going to do that!” and grabbed my arm, pulling my upper body out of the car. Mind you, the car is still in gear, and my feet are on the clutch and brake. If I let my feet off the pedals, the car will surge forward, injuring me and the police officer. So I wedge myself into the seat and hope someone will either let go, or take the car out of gear. I can’t take the car out of gear, because now they have both hands.

Lucky for all of us, one of the cops says “I think the car is still in gear” I don’t remember much else for a bit, because they pepper sprayed me while I was preventing them from getting us all injured, holding the clutch down. I might have popped the clutch at the last minute. I don’t remember. What I do remember is one of the guys stepped on me to get into the car. After they were sure the car wasn’t going anywhere, they dragged me across the pavement for a bit so they could get the handcuffs on. I do remember that I still had my wallet in my hand, because trying to do something with it got me pepper sprayed a second time, and so I just dropped the wallet on the ground.

After they picked me up and set me on a curb, the police officer who started this whole mess had the gall to ask me “why did you do that?” Which struck me as ironic, since I hadn’t done anything. I was bruised, pepper-blinded and handcuffed on a curb because of my not doing whatever it was he was asking me to do. This was a question I could well have asked him. Hell, I probably did ask him amongst all the subsequent cursing.

I’ll freely admit to harsh language on the curb. Before the curb, it was “What are you doing?”, “I haven’t done anything!” and “get off me!” After the curb, the language was much more blue. I demanded badge numbers. Pointless, since I couldn’t write anything down with my hands cuffed. I told them I was going to sue all of them. Everyone handcuffed and bleeding says that. I shouted “police brutality” a few times. People walking by laughed. Schadenfreude. In the end “I just want to go home” is all I would say in response to any inquiry. Some wiseguy must have triggered on that, because they started talking amongst themselves, then one of them came over and asked me “You do know you are under arrest, right?” I’m sitting on a curb, handcuffed and bleeding after being physically dragged out of my car. There are no secrets to be revealed in this predicament. It is kind of obvious now that I’ve been arrested. It would have been nice if they had said that phrase earlier. It would have made a difference.

Had I been informed I was being arrested, I would have simply taken the car out of gear and exited the vehicle. Since I had not been informed that I was under arrest until I was sitting on a curb, handcuffed and bleeding, I’m not sure how it could be said I resisted arrest. That didn’t stop them from charging me with resisting arrest, when the time came.

They also threw in the nugget failure to comply with a lawful order which has the added bonus of getting me tried in two courts, since the resist charge is a county level offense, and the failure charge is municipal offense. You gotta make sure to grease all those palms with fines. Can’t have the state of Texas or Travis county go hungry. They need their blood money too. You, the arresting officer, need to make sure the poor, disadvantaged, disabled sap you’ve just abducted from his car on the way to pick up his wife from a party he told her to go to has to waste as much of his, her, their time as you can get from them since failure to appear is how most of the return visits to the county lockup are generated.

The order to pull onto the railroad tracks wasn’t lawful, and since I wasn’t given the chance to produce my identification while being dragged bodily from my car, I don’t know what basis in fact there was for that charge either. But they charged with that, too.

The officer was sure to shout his justification in my face, during the curbside encounter. “If I tell you to do it, it’s a lawful order!” I said, with no qualms of my being wrong on this, “Bullshit.” He could very well have just had someone pull over onto the tracks before I got there. The police report says they did, that they had been running a lawful checkpoint when they encountered me.

I don’t know about lawful checkpoint. I saw four guys gossiping on the side of the road, one with a flashlight. It looked like they might have been cops and it turned out that they were. Four large men, hopped up on adrenaline, having just broke up a near-riot on sixth street. So they were looking for trouble and found some in a middle aged former CAD guru with Meniere’s disease. What a score for them.

What they were engaging in didn’t look like an active checkpoint. Shooting the shit with buddies you were just cracking heads with rarely looks like organization of any kind. What it meant, if they did order someone onto the tracks before me and he followed directions, was that the last guy didn’t want to get cuffed and arrested. Probably a smart move, but not exactly the basis for a telling argument for giving a lawful order. If a cop tells you to shoot someone it’s not a lawful order. There are laws contradicting his order. So too with moving violations. The order was unlawful, because it was contrary to posted rules. Had I driven onto the tracks, and then they arrested me, they could have easily said that I had committed a moving violation, just like if in pulling me out of my car they caused the car to run into another car, that moving violation would have been my fault as well. That charge would have held up in court, just like the other two.

This police report is an excellent work of fiction, I say as I sit looking at it. A tale worthy of any number of police dramas on television. The perpetrator locked his hands in the wheel. The perpetrator refused multiple requests that he exit the vehicle. I say again, with feeling, Bullshit. Of course, I won’t discover the fiction these cops have crafted for me to participate in for three or four days, on the day when my first court date is set. That’s all later on. Much later on.

Right now, I’m going to jail. The EMT’s show up at some point and rinse my face. They were in the area, so stopped by. They were the first people to tell me that pepper spray can’t be washed off. It can be washed off. Dawn dishwashing liquid takes it right off. I found that out later, too. Then the police cruiser shows up and parks right in the spot I wanted to pull over to. The spot with no tracks and no signs saying don’t pull over here. That figures. Then comes the lovely and entertaining ride to the county jail. I get to ride in a paddywagon next to vomiting drunks. This is just the first in a long list of experiences that could not be over quick enough but yet went on all night long.

After the lovely transportation experience comes the 8 plus hour wait in the drunk tank for processing. I’ve been told I was lucky. The stay in the tank can amount to days sometimes. Days I hear you say? Why days? Because they can wait that long. What does that expense amount to? No idea.

Did I mention the sciatica? No, I only mentioned the Meniere’s. Try sitting for 8 hours, staring at a wall, while a knife slowly cuts into the back of your leg. I call that inhumane torture, myself. The sitting is enforced. I tried to stand any number of times, because standing takes the pressure off the nerve that is being pinched, but I was always told promptly to “sit”. There were plenty of badges around to keep you in your place, but apparently not enough hands to shorten 15 minutes worth of ID-ing from the 8 hours that it took.

Why would you want to do that? Speed things up? We’re all guilty in there, anyway. The medic who looked at my cuts and bruises made that perfectly clear, if the cops who brought me to the drunk tank hadn’t made it clear previously. “What are you doing downtown tonight Mr. Steele?” “Picking up my wife” “Had anything to drink” “No” “So, you just came downtown to drive around, eh?”

Apparently picking up my wife wasn’t a good enough reason to drive around. I have Meniere’s disease. Looking drunk is what I look like on a good day. It’s frequently what I drive like too, which is why I don’t do much driving. “I wish I hadn’t been driving”, I tell her. I made sure she noted all the lacerations. She also told me I couldn’t wash off the pepper spray, so I wore it for the full time I was there.

Speaking of The Wife. She wandered all over downtown Austin, trying to find me. After about 3 hours, she gave up and hired a car to take her home. She then proceeded to call the police and hospitals. It wasn’t until she tried to file a missing person’s request that the police admitted that they had arrested me. For my part, I couldn’t call her. My cell phone rang while they were cataloging my property. It was The Wife. I’d already been told that I was going to be charged with a felony if I picked the phone back up off the table.

Charge me with a felony! For not being willing to violate a law posted on a sign in clear view from my vehicle, based solely on a cop’s order. If I disobeyed an order again I would be charged with a felony. Well, fine. When I asked if I could please answer the phone? I was told no, I could use the phones in the tank. That was yet another lie. There were no phones I could use except the ones they had confiscated from me and the drunks I was brought in with. They did activate a phone line for my one phone call, but you can’t call cell phones from detention so I couldn’t call the Wife who was on her cell phone calling me just moments previously. Can’t call cell phones? Nope. You can’t call them at all. It simply wasn’t something their system was set up to allow for. I’m the only person I know that still maintains a landline, so I was luckily able to call my house and talk to someone. But that was the only time I spoke to anyone who wasn’t talking to a perpetrator until I was released.

I don’t think I can say enough about the phones. It’s criminal. There is no functional way to communicate from within Travis County jail. They inexplicably take your cell phone from you when they put you in the tank, and then tease you with phones that won’t call 90% of the phones in use today. If, like me, you’ve had poor saps trapped in prison misdialing your number for weeks on end, and you’ve had your number blocked by the completely useless company that services the completely useless prison phones, then you can’t even call your own house collect. What is the reason for confiscating cell phones? We’re allowed to make calls. They made me take the cash out of my wallet and keep it. But I couldn’t keep my cell phone. Does this make any sense?

Just let me keep my phone. Better yet, just process me and let me go.

Then there’s the tank itself. It’s dirty, smelly, and freezing. I was only brave enough to go in the restroom once, and I couldn’t bring myself to drink anything or use the facilities at all. Gross doesn’t begin to describe everything about the place. From the dripping fluid all over the restroom to the baby blue vinyl covered foam benches, to the indescribable mess on the floor and the smell of the place. And the freezing cold. Did I mention it was cold?

But there was a TV. You couldn’t watch it from the seats in the tank itself because you’d break your neck looking up at it, and there was no sound that I could hear with my half-deaf ears. For hours we sat there, staring at an equally disgusting baby blue wall that needed to be repainted some other color about ten years previously. The only entertainment to be had was the occasional fistfight. I witnessed four fistfights that night. I saw more fights that night than I’d seen in a decade of working in nightclubs. I think I saw three in clubs, and they caused less damage to the participants. Bouncers are a bit more concerned about the health of bar patrons than cops are for the perps they’ve arrested.

Three of the fights were started by the same guy that they kept insisting on putting back in the tank, where he would start another fight. He eventually was locked up in isolation, which was probably what he wanted in the first place.

We were all perps anyway. We’re all guilty, right? When I stood up on the back deck of the paddy wagon, arms trussed up behind me, did anyone remember that I was disabled? Had bouts of vertigo? No, of course not. I had to shout it two or three times “I’m dizzy, I’m going to fall!” before someone helped me down off the deck. They don’t give a shit. Why should they?

At about 8 am, having delayed processing as long as they possibly can, they take us to see the judge. Now it’s time to start making us look like convicts. They herded us in groups into the next room, and then had us go into private rooms to change into prison clothes, and then we were assigned cells for our stay in the pokey. I could finally stop carrying the couple of hundred dollars in cash in my pocket, sitting next to people who probably don’t have that much in the bank, one of them a guy just looking to start a fight over nothing, much less cash. Repeatedly. I might have finally been able to sleep. If there had been a pillow in the cell, or a real mattress. There wasn’t, and I can’t sleep laying flat anyway. Vertigo sets in when I start to drift off. So I dozed. I had now been up for more than 24 hours.

At about 10 am, they take us before the judge, properly attired in our prison grays. Guilty before being proven innocent, in all but name. It’s just magistration, they tell us. We all listen to a lengthy speech about rights and representation, and answer one question, and then back to our cells we go.

No, the question was not about guilt. We’re wearing prison grays. Is there a question here? The question was about representation. The judicial system is administered by lawyers for lawyers. Representation is important, in the situation we found ourselves in, me and my fellow perpetrators.

So we go back our cozy cells to wait on our bond results. If you get bonded, that’s your get out of jail card. If you don’t, you get to remain in the Travis County justice system’s gentle care for as long as it takes for your case to resolve. I was one of the lucky ones. I was out around noon. 12 hours of torture, in every sense of the word, and I’m a free man. Well, freer than I was in any of the last twelve hours. Poorer now, too. Someone has to pay that bond.

It took months for the case to be resolved, months I could have spent in the county jail without someone posting a bond for me. The attorney I hired advised me to settle out of court. This is what all attorneys tell you. Plead nolo contendere and take whatever the court offers you in exchange for not demanding a jury trial. The system is set up to facilitate plea-bargaining, not courtroom dramas.

I wanted a jury trial. That’s what I wanted. I wanted my day in court. But the attorney was right. I would have lost. I’ve watched enough injustice play out since the day this happened to me to know this is true whether I like it or not. Cops get away with murder. Cops routinely get away with murder because prosecutors don’t want to prosecute them. Cops get away with murder because juries believe them rather than believe any normal citizen, even one that hasn’t done anything to be sitting in court that day. They were going to believe the fiction that my arresting officers had written up as evidence, not me and my picture of a sign saying “do not drive on train tracks”.

So what I got was nolo contendere and ten hours of community service, all of which I gave to the local humane shelter. I liked the dogs more than I liked anyone I encountered on that night. I should have told the Wife to take a cab home. I should have told her that, because she ended up in a cab anyway and the cab ride was much, much cheaper. So are the inspection stickers that I get right on time now. Right on time. Don’t want no trouble, boss. I’m trying to keep my nose clean, sir.


While sitting on the curb that night, chatting with my abductors, it all came home to me. One of them told me “driving is a privilege” in response to my insistence that an inspection sticker was hardly a justification for this situation.

In Texas, driving is not a privilege, it’s a necessity. Pretending that you can make a living without access to a vehicle is a complete joke. You can’t make a living without a car in Texas. You can survive, but just barely survive. You cannot be more than impoverished and homeless in Texas without a car. Everything from the grocery store to the school your children attend can only be accessed by motor vehicle. You take your life in your own hands, walking on Texas roads. Nonsense like “Vehicle Inspection” just puts a further burden on people living on the margins; especially when keeping your vehicle in working order is more important to you and your continued livelihood than it can ever be to the state.

Most often the lack of an inspection sticker is used like it was used on me. It is an excuse for a fishing expedition to look for other fines that can be collected, other crimes that can be booked. But the car starts just fine without an inspection sticker, and the kids need to be fed more than the car needs that sticker. Before you know it, two years pass, and you’re face down in the street with four cops kneeling on your back putting you in handcuffs. Sure, now it looks stupid not to get that $25 sticker. Spending hours looking for a shop to do an inspection, and then spending hours waiting for an inspection seems pretty insignificant in comparison. Silly me, I never thought to prioritize demands based on the relative amount of torture one must endure; as opposed to, say, how much joy I get from it.

At the end of the little curbside chat session, when the question “Why did you do that?” was repeated, I said “I thought I lived in a free country” I was emphatically told by the (now) arresting officer “No, it’s not!” He was being a sarcastic prick when he said that, but no truer words have ever been spoken by any man. It’s time to sing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant, and walk out now. The observation is even more true today when I finally hit publish on this piece (January 22, 2019) than in was back in 2005 when it happened. We don’t live in a free country, and it’s getting a lot less freer with each passing minute.