Banks Appointed to Citizen Police Oversight Board

Kris Banks

Kris Banks

On Wednesday the Houston City Council confirmed Mayor Annise Parker’s appointment of Former Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Kris Banks to the Independent Police Oversight Board.  The Oversight Board provides a way for Houstonians to have input into allegations against police officers involving use of excessive force, discharge of firearms, serious bodily injury or death or mistreatment of citizens.  The Board also makes recommendations on recruitment, training and evaluation of police officers; and considers community concerns regarding the Department.  Houstini talked with Banks about his new role:

[Houstini] Why have you agreed to serve on the Oversight Board?

[Banks] I believe the Oversight Board performs an important and vital function that benefits all involved. Police officers are granted extraordinary powers over their fellow Houstonians. They can, under legally sufficient circumstances, detain people against their will, walk into other people’s homes without their permission, and even use physical force to make people comply. We grant police officers these powers because they are necessary for the officers to do their jobs. However, with these great powers come great responsibility, and the Oversight Board exists as a check on those powers, thereby protecting the public against the very rare officer who uses her or his powers irresponsibility or excessively. It also benefits the police department. With the assurance that the Board is providing oversight, members of the public can be more confident of the police department, and form a better working relationship with officers.

[Houstini] What do LGBT Houstonians who have concerns about police behavior need to know about the mission of the Oversight Board?

[Banks] Historically, the LGBT community has had concerns about very broad and obvious police harassment, like bar raids. Incidents like these still occur (see Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth), but they tend to not be the focus of issues that exists between the LGBT community and the police department. Concerns between the community and the police department now tend to be over specific incidents that sometimes come to light and sometimes do not. That being said, the IPOB will review internal police investigations for complaints of excessive force, any discharge of a firearm, any time there is a death or serious injury, or any matter the police chief refers to us. We make recommendations, and the chief has ultimate discretion. What I want to highlight here is that a complaint has to be made for the IPOB to have any role. Complaints have to be sworn, either by the complainant, or, if the complaint is anonymous, by the person taking the complaint.

LGBT Houstonians should also know that I take my role as a community representative very seriously. I will not only take my perspective as an LGBT Houstonian to the police department, I will also take the knowledge I gain back of police procedure back to the community. For instance, I mentioned anonymous complaints above. In the training I have received so far, I learned that organizations can be deputized to take anonymous complaints (LULAC and the NAACP are both deputized). Anonymous complaints are, unfortunately, a big concern for our community. Whether because our congress has failed to pass job protections, family concerns, or any other personal reason, there are still many, many people in the closet. But being in the closet does not mean that a person is not protected. I will learn more about the deputizing community groups and take that back to organizations in our community like the Caucus, Community Center and Transgender Foundation so they can begin that process (as a caveat, I do not have a full list of deputized organizations and any of these organizations may already be deputized).

—  admin

Lesbian couple turned away by Justin chapel to marry Friday at Cathedral of Hope

The Country Abbey in Justin

Earlier we noted that no Valentine’s Day marriage equality demonstration is planned for Dallas this year, so perhaps this is the next best thing.

PR guru and former Dallas Voice staffer Kris Martin sends along word that two local women who were turned away by a private wedding chapel last year for being lesbians plan to tie the knot on Friday in a ceremony at the Cathedral of Hope.

Tina Shaft and Tiffany Fenimore have been together for 10 years and made news in June when they were turned away by the Country Abbey in Justin as well as by other locations, according to Martin. Now, the Cathedral of Hope and community businesses are donating a chapel and services to make the couple’s dream wedding come true.

Christopher Thomas will officiate the wedding on behalf of the Cathedral, and the couple and their three children will sit for “No H8″ campaign photographs following the ceremony.

The ceremony is open to the media and will be at 3 p.m. Friday at the Cathedral’s Interfaith Peace Chapel, 5910 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas.

—  John Wright

Oklahoma lawmakers spar over how conservative to be

After sweeping into power in November’s election, state’s ultra-conservative Republicans take aim at moderate House leader

Sean Murphy  |  editor@dallasvoice.com

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Republicans in control of the Oklahoma House opened two days of meetings to set their 2011 agenda this week, their incoming leader was taking shots from the chamber’s ultra-conservative wing because he has put the state’s struggling economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues.

KrisSteele
Oklahoma State Rep. Kris Steele

Members of the House GOP meet Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6-7. in Bartlesville, and Kris Steele, who will be formally elected as House Speaker next month, believes the Legislature next year should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

More-conservative Republicans want legislators to tighten access to abortion, relax regulations on firearms and attempt to restrict immigration.

“There’s going to be some fireworks within the caucus,” said state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who acknowledged some of his GOP colleagues have privately questioned whether Steele is too liberal to lead the House.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

Steele, a soft-spoken minister from Shawnee, said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February.

This week’s meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by Oklahomans wanting action on social issues. But moderate House Republicans fear an inordinate amount of attention on social issues will create a House divided and divert attention from the budget and a struggling Oklahoma economy.

“I’m seeing people every day who are concerned because they don’t have a job or health insurance,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician in far northeast Oklahoma. “They could care less about right-to-carry [firearms]), abortion, gays. They’re worried about their health care and putting food on the table.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, agrees.

“I would ask my ultra-conservative friends — do they understand that we are in the bottom of median family income, that we lead the nation in incarceration of female prisoners, that some of our nonviolent, criminal statutes are some of the most oppressive in the nation?” he asked. “We have serious issues in the state that are challenging us, especially when the budget situation is as bleak as it’s been in the history of this state.”

For his part, Steele says he’s never wavered on his commitment to expanding gun rights, restricting abortion or targeting illegal immigration. He said he supports a measure to allow for open carrying of firearms that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed last year, and that he will not thwart legislative attempts to further restrict abortion or address illegal immigration.

“Just because I’d like to pursue initiatives to create a business-friendly environment in Oklahoma and give us the opportunity to foster job creation and job opportunities for Oklahomans does not mean I’m any less committed to my stance on pro-life issues or Second Amendment rights or states’ rights or any of those things,” Steele said. “I think we can take a balanced approach and pursue an agenda that ultimately accommodates both arenas.”

Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she agrees with Steele that the state’s budget and fostering a good business environment should be the top priority for lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol in February.

“We’ve got to focus on getting Oklahoma’s economy back on track, creating the very best business climate possible,” Fallin said. “We’ll certainly consider the other ideas that the Legislature has, and that’s not to take away from their ideas, but just says these are the important priorities I believe will get Oklahoma back on track.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

More info on Saturday’s Prop 8 protest in Dallas

If you’re interested in helping out with Saturday’s Prop 8 protest in Dallas but couldn’t make last night’s organizational meeting, there’s plenty of contact info and volunteer opportunities after the jump.

—  John Wright