Though 2020 had everyone ready for 2021, this year brought a lot of those same issues with it. The pandemic, criminal justice, and more showed themselves in the big stories, city and statewide, in 2021.
Black State Legislators Flee to D.C.
When Texas House Dems realized they couldn’t stop the progress of a bill placing tighter restrictions on voting in Texas, more than 50 of them left Austin headed to D.C. to break quorum and block the bill. They stayed for 38 days, even amid threats of arrest from Gov. Greg Abbott, hoping to push Pres. Biden and U.S. Senate Dems to remove the filibuster and pass voter protection legislation. Though they didn’t achieve their goals, and many believed Biden left them hanging, the Texas/D.C. Dems inspired state lawmakers nationally to take bold actions to protect voting rights.
Winter Storm Devastates Texas
Widespread power outages across the state left millions of Texans without electricity for days during a winter storm that brought with it below-freezing temperatures. The devastation made national headlines in part because Texas, due to decisions by Gov. Abbot and state GOP lawmakers, refused to be part of a national power grid, and took a hands-off approach to regulating state power providers who failed miserably as they couldn’t deliver when power was needed most. And as for Texas lawmakers elected to represent the people in D.C., one of them who shall not be named (Ted Cruz) got caught running to vacation in Cancun, and when caught, threw his own children under the bus to avoid responsibility.
Astroworld Fest Tragedy
The layers of tragedies connected to the Astroworld Fest tragedy are many. The lives lost tops the list of devastating outcomes, equaled only by the pain of those families who lost someone at that event. Then, there’s the bum-rushing fans whose numbers were exponentially greater than the number of event tickets sold. The fact that people were being crushed while the show continued is alarming, as is the blame game being played by many and the hundreds of lawsuits, with people suing any and everybody for some level of compensation. And, it’s certainly a tragedy that an event born out of Travis Scott’s desire to celebrate an iconic Houston institution, has turned the name Astroworld into a symbol of pain.
State Legislature: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The State Legislature fought for teacher pay raises. That’s the good. The rest is a mixture of bad and ugly. Texas made national news signing into law the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. Also, the GOP-crafted redistricting maps were so bad, the U.S. Justice Department sued the state for abusing Black and Brown voters. Not only that, the conservative-leaning body undid all the things former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins set up to make democracy more real for citizens by making voting easier. They also outlawed the teaching of the new conservative bogeyman: Critical Race Theory. But wait. There’s more. State Republicans sought to add insult to injury by removing and/or reconfiguring the districts represented by the state’s only two Houston-area Black congresspersons: Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green. If God “don’t like ugly,” she certainly “don’t” like Abbott, Patrick and crew.
New Educational Leadership
Maybe there was something in the water, but several Houston area educational institutions welcomed new leaders into the fold. HISD said goodbye to Dr. Grenita Lathan as their forever interim superintendent, and welcomed Millard House II as their full-fledged new leader. TSU welcomed a native Texan, Dr. Lesia L. Crumpton-Young to captain its ship, while Rice University shocked many by choosing Reginald DesRoches, a brother, as president. And UH-D named Dr. Loren Blanchard, another brother, as its head.
Texas Tackles COVID
It may be more accurate to say COVID tackled Texas. In spite of commonsense responses to a pandemic out of control, Abbott, sticking with the GOP playbook, prioritized opening businesses to citizen health. Many believe Abbott’s rush to reopen the state for business, even while Houston COVID hospitalizations were rapidly rising, greatly contributed to those numbers spiking even more. And to be consistent with the stupid, Abbott banned state school districts from issuing mask mandates. Incredibly, countless superintendents weren’t willing to play politics with the well-being of the students and staff, and chose to ignore, fight, block and push back on the governor’s orders, and wear masks anyway. The fight displayed by these school administrators may explain in part why the number of COVID cases in Texas schools never reached the predicted high number some projected.
Katy Bans Black Books, Black Author
Attacks on “Critical Race Theory” made their way to the Lone Star State, and not just Austin during the legislative session. A group of Black history Black reality, Black perspective-hating elementary school Katy parents were so outdone by the thought of their little Karens and Brads being exposed to a book about Black children and their school experiences that they got the school district to cancel a scheduled presentation by Jerry Craft, author of “Class Act” and “New Kid.” FYI, Craft’s works are so respected he won multiple awards and is a #1 New York Times bestseller. After Craft was cancelled, the district, along with others in Texas, moved to purge K-12 school libraries of book by and about Blackfolk, fearing that such literature would damage the psyche of their children of the corn.
Mistreating Haitians at Texas/Mexico border
Haiti has been through it in more ways than one and for multiple decades. The island nation has endured all manner of natural and man-made disasters, many of which trace their roots back to Western nations’ disdain for Haitians having the nerve to fight for and win their freedom from slavery. Fast-forward to 2021 and the animosity seems to be alive and well, as Haitian immigrants fleeing violence and a country ravaged by recent weather catastrophes, sought asylum in the U.S. via the Mexico/Texas border. What transpired felt like a trip back in time as lawmen on horseback with whips, chased and beat Haitians creating a scene straight out of 18th century U.S. slavery. The eyes of the world watched in horror.
New Orleans detective shot, killed in Galleria
In one of the most heart-breaking stories, a New Orleans police detective vacationing in Houston, was shot and killed while in the Galleria. Officer New Orleans police Detective Everett Briscoe was a respected and beloved officer back in his hometown. But none of that mattered as members of a robbery ring have been arrested for gunning him down during a robbery-gone-wrong situation.
Garnet Coleman & Eddie Bernice Johnson stepping down
Longtime lawmakers in the Texas and U.S. Houses, Garnet Coleman and Eddie Bernice Johnson respectively, are each calling it quits. Johnson, the longest-serving U.S. congressperson from Texas, announced last year that this particular term in office would be her last. Coleman, who served in the Texas House since 1991, made his announcement more recently, siting health battles as a major reason for his decision to leave a position he served.