When Buda City Council members were presented with an Equality and Justice Resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting, a strong difference of opinion arose, with the mayor on one side and council members on the other.
All members of the council were welcoming of the resolution, with the exception of Mayor George Haehn. In fact, some of his first comments about it were complaints about how the coronavirus has stripped Americans of their freedoms.
The verbal joust went on between Haehn and Council member Ray Bryant about what changes are needed in the country in the aftermath of COVID-19, protests against racism and local changes.
Haehn said that he is fine with some of the sections in the resolution, but he did not agree with the language presented in parts four through seven. He said he believes that many racial injustices are being done around the country and that some reform should happen, but he did not agree with the wording of the resolution. Haehn voted against the resolution based on the language.
However, Haehn said later in the meeting that he didn’t believe there were racism issues within the Buda police department because of the leadership. And that’s the final reason he could not support the Justice and Equality Resolution as written.
“When COVID first hit New York, the CDC experts,” to which Haehn sardonically emphasized experts, “were telling us over 2 million people could die. I stepped all over the rights of the people, especially the First Amendment right. For the last three months, we surrendered our rights to peaceably assemble, the very rights that are guaranteed under the First Amendment; you can’t go to church, you can’t do this, you can’t go here, you must do this, you have to do this, if you don’t wear a mask, somehow you’re a mass murderer. And I fell for it, I issued the order because I didn’t want to have possibly 20 percent of the population wiped out. But now we’re presented with this resolution and it’s the wording of the resolution that bothers me more than anything.”
The mayor connected the dots later in his speech that he is unsure where people land on COVID-19 safety and assembly.
In part six of the resolution, it states, “U.S. Constitution reserves the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances which has resulted in positive civil disobedience throughout American history.”
Haehn questioned the application of this part of the amendment.
“The right to peacefully assemble, that went away three months ago,” he said. “We can’t even go to church, we can’t go anywhere. Would it be okay for us to just ignore COVID? And what happened to COVID during the protests? Somehow we can’t go to church but it’s okay to go to protests, and ignore the restrictions provided by the CDC, Washington and our government because we’re protesting. You can’t do anything but you can protest, and we throw COVID out the way when it’s convenient. I can’t agree with the wordings of these recitals.”
Bryant, however, countered, saying that protests are a necessary part of the American system.
“I think the justice system needs to be worked on and I do promote protesting,” Bryant said. “You need to get your voice out there and I think it’s necessary.”
Haehn’s concerns with the resolution hit on many of the redresses, not just on peaceful assembly.
For example, he found that naming the victims in the resolution – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Mike Ramos and George Floyd – to be incorrect, saying that it’s economic status that has more to deal with who is potentially targeted by police.
“When was the last time you saw a chokehold applied to a lawyer from Westlake,” the mayor asked. “With that being said, though, we name the names of the victims of police shootings but we don’t name the names of those officers who were killed in the line of duty only doing what they were told by the politicians needed to be done, and that is enforce the law and protect others.”
He also did not like the wording of section five, which opposes “patterns of systemic and institutional racism which is often a matter of life or death for people of color.”
“The word systemic and institutional racism, it indicates to me that many people, Black, Hispanic, Asian, some white, doesn’t matter, feel the legal system is rigged and cannot be trusted. Trials and judgements are not to be trusted. There’s no justice in the justice system for anyone of color, if you have a white officer that shoots a minority, he’s automatically guilty. There are marches in the street, no justice no peace, you see Atlanta on fire because of the shooting. You see the videos from the dash-cams showing there’s two officers struggling to handcuff a man who from all appearances was legally intoxicated, but the no justice no peace. Does that mean since no one can trust the legal system, turn them over to us and we will get justice, what hang them? Beat them to death? Where do we take it from here? When we include the words system and institutional racism, I cannot accept that, I have not seen it.
“Are there racist cops? Absolutely,” Haehn said. “Are there police officers that should not be trusted with a badge and gun? Absolutely. But the idea that the entire system is rigged and it’s intrinsic racism, I cannot accept those words, I cannot. And still have a belief that somewhere, somehow we can come to the realization that everyone in the U.S. is a citizen of the U.S. Everyone has the right guaranteed under the constitution.”
He paused then took another stab at COVID-19 restrictions. “Oh, I forgot, we’ve given up our constitutional rights, willingly, over the past three months.”
After stating his opinion on the resolution, the state of the country, racism and COVID-19, Haehn opened the floor for other council members.
“I respect your opinion,” responded Bryant, “because we all have our opinion. I totally disagree with it, wholeheartedly, but I do respect it.”