*Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a comment from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Days after a Dallas-area police officer shot and killed a black 15-year-old in the passenger seat of a car, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and other lawmakers made an emotional plea to state leaders Thursday morning to act to prevent police shootings.
Jordan Edwards, an honor student at Mesquite High School, was shot in the head with a rifle by Roy Oliver Saturday night as the teen's brother drove away from officers. Oliver, who had been at the Balch Springs Police Department since 2011, was fired on Tuesday.
“There is nothing that we’re doing ... in terms of the Legislature that is more important than eradicating this disease that is taking out these young, unarmed black men whose only crime seems to be being black in Texas and in America,” said Black Caucus chairwoman Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, at a news conference at the Texas Supreme Court Building.
Giddings and other Democrats called on Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to speak out about the shooting and push for changes in state laws on police interactions and accountability. Abbott released a statement to The Texas Tribune Wednesday, and Straus and Patrick sent statements shortly after the news conference Thursday morning.
“My heart goes out to the Edwards family during this incredibly difficult time,” Abbott said in his statement. “No parent should ever have to experience the pain of losing a child, and the Edwards family deserves a fair and full investigation into this tragedy.”
In Patrick's statement, he placed emphasis on the current investigative process for police shootings.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the Edwards family for the loss of their son Jordan. The Texas Senate adjourned in his memory on the Senate floor yesterday. I expect the Balch Springs police department to fully investigate this incident and I have faith that justice will be served," he said.
The Dallas County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's public integrity unit are conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting. The Balch Springs Police Department concluded its internal review with the firing of Oliver.
Straus also expressed grief for Edwards' family and community, and responded to lawmakers' pleas for action.
“Some very critical questions about Jordan’s death need to be answered fully and transparently," Straus said in the statement. "All of us should be deeply concerned about these tragedies and their frequency, and I will work with any of my legislative colleagues who are interested in preventing similar tragedies in the future.”
A 2016 Tribune investigation into police shootings found that in 656 incidents where police shot at a person in Texas from 2010 through 2015, almost 17 percent of the people were unarmed. Of those where the race of the individual was known, almost half were black.
At the news conference, lawmakers said there is pending legislation that could help address police interactions and accountability that needs to be pushed to the chamber floors. The Sandra Bland Act, which was approved Tuesday by a Senate committee, would require training for officers on limiting use of force and understanding implicit bias. And Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pointed to a bill passed unanimously by the Senate that would instruct police and high-schoolers about police interactions.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said her House Bill 2044, which would also limit use of lethal force, is floundering in a House committee. For action, "it's going to take the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker to take their heads out of the sand," she said.
“Instead of muted responses, we need full-throated responses to deal not only with this situation but ... with the broader problem,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, chairman of the Legislature’s Mexican-American Caucus, at the news conference. “There are bills in the Legislature ... that should be immediately moved to the floor so these things don’t happen again.”
Read related Tribune coverage:
- In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of an unarmed 15-year-old by police on Saturday night, Democrats in the state Capitol have pointed to relevant bills they say could prevent similar deaths.
- The Tribune’s Unholstered project from 2016 presents the results of a nearly yearlong investigation into when and why officers used lethal force in Texas, examining shootings that occurred between 2010 and 2015.