Lawmakers demand change after police shooting of Balch Springs teen

The call to action -- in response to the death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards -- who was shot and killed by a police officer in Balch Springs -- a town east of Dallas.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Days after 15-year old Jordan Edwards was shot and killed by a now former Balch Springs Police Officer, the Texas Legislative Black Caucus was joined by White and Hispanic colleagues at the Texas State Capitol Thursday to demand change from state leaders.

Jordan was the face of promise. Parents of the teen say he was a good son, freshman honor student and football player. Jordan was full of potential that will never be realized.

"As I thought about the life of Jordan, I thought about my own two grandsons," said Texas Representative Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto), Chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, as she held back tears in a news conference.

Last Sunday, Jordan was killed while leaving a party in Balch Springs, a city east of Dallas.

The party reportedly got out of hand and the police were called.

"You had innocent young men in a car who were trying to leave a party where gun shots had occurred," said Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), Chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

"They had done nothing, they were upstanding members of society. They were honor students. And Mr. Oliver, in violation of every police protocol possible, raised a high powered rifle to the car as it sped away from him and shot wildly and blindly, but in a deadly fashion, into the car.  That car contained children," Anchia said.

Jordan, who was seated in the passenger seat as his brother drove, was shot in the head.

"Jordan Edwards bled out in front of his brothers. And then without remorse, his brothers weren't consoled, they weren't helped, people did not come to their aide. Instead they were put in cuffs," said Anchia. "This is a breakdown of every possible operating procedure, every possible best practice in policing and every conceivable common sense."

"Mr. Oliver simply raised his rifle to a car full of kids and took deadly aim," he added.

In his first reports on the incident, the officer who shot Jordan, Roy Oliver, lied and said the car had been coming toward him. 

After watching video from Oliver's body camera and the dash camera, the Balch Springs Police Chief fired Oliver.

"It's incredulous that the first response, as reported by the media, of this officer was to lie," said Dallas Senator Royce West (D). "Think about that. Think about the police report that was authored by this officer and the other officers that were on the scene. The first response was to lie about it. Had there not been independent video evidence of what occurred, that officer would not have been fired because it would have been a credibility issue."

"There's not a person in this room or under the sound of my voice that would think this would occur in an Anglo community," West added. ":I'm not playing the race card. I'm playing the reality card."

Representative Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), who is the chair of the Texas Democratic Caucus and is White, agreed. 

"If this was a group of white kids, this, this story would have had a different ending," Turner said. "And the truth of the matter is people who look like me don't have to have the same types of talks with our kids that my colleagues have to have with theirs and their grandkids. And that's not right."

The Dallas County Sheriff's Office and Dallas County District Attorney's Office are investigating the shooting, but lawmakers say that's simply not enough. They expressed deep concern that at the time of the news conference, Governor Greg Abbott (R), Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) and Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) had not issued any comments or statements on Jordan's death. 

"The Texas Legislative Black Caucus calls for a thorough and complete investigation from the Dallas County Sheriff's Office, from the District Attorney's Office and once again, we're calling on the leadership, the Speaker of the House, the Lieutenant Governor and the Governor, to understand that this is a crisis that cannot go on," said Giddings. "You know, we cannot let this young man's life end this way in vain."
 
Representative Giddings pointed out that while Blacks make up just 13-percent of the Texas population, they make up more than 37-percent of the number of unarmed people shot by police officers.  
 
Representative Anchia added that in first 100 days of President Donald Trump's term, more than 80 Black people have been killed by police. A fact he said is under reported and deserves more attention.

"The evidence and the scope of this problem is staggering," said Anchia. "And instead of muted responses, we need full throated responses to deal with not only this situation but this broader problem."

Both the House and Senate observed moments of silence in honor of Jordan, but these lawmakers what they need is action.

"This can't go on," Turner said. "This is intolerable that this is happening in 2017."

"This House and this Legislature and our entire state leadership needs to do so much more," said Turner. "It's simply not enough to send our thoughts and prayers. We need action. We need to pass Representative Garnet Coleman's Sandra Bland Act."

The Sandra Bland Act contains numerous criminal justice reforms from adding more police training to prohibiting pre-text stops and giving law enforcement more resources. The bill has passed out of the Senate Committee and Coleman said he expected it to be voted out of the House Committee Thursday.

Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) also has a bill addressing reforms. House Bill 2044 states if there isn't an eminent threat of danger, law enforcement can't use deadly force.

"Let me tell you what it's gonna take to get it passed," Representative Thompson said, "It's gonna take the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker to take  their heads out of the sand and get it done. And recognize that African Americans are part of this society and we ain't going away."

"I applaud the police department that fired that officer," she added, "but I'm hoping they don't pass him along to another department in our state or any other state where he will be able to repeat the same kind of conduct."

And the lawmakers also want to see more of a response from law enforcement. In a legislative session that has passed numerous bills to "back the blue", lawmakers say the blue needs to back the people.

"I'm calling on law enforcement to make a statement about this. Recognizing that you have somewhat of a conflict. Make a statement about this. Yes blue lives matter and we've celebrated blue lives down here this week. But also Black lives matter, especially our children," said Senator West.

West authored a bill to create a state-funded grant program to purchase bullet-proof vests that can withstand rifle shots for officers. He said he has been backing police officers but he wants them to do the same and hold each other accountable.

"Those persons that were with that officer, that were complicit in allowing a fake, fraudulent police report to be filed, should be held equally accountable under the laws of party in the State of Texas," said West.

West said he wants the Governor Abbott to meet with him and other lawmakers to see what reforms can be made. And believes this case not only warrants the attention of the governor, but also of the President.

"I'm calling on the President of the United States to look at this issue and make a statement about what he will do to make America great again. Black lives do matter," said West.

Still, lawmakers say the immediate attention to address Jordan's death lies with the Texas Legislature.

"It is the Texas Legislature who can put an end to these incidents," said Representative Toni Rose (D-Dallas) who represents Balch Springs. "I feel it is very imperative that we pass laws and legislation that will stop these incidents. We are the ones who can make this happen."

"We have less than four weeks left in this legislative session. We have serious, thoughtful, meaningful criminal justice reforms and accountability measures before the House and the Senate," said Turner.

"We need to pass those measures if we're serious about addressing this issue. If it's only thoughts and prayers, then that says this legislature and this leadership is not serious," he added.

"There is nothing that we're doing in Austin, Texas in terms of the Legislature that is more important than eradicating this disease that is taking out these young, unarmed Black men who's only crime seems to be being Black in Texas," added Giddings. 

After the news conference and at the request of the media, Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick and Speaker Straus issued the following statements:

“My heart goes out to the Edwards family during this incredibly difficult time. 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.” -- Governor Greg Abbott

"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." -- Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick

“The death of Jordan Edwards was an absolute tragedy, and all of us grieve for Jordan, his family and the community. Some very critical questions about Jordan’s death need to be answered fully and transparently. 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.” -- Speaker Joe Straus

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