Sep 24, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript September 24

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript September 24
RevBlogTranscriptsPolitical TranscriptsTexas Gov. Greg Abbott Press Conference Transcript September 24

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference on September 24. In an effort to “protect our law enforcement officers,” Abbott proposed increased penalties for people involved in riots and violent protesting. Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Governor Abbott: (00:00)
There’s a little room between, folks. There we go. We got a big crowd today for something very important. I want to start out by thanking the Dallas Police Association for hosting this event. We’re proud to have with us many of their tremendous leaders, the people who put their lives on the line every single day to protect the community. They deserve our deepest respect, our greatest gratitude. And I’m just grateful today that they’re opening up this facility for this very important announcement. I can’t call out all their names. I will mention two of their leaders who will be participating in the press conference today. And that includes the Dallas Police Association president, Michael Mata, as well as the first vice president and legislative chair, Frederick Frazier.

Governor Abbott: (01:00)
In addition to that, we are joined today by leaders in the legislature, including Speaker Bonnen, Senator Hancock, Representative Angie Chen Button, Representative Candy Noble, Representative Justin Holland, Representative Matt Shaheen, and then candidates for State House seats in Dallas County who will be winning on November the third. And that includes Linda Koop, Luisa Del Rosal, Will Douglas, and Karyn Brownlee. I want to thank them all for being here, supporting this cause that is so incredibly important to communities across Texas. But as we have seen, of paramount importance in Dallas County.

Governor Abbott: (01:46)
Now, recently, I have announced several legislative proposals that support our law enforcement officers. They include defunding cities that defund their police departments. They include eliminating the annexation power of cities that defund their police departments. It also includes urging Texans, elected officials, as well as candidates for public office to sign the Back the Blue pledge that I’m proud to tell you that more than 90,000 Texans have already signed. And we hope to exceed 100,000 before the end of this month. Well, today we are announcing more legislative proposals to do even more to protect our law enforcement officers, as well as do more to keep our community safe.

Governor Abbott: (02:39)
And let me set it up with this framework in this context, and that is the Constitution guarantees the right to assemble peaceably. Peaceably is the word that’s used in the Constitution. The Constitution does not provide the right to riot, to rob, to loot, to set fires, to physically harm anyone or anything. In Dallas, Texas in the months of May and June earlier this year, there were people who did protest peacefully, but also there were rioters who ransacked property and who pummeled people. Now, Texas will always defend the first amendment right to peacefully protest, but Texas is not going to tolerate violence, vandalism, or rioting. So today we’re here to announce additional legislative proposals that will criminalize rioting activities. They include these proposals.

Governor Abbott: (03:44)
First, causing injury or destroying property in a riot will be a felony that will lead to jail time. Striking a law enforcement officer during a riot will lead to a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least six months. And this includes striking an officer with things like bricks and bottles and other projectiles. Using lasers to target law enforcement will be a felony that will lead to jail time. Law enforcement officers have been injured or even blinded by lasers. And these lasers impair a law enforcement officer’s ability to perform their duties, especially during the time of a riot. Blocking hospital entrances and exits by protestors and rioters will be a felony that will lead to jail time. This was seen most recently in Los Angeles and it poses a grave danger to the injured in need of urgent medical care. Using fireworks at protests and riots will be a crime that will cause you to go to jail. Law enforcement officers have been injured by fireworks during riots, and fireworks could also sound like gunfire, causing law enforcement officers to react accordingly.

Governor Abbott: (05:08)
And then the sixth one is that some people participate in riots without ever being there. What they do is they aid and they abet riots with funds or organizational assistance. This will be a felony that will lead to jail time. We also propose giving the attorney general the power to pursue civil penalties against people and organizations that assist in riots. Criminals charged with these offenses must remain in jail at least until their first court appearance. This will prevent the mockery of the revolving door arrests that we saw in Dallas during the riots that occurred earlier this year and will ensure that these dangerous rioters will not be immediately released back onto the streets to engage in further riots without first having to go before a court appearance. So with that, I want to turn it over to Speaker Bonnen.

Speaker Bonnen: (06:09)
Thank you, Governor Abbott. And I want to thank Governor Abbott, not simply for being here today. Governor Abbott called me over the weekend several weeks back when the defund the police in Austin began and said, “Can you be in Fort Worth so we can stand with the police of Texas?” And Governor Abbott has led this effort from the beginning. He has led from the front. We were in Austin, what? Two weeks ago. And I will tell you, it was heartwarming and heartbreaking. We spoke with the spouses of our police officers in Austin. And with emotion, they said to the governor in a private visit, “We appreciate your being here today because we genuinely wonder whether people still support what our spouses do. And we send them off to work, and we don’t know if they’re coming home. We don’t know if they’re going to come home the same way we sent them out.”

Speaker Bonnen: (07:10)
It means the world that Texans sign this pledge, that elected officials, that candidates sign this pledge that Governor Abbott has led on to show our law enforcement families, you have support. Your putting your life on the line for our safety is appreciated. That is not lost on normal, average Texans. Because right now more than ever, we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of what our democracy, what our rightful protest looks like. And we cannot give that away. I’d like to quote, I won’t give her age because she may disown me, but on my way over, I spoke with my 80 something year old mother who looks 60. Put that on the record. And she says, “I saw you and the governor doing another thing for the police today.” I said, “Yes.” Says, “I’m going to watch it.” She goes, “That defund stuff is going to get them nowhere. That will never end well for the rest of us.” My mother is correct. Defunding the police is not going to end well for the rest of us.

Speaker Bonnen: (08:21)
But also disrespecting the protestors. What Governor Abbott’s laying out today brings honor and dignity and respect to the cause. When someone peacefully and respectfully and passionately is protesting, they should not have that belief destroyed by people who have ill intent, by people who want to throw a brick at a law enforcement officer who’s trying to keep order for that protester’s voice to be heard. What Governor Abbott’s doing today is standing up for the rights of those who deserve to be heard in a peaceful, respectful way. And I’m very proud to be with the governor and with these House members and senators and candidates saying that in Texas, protestors will be heard. And those who are there to harm and hurt and destroy and harm our businesses will pay a price because it’s time they did. Thank you for having us today, Governor.

Governor Abbott: (09:13)
Thank you, Speaker. And now we have the president for the Dallas Police Association, Michael Mata.

Michael Mata: (09:21)
Thank you. First of all, I want to thank the governor, the speaker, senators, representatives, future office holders for coming here today to support the Dallas officers and the Dallas Police Association. They hit it right on the head, folks. I don’t know when it happened. When did it happen that public servants became public enemies? We are here to serve the citizens of Dallas. I am the first one to state that do we have bad officers? Absolutely. This is a profession of just in the state of Texas, we have 70,000 police officers. Across the country, we have 600,000 police officers. Like every profession, there are going to be those individuals who do not deserve to wear the badge. And officers like myself and these that stand behind us, we will do all we can to rectify that. But in saying that, you have to understand that we are out there helping the citizens every day.

Michael Mata: (10:17)
We are out there risking our life for those that, one, love us. And we’re also risking our lives for those that hate us because they are still citizens of this community, and we have swore to protect them and we will continue to do that. Do we have to change our profession? Do we? Are there things that we need to fix? Absolutely. But they need to be done in constructive ways. If we are going to take money from police departments, we should not be taking money because somebody is yelling and screaming, telling us we should. If we’re going to fix problems, let’s fix the problems of homelessness. Let’s fix the problems of drug addiction. Let’s fix the problems of alcoholism, mental health care. These are the problems that officers are having to deal with that we are not trained to do, not adequately enough. Fix those problems.

Michael Mata: (11:07)
And if you’re going to use money, use money directly for those causes. But to fund special projects just to appease a narrative to say that you’re doing something is flawed. And it will risk lives within the city of Dallas, it will risk lives in the state of Texas, and it will risk lives across this country. The Dallas Police Department and its officers are here to serve the citizens. And we will do it honorably and we will do it professionally. Thank you very much.

Governor Abbott: (11:36)
Thank you very much, President Mata. Now we have Frederick Frazier, the first vice president and legislative chair for the Dallas Police Association.

Frederick Frazier: (11:46)
Thank you, Governor. Thank you, Speaker. Thank you, Representatives, Senators, and a future candidates. Like Michael said, I shouldn’t have followed Mike, that was tough. Everyone’s hit it on the head. Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve seen this. I’m a 25 year veteran. This morning, I worked two murder cases before I even got here. That is a day of a police officer. I am an American police officer. And when I see or hear words of defunding or re-imagining our profession, and I think about how many murders that have happened in the city of Dallas this year alone, we’re already over from last year at this point, which was one of our highest years ever. We’re already over our robberies. We’re already over our sexual assaults. And we’re trying to re-imagine our profession. We’re already down about 600 to 650 officers going forward. We’re no different than any other department around the country.

Frederick Frazier: (12:36)
And I hear these words reimagine, I hear these words defund, we need to defund the bloated programs that are saying this to us, the politicians that are pushing this narrative. That is what we need to defund, that is what we need to reimagine. We need to reimagine good politicians that want to support and sign that pledge. I’m going to sign that pledge. I’m also a City Councilman in McKinney, and I’m going to sign that because I want my department, I want my city to have the resources to take care of it and keep it safe. I want all of these people to sign it, all my friends, all my family to sign it because they need those resources.

Frederick Frazier: (13:15)
Like the Speaker said about his mother, my mother is 84 years old and this is her subject of every single day. Where do they think they’re going to go with this? Nowhere. Because we will win in the end because no matter what, you’re going to have to call 911. Everyone in this room at some point has to call 911. And we are the only people that are going to come. So when you think of redefining or reimagining or defunding, think about what you’re asking for. We saw call sheets this last weekend holding for eight hours in the city of Dallas. Could you imagine you need somebody there and we have an eight hour wait? Well, those politicians are pushing this are causing that problem. Those politicians that are out there saying, “You need to go burn it down, you need to tear it down because we have insurance.” Those are the ones that this is going to affect. Those are the ones that need to be charged.

Frederick Frazier: (14:06)
So again, thank you, Governor Abbott. Thank you, Speaker Bonnen. And all the representatives that are here and the senators. And I see that Sheriff Waybourn just walked in. Thank you for being here, Sheriff. A true friend of law enforcement right there. And I know there’s a whole bunch of the press here that are going to have some questions. And a lot of you have been big backers of Back the Blue. And if you want to go back to all the way back in the ’60s when the Back the Blue slogan started, it started right here in this building by Dale [Yalborough 00:14:33], and that’s who started the Back the Blue. And so I thank all of you for backing it.

Governor Abbott: (14:38)
Thank you very much. Very well done. We will momentarily be going over, all of us, to sign that pledge. But first, we will take a few questions.

Speaker 5: (14:47)
Governor, as you know, there are already laws about injuring police officers, damaging property, and rioting. Why do we need these new laws rather than just enforce the ones that already exist?

Governor Abbott: (15:01)
Some of the proposals that I outlined today are enhancements of penalties over existing laws. Obviously harming a police officer already is on the books. We are increasing the penalty of it and leading, as I pointed out, to mandatory jail time. So it is going to be abundantly clear if you harm a police officer, you’re not going to be walking the streets again for at least six months after you commit that crime. So several of these are increasing penalties from being misdemeanors to being felonies. There are some, however, that are new laws such as …

Speaker Bonnen: (15:42)
We’re better protecting those businesses.

Governor Abbott: (15:43)
Yeah, blocking hospital entrances and exits, which we saw horrifically in Los Angeles that we expect never to see here. Using fireworks at protests and riots is a new one. Those who aid and abet all of these riots that we see taking place, that is a new one. Part of what we are laying out are new laws, other parts impose greater penalties, and then there’s the part about this. And that is we’re tired of seeing all these rioters, they’re rioting. They get arrested, they go in, and 30 minutes later, they’re back out on the street. They could continue rioting that night sometimes, or definitely in the next day as we saw in Dallas and other cities in the state of Texas where riots would take place for several weeks at a time. We want to get those rioters off the street, reduce the number of people who were involved in chaos so it does provide a greater opportunity for the peaceful protestors to be able to undertake their first amendment rights.

Speaker 6: (16:55)
Governor, you talk a lot about public safety and protecting police officers. I want to take it to the next step and talk about correctional officers because they’re part of public safety as well. There’s been a lot of complaints from family members of prison guards and correctional officers in the state of Texas when it comes to COVID. We even heard the speaker criticize some of the practices of moving one guard to another system where there’s no COVID where they come from but there is COVID where they’re go to, they’re understaffed. Are you being briefed on what is happening inside TDCJ when it comes to COVID? And what are you doing about it?

Governor Abbott: (17:27)
So there are several primary goals to be achieved in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice concerning COVID. The lead objective is to reduce the cases of COVID. And there are multiple strategies that TDCJ is using to try to do that with regard both to inmates, as well as officers. And it basically is following the best protocol, and that is to isolate those who test positive and keep them separated. But also to surge testing. Texas has done a very robust job of making sure that we have surged testing into TDCJ facilities to make sure we do the best job we can to contain the spread of COVID.

Grummer: (18:11)
Governor, are there any … How are you, by the way?

Governor Abbott: (18:15)
Doing well. How are you doing, [Grummer 00:18:16]?

Grummer: (18:16)
Okay, are there any-

Governor Abbott: (18:18)
Good. Thank you for your personal regards.

Grummer: (18:21)
Are there any-

Governor Abbott: (18:22)
See you at the Katy Ice House, is that right?

Grummer: (18:26)
Are there any reforms put forth by anti-police brutality packages that you will support during next legislative [inaudible 00:18:34]?

Governor Abbott: (18:34)
So I have had the opportunity to speak with the Legislative Black Caucus and their members and candidly work in multiple work sessions with them. And there are reforms that we want to see in policing. As the President Mata was pointing out, not 100% of officers do the right thing. We want to make sure that we see better training for our officers. We want to make sure that officers are following what the standards are. We want to make sure officers are using deadly force only when that is the appropriate strategy, and using other alternatives when deadly force is not the right strategy. And so there will be some measures that will be taken to make sure that the state of Texas and law enforcement is doing a better job to make sure that all members of the law enforcement community have the best tools and strategies and training to engage in their profession in the safest way possible for themselves, as well as for the general public.

Speaker Bonnen: (19:36)
And Grummer, let me add real quick, there are members of the Black Caucus who have publicly stated they don’t support defunding the police. So let’s not, just as the Governor’s here laying out proposals to give the respect that the first amendment right to protest deserves and the protection, let’s not lump in defunding the police with criminal justice reform. They are two separate and different policy discussions. And I think what many members of the Black Caucus and other groups that you’re alluding to would tell you, they want to have a robust discussion that they’ve been allowed to have with the governor and others of us on criminal justice reform. But that’s not the same discussion of the ridiculousness of defunding the police.

Speaker 8: (20:27)
Governor, earlier when you were talking about defund the police, can you explain and define what you mean by defund the police? And does that include reallocating funds? Or does it mean taking money away from police departments?

Governor Abbott: (20:38)
Well, these are gray areas that the legislature, the people behind me will be engaged in the debates that will fine tune exactly what it means. We can use some easy and clear standards. One is what was done in Austin, Texas, where generally, they reallocated $150 million, some of which they say was used for other purposes that would further the ends of law enforcement, which is dubious at best. But second, I think it was about 30 million of which directly came from defunding law enforcement officers in Austin, Texas. It is going to lead to fewer officers engaged in things like cracking down on drunk drivers, cracking down on gangs. There’s going to be less overtime to deal with the riots that took place in Austin, Texas.

Governor Abbott: (21:31)
Similarly, it’s my understanding that the city of Dallas last night did not vote to defund law enforcement officers. If I understand correctly, the issue that was on the table was to reduce overtime. The public needs to understand a key function of that overtime pay. These Dallas law enforcement officers were engaged in overtime night after night after night during the time of the riots. If you defund overtime pay, the public and the city of Dallas needs to know that during the times of riots, during the time when you see the greatest mayhem, they may not have their police officers there because of a decision by local city council not to provide the overtime pay that’s going to be needed to keep those officers on the streets.

Speaker 9: (22:15)
Last question.

Speaker 10: (22:15)
Governor, what would you say to those who argue that decades of peaceful protest haven’t ignited the change that they want and use this as an argument to go to these extreme measures?

Governor Abbott: (22:28)
The United States Constitution is very clear, and that is it uses the word peaceably when it talks about protest. There is no legal right anywhere in the United States of America where one person can harm another person. There is no legal right anywhere in the United States of America where somebody can destroy the property of somebody else. As Martin Luther King himself made abundantly clear, he wanted to make sure that protests were going to be done peacefully. No person that I am aware of has done more to advance the cause of the Black community than Martin Luther King. And I think that Martin Luther King should be the standard that everyone will follow as it concerns the protest movement.

Speaker 9: (23:06)
Thanks, guys.

Speaker 10: (23:06)
Governor.

Speaker 9: (23:06)
Hey guys, we got to run. They’re going to sign the pledge here real quick if you want to get B-roll of that. And then we got to run. Appreciate everyone coming out.