Texas has done it again. Last week, in defiance of a ruling by the World Court, thumbing its nose at binding U.S. international treaty obligations, and ignoring the U.S. State’s Department’s concern for the lives of Americans abroad, the Lone Star state has executed another Mexican national. Edgar Tamayo was put to death for killing a policeman in 1994.
It’s the third time since 2008 that Texas has killed a Mexican national who had been denied the right mandated by the Vienna Convention, to which the United States is a signatory, to receive assistance from his country’s consulate upon being arrested on foreign soil. There are 48 other foreign nationals in the nation who were convicted and sentenced to death without benefit of consular assistance. Twenty are in Texas, including 11 Mexicans.
To hear some Texans tell it, everything is bigger in Texas and, since bigger is better, Texas is at the top of the heap. To be sure, there are indeed some very good things about Texas.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, who did more for civil rights in this country than anyone except Martin Luther King, was a product of the hill country of Texas. The late columnist Molly Ivins, one of the last of the great progressive pundits in this country –
and who was a scourge against the corruption rampant in the state legislature – was a proud Texan. Jim Hightower, the state’s former Agriculture Commissioner, is one of the most eloquent voices of left populism in the country today. The state’s growing Mexican-origin population not only adds diversity but will in the foreseeable future will hopefully help overturn Texas’s reactionary regime. San Antonio and Austin are, in very different ways, two of the most exciting cities in the nation. And who can forget the late Governor Ann Richards, who made perhaps the most succinct statement ever in defining George W. Bush’s persona: “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.”
For all that, I am still inclined toward the opinion of Union General Philip Sheridan, the state’s military overlord during post-Civil War reconstruction, who said: “If I owned hell and Texas, I would rent out Texas and live in hell.” Sheridan had been sent to the state by Grant after Lee’s surrender and the collapse of the Confederacy to subdue the last diehard armed rebels in the country. In Texas, the legacy of lawlessness and racism against blacks and Mexicans is long and enduring.
Not coincidentally, Texas unquestionably leads the country in one category, albeit a decidedly dubious one. Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed 509 people. Tied for second, Virginia and Oklahoma are far behind with 110.
The connection between a history of slavery, lynching, and American-style apartheid comes across crystal clear when you consider the numbers. Of the 1,364 executions carried out in the United States since 1976, 1,115, nearly 82 percent, have taken place in the South. Almost half of these took place in Texas. In a bloodthirsty region, Texas is the most bloodthirsty state of all. If Texas were a country, it would rank right up there with a handful of nations notorious for human rights violations in terms of number of executions.
In other categories, such as educational expenditure, median income, unionization and protection of workers generally, poverty rates, assistance to the poor and unemployed, and health insurance coverage, Texas is close to the bottom. Texas politicians, from Governor Rick Perry on down, call that “creating a business-friendly climate.” They boast of the number of jobs that have been created in the state. Unfortunately, most are low-wage jobs with no benefits, rights or security. In a country with a scandalous level of inequality and a brand of capitalism ever-more savage, Texas arguably practices the purest savagery of all. Antipathy toward any form of government regulation runs so deep that Houston became a huge city without ever establishing any form of zoning.
Thank goodness for Ann Richards, Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower, but two of them are deceased and the third is out of office. Today Texas politicos, with the notable exception of some terrific Mexican-American Democrats and a precious few others, are more often in the mould of Tom DeLay and Ted Cruz. And is it any wonder that a state that sneers at international treaties on the fraught issue of capital punishment gave us George W. Bush, who defied the United Nations and unapologetically violated international law on such small questions as war and torture?
Indeed, the very creation of Texas set the precedent for this kind of thing. Texas became a part of Mexico when that country gained its independence from Spain early in the 19th century. The Mexican government initially welcomed Anglo settlers. Come they did, in droves, then took over the state, established an ephemeral republic, and in short order joined the Union. There followed dispossession and decades of violence and discrimination against the Mexican population.
Texas was born a rogue state, and that tradition continues, as the events of the last week once again demonstrated. But as solid and hopeless as it all seems now, a specter is haunting Texas, the specter of a demographic time bomb. The status quo won’t survive the browning of the Lone Star state. It can’t happen soon enough.