Michael King, political editor of the Austin Chronicle has written a pice about “Trials” that is one of the best summaries to date. Of Eroy Brown’s acquittals, he writes:
Even a generation later, those verdicts seem almost unbelievable. But the killings of Pack and Moore took place in the shadow of Ruiz v. Estelle, the landmark prison lawsuit that had recently ended in sweeping orders for reform from federal Judge William Wayne Justice. Little substantive change had yet taken place – Texas prisons remained essentially state-run slave plantations, directly managed by prison “trusties” using methods of brutal violence. But Berryhill (accomplished journalist and chair of the journalism program at Texas Southern University) argues convincingly that because ofRuiz, prison officials felt themselves under increasing public scrutiny. An angry remark from Brown that fateful Saturday apparently led Moore to believe that Brown (who worked in the prison’s tractor shop) was threatening to expose Moore’s (and other officials’) illicit sales of prison tires and other equipment.
King wraps up the piece this way:
In 2010, Robert Perkinson, author of the prison history Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire, told me that Ruiz brought to Texas prisons some professionalism and better conditions, but it was followed by radical expansion of drug laws, incarcerations, and sentencing, strongly biased by race (see “Grim History,” Aug. 20, 2010). Perkinson wrote, “Today, a generation after the triumphs of the civil rights movement, African Americans are incarcerated at seven times the rate of the whites, nearly double the disparity measured before desegregation.” Yet white politicians continue to campaign as though racial inequality were an ancient relic. Indeed, the Republican presidential candidates attack the first nonwhite president in flatly racial terms, and treat minority voters – in rhetoric and in policy pronouncements – as though they are de facto criminals who should be presumed guilty until proven innocent.