Alexis Grant and Matt Stiles, Houston Chronicle, September 28, 2006
Several City Council members walked out on Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs Wednesday, saying her rhetoric against a police policy on illegal immigrants exploited for political gain the death of an officer whose funeral they had just attended.
The symbolic move was the only time in recent memory that a group of council members left the chambers to protest a colleague’s comments.
“It’s disrespectful that she has used this tragic event to make a political statement,” said Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, one of the nine members who walked out.
Sekula-Gibbs is running as a write-in Republican candidate to succeed U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, as illegal immigration has emerged as a hot-button political issue nationwide.
Wednesday’s walkout occurred near the end of the weekly council meeting, when members get time to talk about issues of their choice.
Dressed in black after attending the morning funeral, most members offered condolences to the family of Rodney Johnson, who police allege was killed by an illegal immigrant he took into custody last week.
Johnson’s death has reignited debate about whether police should be able to ask people about their immigration status, an inquiry now prohibited by police policy unless the person has already been arrested on a serious misdemeanor or felony.
Several council members said they were proud that Houstonians had put that debate aside for the day as the city joined Johnson’s family in mourning his death.
When it was Sekula-Gibbs’ turn to speak, she said Mayor Bill White now had the chance to repeal what she calls the department’s “sanctuary” policy.
“I hope that you will use this opportunity to make this change that has been needed for many, many years,” she said.
Several returned later
At that, members of varying political stripes rose from their chairs and left the chambers. They returned after Sekula-Gibbs finished speaking.
“I was embarrassed to be in the room with somebody talking like that,” said Councilwoman Toni Lawrence, a Republican and one of the first to leave.
“There’s a lot of things I disagree with, maybe the way immigration is handled, federally, and this is not the time to make a comparison.”
Sekula-Gibbs later defended her statement, saying such an important issue cannot be ignored. “The sanctuary city policy may or may not have contributed to this officer’s death, but it certainly needs to be addressed,” she said amid a flurry of reporters’ questions after the meeting.
The debate centers on a 14-year-old police general order that says officers can’t detain people solely on the suspicion that they’re in the country illegally. Police and White say the policy is critical to maintaining trust between officers and immigrant communities, and the department doesn’t have the resources or training to support what they believe is a federal responsibility.
Critics, though, say the policy gives illegal immigrants a haven in the city.
“I’ll let other people judge whether they should make death a political issue,” he said.
Councilman Ronald Green, who spoke after Sekula-Gibbs, was applauded by his colleagues for denouncing her comments.
“You wouldn’t stoop so low to use this man’s memory to advance a political career that may or may not be going anywhere,” he said.
Rev. Peterson Slams Jesse Jackson, Sharpton, and NAACP for Their Silence
Contact: Ermias Alemayehu, Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny
Los Angeles — Conservative black minister and outspoken critic of the established liberal black leadership, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, issued the following statement today blasting the silence of liberal black leaders over the recent shooting death of Houston Police Officer Rodney Johnson by an illegal alien with a felony criminal record. The officer was shot after he detained the suspect on a traffic violation. The following is Rev. Peterson’s statement regarding this issue:
“My prayers and sympathy go out to the family of Officer Rodney Johnson and the Houston Police Department for their loss. Officer Johnson was a decorated 12-year member of the Houston Police Department. By all accounts he was an exemplary officer, husband, and father. His senseless death should outrage and pierce the consciousness of all law-abiding Americans.
“Despite the national press this story has received, and the confession of his killer that he pumped four shots into the officer’s head, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and the NAACP have been silent on this issue. Had this been a white-on-black issue, these same people would be screaming ‘racism.’ Where’s the liberal outrage over this black officer’s slaying by an illegal alien? Shame on these leaders!
“I believe that this case could be a racially motivated crime. For years there has been a serious warfare brewing between blacks and Hispanics over the encroachment by Hispanic immigrants into predominantly black cities like Houston and Los Angeles. I believe this killing may be a manifestation of this racial hatred boiling over and touching law enforcement.
“Now is the time for our nation to enforce our immigration laws and seal the borders to stop the illegal invasion into American cities and prevent further bloodshed.”
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson is founder and president of BOND (Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny), a national nonprofit organization founded for the purpose of “rebuilding the family by rebuilding the man.” Rev. Peterson is currently embarking on a nationwide “Moral Reconstruction Speaking Tour“ to address solutions for America’s declining urban areas. For interview requests visit www.bondinfo.org.