Texas has often been seen as strong, brave, and fearless. This week it seems as if that persona is being called into question as little more than a costume.
Ruben Mata Montemayor lost his great-granddaughter Alexandria Rubio in the attack on Tuesday. He heard the shots ringing out from just down the street. A Vietnam veteran, Ruben has seen his fair share of death and violence. This isn’t his first rodeo with death. But today he is fighting back tears and trying to come to terms.
“They admitted that they just waited,” Mata Montemayor says. “How could they do that? Why did they do that?”
He knows first hand what it is like to have to put yourself in harms way for somebody else—he has had to do it in war.
“You can’t just sit there and listen and watch,” he says. “You have to act and do it fast. Not wait.”
People like Mata Montemayor know that the 18 year-old gunman is the ultimate person to blame for this tragedy. But the inaction and indecisiveness of law enforcement has him and others completely outraged.
“They stand there with their hardened looking faces and walk around town as if they are some kind of god,” says Uvalde resident Linda Leal. “Well, I guess you make pretty good actors.”
Leal has a son who is doing time in a Texas State operated jail for simply saying that he was going to throw a brick into the car window of his father-in-law. Now she wonders if her own son could be incarcerated for 18 months on charges of making a terroristic threat, why didn’t they go after the shooter?
“I am not saying my son is right,” Leal said. “But give me a break, do we just pick and choose who we send to jail? Obviously.”
There were warning signs everywhere about the shooter who carried out this massacre in Uvalde. Police admit that mistakes were made. Now it is becoming even clearer that the shooter had a history of violence and behavior issues. What was once a globally respected place, known for its chest-beating motto “Don’t mess with Texas”, is quickly becoming the laughing stock of the world.
“We are a proud people here in Texas,” says Andrea Garcia of nearby Sabinal, Texas. “We support our law enforcement and we love our guns. We are told to support those two things no matter what. You see where that is getting us?”
Garcia, whose husband is a local contractor, says that authorities need to reassess their policing priorities.
“They are more worried about stopping people crossing over that damn border or writing you a ticket for a broken headlight than they are for protecting their community,” Garcia says. “We will go to the ends of the earth to track down a petty criminal but do as little as we can to protect our kids. Our priorities here in Texas are just messed up.”
Garcia has a brother who is also doing time in a Texas prison for possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to five years in prison for less than 10 ounces of marijuana—a crime that should have only had a maximum penalty of two years. Garcia says her brother had no prior drug convictions.
“They pulled him over and kept him in handcuffs for over 2 hours and then came to my parents house and searched his room,” Garcia says. “All over marijuana. You mean to tell me they can do that but not do anything about this killer? We have some very mixed up priorities here in Texas.”
The outrage that is being felt here Uvalde is palpable. People are asking questions and wanting answers but the only thing they are getting is more and more angry.
Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, Most of them are for relatively minor crimes. The state has a long history of using its prison system as a place to house people with mental health issues.
During the 1990s, Democrat Texas Governor Ann Richards vowed to build more state prisons and jails in rural areas of the state and use them as tools for what she called “rural economic development.” Her idea was to build them, employ rural Texans who were local, and lock up as many people as possible. A philosophy that Texas Republicans at all levels have since embraced.
Ricky Hernandez was once one of them.
“I worked just up the road at the Torres Unit,” Hernandez says. “More than half of those people don’t need to be in jail. That’s why I quit.”
Hernandez says that most of those who are incarcerated suffer from some sort of mental health issue and end up not having access to proper treatment or follow-up care once they are released.
“They call that recidivism,” Hernandez says. “I call that bullshit.”
Hernandez describes most of those that he used to look after as having addiction issues of some sort or another.
“Sure, they were violent but look how they were treated,” he says. “Cheap, old school meds that are easily obtainable by the state and the same cheap drugs are given to almost everyone because the approach is one size fits all.”
Hernandez says he feels as if Texas is partly responsible for Tuesday’s massacre.
“I am sure that we in Texas did our part to create this tragedy,” he says. “We focus on locking up anybody and everybody who we think is a criminal but we disregard the serious potential offenders like this guy so we can devote resources to tracking down and prosecuting a drug addict instead of treating an addiction like the mental illness it is.”
Hernandez is now dealing with the trauma of thinking that he was blindly part of the problem.
“How could I just sit back and watch them put sick people in jail while ignoring people like this killer,” he asks. “I feel like I somehow allowed this to happen because I didn’t stop them from misusing their power against us.”