University News

Talk examines race in Texas policing history

Manuscript establishes link between anti-black and anti-Mexican fear tactics in Texas

Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

“Texas is a state built by both conquest and slavery” in which anti-Mexican racial violence was legally justified by pre-existing anti-black racial violence, said Monica Martinez, professor of American studies and ethnic studies. In a Tuesday lecture entitled “Mapping Violence: Elucidating Constitutive Regimes of Racial Violence in Texas,” Martinez discussed her newest manuscript chapter, which explores intersecting histories of violent policing regimes in Texas in an effort to rewrite the state’s history to include marginalized voices and the persecution they faced.

Martinez focused her presentation on the period of ethnic cleansing between 1900 and 1920, in which “Texas Rangers, the U.S. military and vigilantes all participated” in overt racial violence against Mexicans. Rangers often incited racial terror in the border region, tortured prisoners, intimidated and murdered residents and organized massacres, all with the help of civilians, Martinez said.

The state was made aware of the terror tactics but did not stop them. In a 1919 investigation into Texas Rangers led by State Representative José Tomás Canales, testimonies found rangers guilty of acts of violence and denial of civil rights, but they were not convicted or prosecuted. Rather than apologize for the corrupt, racist regime in response to civil protest, Texas “celebrated it as progress,” Martinez said.

“What did the state do? They let (the rangers) who committed a massacre go on and continue policing,” Martinez said.

During the same time period, the NAACP called for an investigation of the lynching of Brad Williams, a black man who was convicted of killing a white woman in Hillsboro, Texas. After lawyers appealed his death sentence, angry citizens removed him from his jail cell and burned him at the stake as a public spectacle. President Woodrow Wilson and the U.S. government again only paid “lip service” to the organized violence, Martinez said.

Discussing the total failure of the legal system in these cases and many more, Martinez displayed how the media and legislature justified the killing of Mexicans in much the same way they did with black lynchings. Texans dehumanized Mexicans as people who raid, kill and murder Anglo-Saxons, in order to relate them to black stereotypes, she said. U.S. Sen. Claude Hudspeth supported mob violence against ethnic minorities with racist calls to action, such as, “You have got to kill those Mexicans when you find them or they will kill you,” Martinez said.

“People who are critical of these histories can show the undemocratic nature of these occurrences and the culture,” as well as understand the common thread between anti-Mexican and anti-black racism in Texas, Martinez said. She has spent the past three years trying to revise the history of Texas in order to shine a light on overlooked racial injustice.

In order to “visualize Mexican violence” and its relation to violence perpetrated against African Americans, Martinez is working to map racial violence in America with support of the John Nicholas Brown Center and the Center for Ethnic Studies. With funding, the program will digitize the database of the killings in the Texas region, as well as provide a general account of the stories and provide links to primary documents, she said.

After finishing her presentation, Martinez opened up the talk to the graduate students and faculty members, who engaged in an open discussion of the connections between Mexican and black lynching justifications, World War I desegregation measures and the lack of distinction between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants in the violence.

Martinez is currently developing her manuscript, “‘Inherited Loss’: Reckoning with Anti-Mexican Violence, 1910-Present,” according to the University website.

The lecture was presented as part of “What I Am Thinking About Now,” an ongoing, informal workshop and seminar series in which faculty members and graduate students are invited to present and discuss recently published works and works in progress.