The Texas Rangers and Uvalde
Color me disturbed
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Speaking of totally trustworthy one-sided accounts, the Uvalde police keep changing their story about why they reacted with deadly hesitation to the shooting on May 24th. Officers on the scene didn’t go into classrooms even as sporadic gunfire could be heard inside, and the police later blamed the shooting on a teacher who supposedly opened a door for the gunman. This accusation proved untrue, as did one or eleven of law enforcement’s other statements, and many publications report that the Texas Rangers are now investigating the Uvalde police’s abhorrent response. Color me even more disturbed.
Dating back to the nineteenth century and in particular from 1910-1920, the Rangers brutally policed Black citizens and ethnic Mexicans (US citizens of Mexican descent) with the state’s blessing. The Rangers not only managed to evade accountability, but thanks to some friendly rewriting of the past, cemented a legacy as heroes. Put another way, the Rangers are defined by a history of lethality and negligence, and if anyone is uniquely unqualified to reckon with Texan police misbehavior, it might just be them.
To see what I mean, let’s head south in the 1820s...
…when Stephen F. Austin, the “father of Texas,” brought the first Anglo settlers to the region. Their goal? Establish a new republic, enriched by slavery. In Austin’s words, “the idea of seeing such a country... overrun by a slave population almost makes me weep.”1 He organized a small group of men, called rangers, to protect settlers and to police the enslaved Africans they’d brought with them. After Texas claimed independence from Mexico in 1836, the Texas Rangers tracked and punished enslaved people trying to cross the border into Mexico. They also began targeting ethnic Mexicans accused of harboring runaway slaves. In short, contrary to my conception as a kid that the Rangers were simply a baseball team for the Yankees to beat in the playoffs, they were a vigilante group preserving a system of white supremacy.
Fast forward to the early 1900s. As new inventions like gas-powered tractors made it easier to farm, “hordes of money-making Americans poured into the region.”2 In the process, they ushered in Jim Crow laws, as well as Juan Crow laws, which decreed segregation among white, Black, and ethnic Mexican communities. It wasn’t long before the Rangers grew in proportion to the influx of like-minded, discriminatory new arrivals.
Why? Well, in Mexico in 1910, rebels launched an attempt to overthrow the decades-long regime of President Porfirio Díaz. White settlers, fearful that revolutionary plots to redistribute land could spill across the border, called on the state to hire more Rangers. The Texas legislature obliged: by 1918, 1,350 Rangers patrolled towns near the border, up from just 26 Rangers a few years earlier.
There was a catch. To make it easier to hire so many men so quickly, the only qualification new policemen needed was knowledge of local terrain so they could track down Mexican revolutionaries conducting raids for weapons and supplies. Ominously, this meant a self-selecting squad of incompetent, violent men joined the force. No matter: Governor James Ferguson, who took office in 1914, assured Rangers that “I have the pardoning power... and I want that... gang cleaned up.”3
The beefed-up Rangers heeded his call with incongruent ferocity. In August 1915, sixty Mexican men raided the King Ranch, a gigantic property where the Rangers had their headquarters. In response, the new policemen killed over a hundred ethnic Mexicans as revenge by proxy. As raids continued, and the Rangers started to profile anyone that looked Mexican as a “bandit,” unlawful executions became commonplace. One morning in a town called Porvenir, they executed fifteen men assumed to be “bandit sympathizers” without questioning them. Other times, authorities handed prisoners over to local lynch mobs to enact “swift justice.” All in all, as the state found it “cheaper and speedier to entrust” the Rangers with “the capture, trial, and infliction of the penalty upon those who might be suspected,” as many as several thousand ethnic Mexicans died from 1910 to 1920.4 Historian Benjamin Johnson describes the Rangers’ methods as nothing short of ethnic cleansing.5 And for the record, we haven’t even discussed the Rangers' battles with Native Americans in the 19th century, which could certainly be considered the same.
This brutality raises two questions. First:
Second: did anyone try to stop the violence?
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