EDITORIAL: Governor: Stick to Texas school safety, not border fear mongering

A generation ago, if the sad shootings that happened at a Houston-area school last week that killed 10 had occurred, it would probably have dominated front page news for weeks. Unfortunately, as we all recognize, these crimes are becoming more commonplace in our society now.

Our children tell us they expect something like this to happen on their campuses. It is a way of life for them that we, adults, did not have to deal with years ago.

And so we appreciate Gov. Greg Abbott convening a round table discussion in Austin on Tuesday to garner information from education officials from throughout our great state on how best to shore up our schools and protect our children from future attacks. Such talks are vital and necessary and should be occurring in every state. And we hope will yield solutions for our society.

But we are a bit miffed as to what Gov. Abbott expects to learn, in particular, from an invited guest from our region. Because in a news release issued on Monday afternoon, Abbott’s office said that Joe Palacios, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD director of safety and security, “will provide perspective on the unique security challenges that schools along the border face.”

What specific “security challenges” do our border schools face? Surely the governor is not intimating a higher level of crime here on the border? Because he must recall that an FBI report released in 2016 found that although the number of murder and other violent crimes was rising in the United States overall, border towns were found to be safe when compared to cities like Washington D.C., and Chicago.

The report, based on 2014 statistics, found that Houston’s violent crime rate — counting murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault — was 991 crimes for every 100,000 residents. The violent crime rate in Dallas was 665 crimes for every 100,000 residents. But border communities like Edinburg, Brownsville and Laredo had fewer than 400 crimes for every 100,000 residents. El Paso actually saw a drop in violent crime, from 457 crimes for every 100,000 residents in 2009 to 393 in 2014.

Could this be an attempt at fearmongering designed to paint our region in an unfair light? If so, we request an explanation, and hopefully an apology.

The other 15 education official invitees to the roundtable, held at the Texas State Capitol, were not introduced in the news release with such language. And except for Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, whose sentence read “Will provide insight into the safety and security challenges at one of the largest districts in the state,” all the others were referred to by their district’s glowing contributions to safety programs, or their involvement in ways to raise “safety” not “security” at their schools.

The nuance between “safety” vs. “security” is slight, but significant. We admit that we could be overly sensitive because, as a region, the borderlands tend to be unfairly labeled and thought of as lawless and dangerous, to which we strongly take offense.

This is fueled by constant rhetoric from President Donald Trump who wants Congress to appropriate money to build a border wall here. Surely our Republican governor is not playing into that with such a sensitive subject as school shootings.

Of course we praise the overall intent of Tuesday’s roundtable, which is the first of three scheduled. And we encourage the public to also participate by sending comments to the governor’s office on how you believe safety, or security could be improved in schools in Texas by going to gov.texas.gov/school-safety and sharing your opinions, also. Perhaps the comments can explain how safe residents feel living on the border, as well.

Letters to the Editor are written by concerned citizens just like you. To submit your own letter to the Editor email to letters@themonitor.com. Limit letters to 300 words. We will not publish anonymous letters, personal attacks or consumer complaints. Include your full name, address and a phone number for verification. All letters are subject to editing.