In a virtual forum hosted by the local League of United Latin American Citizens and NAACP chapters Friday, Denton City Council candidates were asked about their positions on social justice issues such as racial profiling and immigration.
“I think part of police work is investigating,” said mayoral candidate Gerard Hudspeth, the city’s outgoing mayor pro tem. “But do I think that the police take that investigation and [use] it for exercising racial profiling? I would say no. ... An integral part of their case is defending it in court, and obviously racial profiling is not justifiable in court.”
Hudspeth faces fellow City Council member Keely Briggs and Michael Mitchell in the race for mayor.
“I think that racial profiling is an issue,” Briggs said. “We’re not talking specifically about our Denton Police Department. I think we all have our innate biases. Sometimes, they do come out. In law enforcement, I do not believe that every officer does it.”
“It doesn’t really matter whether I think there’s racial profiling,” Mitchell said. “It matters that the testimonials and evidence seem to point to it.”
The virtual forum, held via Zoom with a few technical hiccups, was streamed on Facebook Live on Friday evening and moderated by Val Martinez, a University of North Texas professor. Although 14 candidates agreed to attend, not all did.
“I do think racial profiling is a big issue in Texas and nationwide,” Place 5 incumbent Deb Armintor said. “It happens in Denton. Denton’s not immune. It’s hard to prove, though.”
Her challenger for Place 5, Rick Baria, disagreed.
“I’ll just say that here in Denton, I don’t believe that’s the case,” he said. Baria said he doesn’t believe Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon “condones that.”
In Place 6, Jim Mann is challenging incumbent Paul Meltzer. A third candidate in the race, Liam York, did not attend the forum.
“I don’t believe it is an issue in Denton,” Mann said of racial profiling. “The police, as a whole in Denton, are certainly trained against that.”
“I don’t think there’s a program to do [racial profiling], certainly in Denton, but I do think humans have biases,” he said.
George Ferrie and Birdia Johnson are vying for the unexpired term in District 1, which Hudspeth is vacating.
Ferrie said racial profiling does happen in Denton.
“Casual racism is still racism,” he said.
Johnson shared a similar position.
“I think if people are going to say there’s no racial profiling going on, they’re saying there’s not racism going on,” she said.
The forum also included Connie Baker, Daniel Clanton and Jon Hohman, who are among the five running for Briggs’ unexpired term in District 2. Fellow candidates Ronnie Anderson and Kady Findley were not present.
Clanton and Baker offered a different view on the police profiling issue.
“I do not believe the police are racial profiling,” Clanton said. “They are trained.”
“It’s my opinion that profiling is wrong,” he said. “They shouldn’t do that. I think the police know that. They’ve been trained on it. Chief Dixon … stays up on that. Profiling is wrong.”
Hohman said he could not discount the existence of racial profiling.
The question then turned to immigration policy. In 2016, Texas lawmakers approved Senate Bill 4, which essentially prohibits the creation of so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas.
“I understand that in Denton, if you don’t cause trouble, we won’t bother you,” Baria said. “We don’t ask for your immigration status. I think that is a good policy and that we should keep it.”
Armintor expressed the same: “My opponent is absolutely correct in saying we have a policy that is a very good one. Our local police are not ICE.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, includes more than 20,000 law enforcement and other personnel in hundreds of offices in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“My expectation is that everyone is treated fairly and with kindness, whether you are a citizen of the United States or not,” Mann said.
And Meltzer said that if somebody does violate the law, that person must be prosecuted.
“They have routines they’ve got to follow,” he said. “We’re looking for good community relations.”
Ferrie called it “emotional.”
“This is fact,” he said. “We have kids in cages. We’re talking about massive human rights violations. We need to be aware of these things that come up.”
Hohman said he didn’t know what to think. “I like what [Ferrie] had to say about it.”
And Baker said he didn’t know how to answer that.
“I’ve never seen immigration here in Denton, so I can’t say too much here on that,” he said.
Baria, like many of the candidates, said he wants what’s best for Denton.
“I hope to serve the citizens of Denton in a reasonable and peaceful way,” he said.
Early voting is scheduled for Oct. 13-30, with Election Day set for Nov. 3.