Coalition calls for an apology from Houston police union president for threatening civil right activists
The leader of a coalition of Houston civil rights groups called Friday for the Houston police union president to apologize for threatening activists who are critical of police tactics.
The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice issued a statement saying that the organization “praises the efforts of the good men and women who risk their lives every day to keep the citizens of Houston safe.” They were referring to four police officers shot and one injured Monday while serving a no-knock warrant in a drug raid at a southeast Houston residence, during which two residents were killed.
Johnny Mata, the presiding officer for the Coalition, said that Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officer’s Union, went too far and created an untenable situation by threatening civil right activists and organizations who speak out against police brutality and misconduct.
“All the work that has been done by a lot of people cannot go down the drain,” Mata said. “He (Gamaldi) is inciting tensions between police and communities with his egregious comments.”
The organization expressed deep concerns over earlier remarks made by Gamaldi at a press conference at a Houston hospital a few hours after the shootings.
“We are sick and tired of having targets on our back. We are sick and tired of having dirtbags trying to take our lives when all we’re trying to do is protect this community and protect our families,” Gamaldi said, adding he was speaking on behalf of HPD officers and others across the nation who “put their lives on the line.”
The rights organization said they are particularly concerned with Gamaldi’s comments that police were tracking activists and threatening retaliation.
“If you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, just know we’ve all got your number now, we’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure that we hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers. We’ve had enough, folks,” Gamaldi said.
In an appearance two days later on the Fox & Friends broadcast, Gamaldi was more specific about the target of his comments, mentioning “activists who have severely made our officers the enemy.”
“His comments passed the line of freedom of speech into a blatant threat to certain people,” said Mata.
In a statement, the coalition said Gamaldi’s threats may warrant a request for a federal and state investigation to ease the tension it has caused in the community. Mata added the coalition may also explore the possibility of a slander lawsuit to make Gamaldi accountable for what they consider is a threat to activists.
Mata also said that Gamaldi’s comments “are very damaging for the decades of work between civil rights organizations in Houston and the HPD to address police abuse of force when it happens… and for the work we have done together to create programs (and) ease tensions between communities and law enforcement.”
During a Thursday press conference, HPD Chief Art Acevedo said that Gamaldi’s’ emotions from the shootings “got the best of him” and that his assertions were “a lot over the top if you ask me.”
Mata pointed out, however, that Gamaldi hasn’t apologized for his “implicit offense” to civil right organizations..
Other civil rights organizations have also expressed concerned.
Houston Black Lives Matter founder Ashton Woods told the Houston Chronicle earlier this week that Gamaldi needed to apologize. “We don’t need you blaming us for what happened,” he said.
The Houston coalition is concerned by Gamaldi’s assertion that officers have the numbers of people who condemn police misconduct and that they are going to be tracked and made accountable.
“Gamaldi is creating a crisis that could have chilling effects in the community,” Mata emphasized.
HPOU officials did not immediately comment Friday on the criticism from the civil rights group.