Bastrop Sheriff Targets Latino Neighborhood

Faith Group Calls for Meeting

Members of the Bastrop Interfaith Coalition at a press conference July 1 at San Juan Diego Church in Del Valle (Image courtesy of Bastrop Interfaith Coalition)

A local faith-based coalition has put pressure on Bastrop County Sheriff Maurice Cook to meet with them face-to-face to talk about the fear his department has inflicted on the community and call for a rebuilding of "broken trust." Last month, a traffic violation sweep in the predominantly Latino Stony Point neighborhood in Del Valle ended in 24 arrests and 13 people taken into custody for deportation proceedings. A total of 63 drivers were pulled over on June 23 in what the Bastrop Interfaith Coalition believes is a targeted attack on the immigrant and Latino population.

Edie Clark, a leader with the coalition of community groups, churches, schools, and clinics, says the local community is on edge after the arrests. "There is a lot of fear in the community right now about the breaking up of families by law enforcement," she said. "Children are scared their parents are going to be deported, and adults are afraid to even get groceries or go to the gas station." Drivers were pulled over for minor traffic infractions like changing lanes without signaling, and most of those arrested saw charges of driving without a valid license, a low-level criminal offense, which led to some of the ICE detainments. Clark said all but one of those arrested was Latino.

In a Facebook post on July 3, Cook refuted accusations that the sweep was intentionally targeting Latinos, writing that the traffic initiative had "nothing to do with immigration," and "the only target ... was traffic law violations and the results prove how badly it was needed." Deputies were instructed to use "zero tolerance," wrote Cook, meaning when a traffic violation was observed, "some enforcement action was taken, ranging from a warning to a citation to an actual custodial arrest."

However, the Bastrop Interfaith Coalition has called on the sheriff to exercise his discretionary power, allowed by law, to ticket drivers for minor offenses such as driving without a license or driving with a suspended license, instead of arresting them. They're also asking the sheriff to tell deputies to inform drivers of their right not to answer questions about immigration status, also allowed by law. "We also want to make sure any policies are implemented fairly and evenly across the county," they wrote in a statement.

After a month of requests that were turned down due to a busy schedule, Cook has finally agreed to meet with the coalition this Thursday, July 12, Clark tells us. "We want to minimize the fear in the community," she said. "Our goal is trying to strengthen relations between the community and law enforcement, and we feel like the sheriff has made that very difficult."

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Maurice Cook, Edie Clark, Bastrop Interfaith Coalition

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