By Kristen Barton
Earlier this month at a Texas Tech Student Government Association meeting, debate arose around a resolution to show support for the Texas Tech and Lubbock Police Departments.
The general clerk sends all the legislation for the meetings ahead of time so senators can prepare debates or votes for the resolutions. A congratulatory piece has to pass by 100 percent to go into effect, since it is on behalf of the entire SGA, Sarah-Grace Crocco, an Art and Sciences senator, said.
Debate is not common on a congratulatory piece, but this was more of a resolution saying SGA supports the police department, said Witt Westbrook, internal vice president and president of the senate.
Crocco texted Westbrook before the meeting to see if the piece could still pass with her abstaining from voting, because she did not want her name on it.
“I guess that alerted him to the fact that I was not going to vote for it and he told the committee that wrote the congratulatory piece to write it as a resolution instead,” Crocco said. “A resolution only has to pass by a majority and that’s what the piece became after the fact.”
Westbrook said Crocco contacted him and he told her the piece could not pass with her abstaining from the vote. They then talked about her beliefs and opposition to the piece.
Westbrook said it was better as a resolution, that way she and others could debate it and make their opinions heard. He said this was a great way to give people a chance to talk about the issues against the resolution.
Bryce White, graduate senator, co-authored the resolution. The biggest part of the resolution is to recognize the day-to-day sacrifices of police officers and how they affect Texas Tech.
“At the end of the day, they’re the people that are here to help keep us safe and keep us in line when we need it,” White said. “The main point of this piece was to keep that in mind and to thank them. Further than that, we’re hoping, through this piece, to begin to establish a good relationship between the SGA and both police departments.”
The congratulatory sentiment of the piece had not changed and still sought to represent the entirety of the senate, Crocco said, which was an issue for her.
Resolutions are pieces where the senate agrees to do an action, Crocco said. The piece was still congratulatory for all intents and purposes.
“Even though it was written as a resolution and only had to pass by a majority, it was still being framed as the entirety of the student government supports this and I think that’s disingenuous,” Crocco said. “One, the fact that there are people who voted against the piece and two that there are people who care enough to be in SGA and vote against it is enforcing our vote means nothing. If you can just frame congratulatory pieces as resolutions to keep people from having individual autonomy within senate.”
The second issue Crocco had was the purpose of the bill, which she said could have been achieved by congratulating specific officers who have helped SGA by launching the campus safety mobile app rather than mentioning the whole department.
Crock was critical of the police departments. Specifically, with the Department of Justice filing a lawsuit against the Lubbock Police Department for discriminatory hiring practices against women and people of color.
She is also concerned about the police department still not apologizing for mishandling the Timothy Cole case, who was wrongfully arrested and put in jail for rape charges he did not commit. He was later exonerated.
“I don’t understand why we need to congratulate the entire department when the department has done these things,” Crocco said. “We can just congratulate individual officers.”
During the debate at the meeting, Crocco said she did not feel safe talking about these issues. Specifically, because when it was made known she was not voting for the congratulatory piece, her vote was “politicked around.”
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Westbrook said. “When we wrote the piece originally we didn’t think there would be any opposition. But everyone is entitled to their opinion, with that being said I was a little bit surprised, but it was a good thing to have everybody talking and discussing the piece.”
The arguments presented in the debate were not just biased opinions, but backed up facts that helped everyone in the senate see where the opposition was coming from, Westbrook said.
White said he likes debating things because if pieces are sent through blindly, it does not mean as much. He welcomes good, informed debate.
“While I didn’t necessarily agree with the content of the opposition to this piece, I did appreciate that it was relevant to the Lubbock Police Department,” White said. “I don’t think there was any debate regarding the Texas Tech Police Department, but with all that being said I think it was good to have two sides of something considered before we just passed a piece like this.”
The response was a call to move forward and not continue to talk about things of the past, Crocco said. She then suggested putting this piece on second reading so people could investigate her claims and make a well-informed vote.
Crocco said the debate only lasted maybe five minutes and she felt people were not engaging with her or were responding to claims she did not make.
During debate, White answered the arguments about the Timothy Cole case and the Department of Justice case against the City of Lubbock.
“Being raised and from Lubbock, I’ve heard about the Timothy Cole case, I knew his family had reconciled with a lot of parties involved like the prosecuting attorney and the victim who had identified Timothy Cole,” White said. “To me, while that is not a good past of the Lubbock justice system, that still shouldn’t hinder this piece from going through to build bridges with our police departments.”
With the Department of Justice argument, White said there was no accusation or admission of guilt that the Lubbock Police Department was intentional in its practices. Some of the testing during the hiring process had adverse effects on Hispanic and female applicants.
Despite Crocco’s debate, the bill passed.
Dhruv Patel, a College of Arts and Sciences senator, abstained from voting. He said these issues should be acknowledged and he felt conflicted and decided to abstain. Kadeem Archer, College of Arts and Sciences senator, voted against the resolution. He appreciates everything the police do for the community and the resolution shed light on that.
Archer said Crocco did her senatorial duty of reminding the senators to be cautious with their decisions.
“She let his (Timothy Cole) voice be heard,” Archer said. “She let us know his presence in SGA as an honorary member and reminds us we have to always consider his presence when making decisions.”
Crocco said despite the outcome, she was effective.
“I do feel like I was as effective as I could be,” Crocco said. “My final recommendation was to put it on second reading which isn’t saying ‘no one vote for it,’ it’s just saying to wait until next session so everyone can make an informed vote. I didn’t feel like that was unreasonable.”
The chance to debate these resolutions are beneficial to all students and student government, Westbrook said. Everyone has a right to free speech.
White said it is hard to gauge how people are thinking of voting during the debate and how quickly the piece was passed automatically lost some votes for it. While he does not think the debate necessarily changed votes, he said the way the piece was passed did.
White said he feels the resolution represents the student body.
“Regardless of whether or not the piece says the entire student body wants to congratulate the police, there were multiple people who did not feel that way and I think it’s really regrettable that their voices are being spoken for,” Crocco said. “Especially during a time when student government is losing a ton of senators, it’s probably not very encouraging for people who are here and are participating.”