United Fort Worth and Unite With Us, Not Against Us members speak out Tuesday night after the Fort Worth City Council vote against joining a lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, the "sanctuary cities" law. Denise Harris dharris@star-telegram.com
United Fort Worth and Unite With Us, Not Against Us members speak out Tuesday night after the Fort Worth City Council vote against joining a lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, the "sanctuary cities" law. Denise Harris dharris@star-telegram.com

Fort Worth

Protesters allege racism after Fort Worth council refuses to join SB4 lawsuit

August 15, 2017 09:57 PM

UPDATED August 16, 2017 05:25 PM

FORT WORTH

Fort Worth will not be joining a lawsuit challenging the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law known as Senate Bill 4.

As anticipated, the vote was 5-4 against joining the lawsuit, initiated in June by Maverick County and the city of El Cenizo. Since then, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston have joined the litigation.

Fort Worth’s charge was led by District 2 Councilman Carlos Flores, who filed the proposal to get the measure on the council agenda Tuesday night.

Councilwomen Ann Zadeh, Gyna Bivens and Kelly Allen Gray also voted in favor. The council had earlier voted 9-0 to suspend the rules to be able to vote on the agenda item the same night it was introduced.

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Mayor Betsy Price and Councilmen Jungus Jordan, Cary Moon, Brian Byrd and Dennis Shingleton voted the measure down.

Be courageous.

Carlos Flores, Fort Worth councilman

“SB4 is neither just nor fair and we must challenge it,” Flores said. “Be courageous,” he said in asking his colleagues to join suit.

Zadeh called SB4 the “single-biggest attack on local control in the state of Texas.”

After the vote, supporters started chanting “Shut down the floor!” and tried to shut down the council meeting. Police and city marshals escorted protesters out of council chambers. Some were carried out. Some called the council members racists.

In remarks prior to the vote, Byrd said “tonight is not a vote on whether we are or are not racists. We are not a show-me-your-papers city and we will not put up with it here.”

Price said SB4 is very much a federal issue that is being pushed down to the local level, placing demands on the police force and the city, adding that she has “major concerns about SB4.”

I will work everyday to bring Fort Worth together. Calling people names and threatening people will only divide people. We will work on this.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price

“I believe Fort Worth is a compassionate city,” Price said. “The city has nothing to gain by committing resources” to joining the lawsuit. “I will work every day to bring Fort Worth together. Calling people names and threatening people will only divide people. We will work on this.”

The vote came early Wednesday morning. In all, 71 spoke in favor of joining the lawsuit, and a dozen speakers supported not joining the suit, arguing that residents should follow the law and that immigration is a federal issue.

Many pleaded with the council to join the lawsuit, saying it is the council’s job to protect all members of the community. Some of them cried, telling stories of their immigrant parents being deported or their young children asking to be white because “they get treated better. Please say no to SB4.”

They spoke of discrimination and how they live in fear. Sal Espino Jr., son of former council member Sal Espino, spoke and said “racism isn’t dead today.”

SB4 protesters march to Fort Worth City Hall

They hoped to persuade the Fort Worth City Council to join a lawsuit against the "sanctuary cities" law, which takes effect Sept. 1. (Video by Ryan Osborne)

rosborne@star-telegram.com

The council postponed voting until mid-September on a separate resolution that calls for the federal government to fix the “broken immigration system.” Earlier in the day during a work session, some council members said they did not agree with some of the wording and want it changed.

“Frankly, it’s sad where we find ourselves as a country,” Price said. “We all watched in horror the events that took place in Charlottesville. The hate, racism and intolerance we hear from extremist groups like the KKK and others is heartbreaking, but it exists. To change this narrative, we must encourage unity and respect through diversity, tolerance and respect for one another.”

You are going to close your doors to business. You are going to close your doors to growth. Stand with the undocumented community. Don’t be a city of cowardice.

Dylan Lofton of Fort Worth

Emotions ran high as the speakers took their turns.

“You are going to close your doors to business. You are going to close your doors to growth,” Dylan Lofton of Fort Worth said. “Stand with the undocumented community. Don’t be a city of cowardice.”

Daniel Rodriguez, head of United Fort Worth, the grassroots group that was established on this issue, also pleaded with council members to listen to all the speakers, but then threatened “to take anyone out” at the ballot box who didn’t vote to join the lawsuit.

“I don’t know what it will take,” Rodriguez said of persuading the council to join the suit. “Make the right decision tonight. Fight this or we will fight you out of this council.”

“You will never win another political election,” said Valerie Martinez-Ebers of Lakeside.

Our mission is to protect each and every person in this city, whether you’re a citizen or not. The department doesn’t engage in discrimination practices or racial profiling.

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald

Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald spoke early in the evening, saying SB4 will be hard to enforce and asked the community to trust the police department. He said officers will be trained on the department’s new SB4 policy, which will be posted online.

“We totally support every resident of the city of Fort Worth,” Fitzgerald said. The department “doesn’t engage in discrimination practices or racial profiling. Our mission is to protect each and every person in this city, whether you’re a citizen or not.”