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Reader rejects image of Killeen portrayed by Vanity Fair article – The Killeen Daily Herald07.25.21

In May Jeongs article in Vanity Fairs July/August 2021 issue titled All I Know is How to kill People sweeping, offensive, and often sensationalized quotes are used in depicting the city as unsafe and evil. The citation of a painful lynching in 1941 (in addition to the articles childish title) sets the tone for this article, which should have been titled All I want to do is sow fear hate and outrage.

Interviewing people who have lost loved ones in the area will inevitably lead to a very jaded view of the city as such moments become, unfortunately, defining ones for those individuals and the victims.

The use of disgruntled soldiers who claim to do nothing and serve no purpose should take advantage of the free education they can get from the military and online if their superiors cannot keep them busy. I did that when I was enlisted and so stayed out of trouble and was promoted quicker than my peers.

Tales of rosary beads snapping when entering post (easy to do if they are stressfully used as worry beads) and the author not being able to sleep at night because of the PTSD of all this, (and others feeling bad vibes) is meant to scare readers into believing that there is an underlying malevolent force at work in the city.

Aside for quoting people she interviewed, Ms. Jeong footnotes nothing and we are made to believe anything that has been said in the article as truth. When speaking of crimes, it is clear that some sources had to be used; but none are cited or quoted in the article.

Other statements are unfounded, such as the phrase of there being 38 tattoo parlors in Killeen. There are actually 20, with a couple that are temporarily closed as one can see on Google Maps.

And, though I have no tattoos myself, I am very respectful of the men and women whose livelihood is earned using this visual art form. So to say that this is a negative attribute of the city is a truly unnecessary and demeaning slam.

In my reading of the article, there was neither interface with the chamber of commerce nor any interaction with the Killeen communication department. The citys many attributes and opportunities were never mentioned.

To wit; we have four institutes of higher learning CTC, Texas A&M-Central Texas, University of Phoenix and Vista College. There is a military museum being built that unlike most others, it is actually off post so outsiders can visit. There are four airports for numerous uses. There are 438 acres of public parks in the area.

In the city there are many restaurants from all ethnicities and a variety of grocery stores. In addition to a large multi screen cinema, there are many venues that put on live entertainment to include a theatre with monthly affordable plays throughout the year. Let alone the tax breaks for disabled vets and proximity to many hospitals and a military base, the housing is affordable for all and attractive in Killeen. I

It has boasted its own newspaper- the Killeen Daily Herald for many years with reporters and staff that write and interview in numerous locations to create a publication that reaches 55,000 households.

This list is not exhaustive, but is meant to praise the town for its attributes rather than degrade it because of its unfortunate victims or not so attractive areas.

In the future, any journalist writing about a city they do not know well, should interview its politicians or fellow journalists in the place they are investigating. This would be in order to get some advice on what to see, and what the perceived problems or situations a given town is faced with. And above all, they should footnote sources that are not interviews they have personally given. In that vein, they can write a more holistic article which could cite all the pros and cons of an area.

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10 convincing reasons to visit Austin – KSAT San Antonio07.09.21

We know there are so many people who are just itching to find new places to travel right now, following the last year or so.

There are so many great places, but Austin, Texas, is by far one of our favorite.

It isnt just where the states officials meet, its also the Live Music Capital of the World, but were guessing theres a good chance you already knew that.

Regardless, weve got 10 reasons we think will just add to the temptation to get away to the heart of the Lone Star State.

Theres a reason Austin has officially been named the Live Music Capital of the World. According to Visit Austin, there are roughly 250 live music venues in and around the Austin area, at which you can catch a show nearly any day at any time.

You might assume all youre going to find is country music, but you would be wrong. You can hear almost any type of music flowing out venue doors as you walk the streets.


Go downtown, or find a hole-in-the-wall bar on the outskirts of town -- youre going to find live music all over.

Have you ever heard the phrase Keep Austin Weird? Stop through South Congress and you just might get a glimpse into what people mean when they say that.

South Congress is a spot I always take friends or family when theyre visiting. There are some great food spots, drink spots, shopping spots and music spots. I kid you not, I even had a visitor who got a really great tattoo on So Co.

Allen Boots -- oh, man. There are just rows and rows of boots. The smell of leather will knock you to your knees when you walk in. I will always do a walk-through when Im in the area. I usually end up walking out empty-handed, but the beautiful sights and smell alone in the store are fulfilling. You know, if youre in Austin, youre kind of obligated to at least window shop some boots.


But boots arent the only shopping. There are dozens of other shops that offer very different things, including (retro) clothing, antiques, art, jewelry, furniture and so much more.

And then there are the eats and drinks on So Co. Restaurants, coffee spots, food trucks -- theyre all there for the taking, and they are good.

Make sure to take your picture in front of the iconic I love you so much mural. Even the locals take advantage of the opportunity when making a stop through South Congress.

And, of course, there are bars with live music. One of the most popular and well-known is the Continental Club. The self-proclaimed granddaddy of live music venues is a dimly lit, swanky club that can entertain the rockabilly, country, swing, rock and/or blues lovers every single night of the week.

This has got to be one of the most well-known places in Austin, and its definitely a historical one. The owner of the Broken Spoke, James White, who died in January of 2021 at the age of 81, claimed the Broken Spoke was the last of the true Texas dancehalls.


Its a pretty special place. Ask any one of the huge stars who have stopped in for a visit: Fergie, Harry Connick Jr., Willie Nelson, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Robert Duvall, Claire Danes and President George W. Bush, to name a few. Thats not including all the big-name acts that have taken the stage. George Strait, anyone?

You can grab some grub, then listen to some traditional country music and dance the night away -- or just watch the others dance the night away. Theres also a room designated to showcase all its historical greatness.

You never know whos going to stop in for a visit. Did you know Garth Brooks popped in and did a surprise acoustic show In 2017? Say what?! Yeah, this place is no joke.

I know what youre thinking: What is so cool about bats? Really, you just have to see it for yourself.

According to Bats in Austin, nearly 1.5 million Brazilian free-tailed bats call the South Congress Bridge home between November and March.


Show up to the bridge before sundown and you can catch a pretty cool show. On summer nights, between about 8 and 9 p.m., the bats begin flying from underneath the bridge. While watching, you cant help but think, Where are they all coming from? They just keep coming and coming, giving folks a show for almost an hour.

They fly about 2 miles high at 60-plus mph.

Beautiful does not even begin to describe the Hamilton Pool Preserve. This place is so awesome and visited by so many people, that during the summer, all visitors are required to make a reservation.

Theres a 50-foot waterfall that never dries up, and the water level stays pretty consistent, even during drought periods. So when permitted, the swimming is pretty fantastic. And the water is so clear that you can see the fish swimming past you.

Did I mention how beautiful this place is? Really, you have just got to see it with your own eyes.


Who would dare go to Austin and not visit Sixth Street, the heart of Austins live entertainment district?

I have three words for you: Music, food, drinks. OK, Id have to add ambiance. Theres just a feel on Sixth Street. They close off the main area to the bars at night so that only foot traffic can get through.

If you get there a little early, Id definitely recommend the Iron Cactus. With rooftop dining and some awesome drinks, you can kick back and watch the party start to take off from two stories up.

Fair warning: It can get a little crazy on Sixth Street, if you plan to be hanging until the wee hours of the morning.

On a side note, look into Rainey Street. It seems to be giving Sixth Street a run for its money. With a street full of historic houses that have been renovated and turned into bars -- oh, and lets not forget the food trucks -- its a bit of a more laid-back area.

Lets be honest -- trying new food when youre visiting somewhere is always a priority. Austin has so much to offer.


Barbecue? Check. Authentic Mexican food? Check. Vegan restaurants? Check. Burgers, wings? Check, check. Eat out every day for the entire year in Austin and you will never have to stop at the same place twice.

The just-as-great news is that (in true Austin form) youll often be able to listen to some great music while you eat, or youre sure to have some amazing views -- at least, some interesting ones.

I could make an entirely separate list with all that Zilker Park has to offer. Its SO MUCH, yall.

For starters, the Austin City Limits Music Festival happens here (of course, Im kicking it off with the music). We are talking more than 100+ performances on eight stages over the course of two weekends in October. Its actually family friendly, too, with a designated area for kid activities (unless youre searching for some kid-free time -- I totally get that).


Then theres Lady Bird Lake, which, ironically, is not a lake. The river stretches 416 acres in downtown, and its an amazing spot for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding or anything else that floats.

The 10.1-mile trail that is the Lady Bird Hike and Bike Trail runs just along and over the river. When I stick my ear buds in and go for a jog on the trail, I am always overcome by the views -- the river, the city and high-rises, all the people -- its awesome.

This isnt just a place for tourists. People who live all over the Austin area come here all the time. That should say something, right?

This list could not be made without Barton Springs Pool. This is an Austinite favorite spot. The spring-fed, 3-acre, usually-18-feet deep pool keeps an average temperature of 68-70 degrees year-round. Theres a large grassy area with plenty of shade, so swim, sunbathe or relax. Plus, there is a lifeguard most hours of the day. On a hot summer day (who am I kidding? This is Central Texas, so were talking spring or fall, too), its a perfect spot to chill.


I told you I could make an entire list dedicated to Zilker Park, but let me just give you a few more awesome things about it: there are fields with free sports on the weekends, the Zilker Botanical Garden, Sculpture Garden and Museum and more.

The SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival is known to hit downtown Austin, and it brings nine days of entertainment from everywhere.

Things differed at this years event, due to COVID-19, but the city is already on track to be back in full swing for the event in 2022.

And its no joke -- everyone who lives around Austin knows when SXSW is going on, so unless youre actually going, youll want to stay away from the area. The traffic is crazy because it is so incredibly packed! For those days, it is the place to be.

The music festival is the largest of its kind in the world, with more than 2,000 acts. Its like the biggest smorgasbord of artists you can imagine. You can see big-name artists, or you can meet a band from a small town in Idaho that youve never heard of before.


Everyone is there. Musicians come from all over so that their music can be heard -- and it is.

In true Everything is Bigger in Texas form, the state Capitol building is the biggest, square-foot-wise, of all the state capitols in the U.S. And its accompanied by 22 acres of landscaped grounds that is scattered with statues and monuments.

For those who love history, you can do a self-guided tour and take your time in the massive red granite building. Not a history buff? You can get a free guided tour and be out in less than an hour.

While you are inside, stand in the center of the star on the floor of the first level of the rotunda and speak in a normal voice. What happens is, well -- were not going to spoil it for you. This one is usually fun for the kids, but pretty cool, really, for anyone.

There are also some cool, interactive exhibits in the Visitors Center that will help you understand a bit more about the building and its preservation.


Regardless of your interest in politics or history, the building and the grounds are beautiful and really just a must-see.

Have you been to Austin? Did we mention your favorite spot? Tell us what your favorite place in Austin is in the comments below. What are some of your other favorite cities to visit?

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Beloved Dallas couple now out $18K after brazen burglar hits store that’s been open for nearly 40 years – WFAA.com07.09.21

According to the Dallas Police Department, the burglar entered the store by destroying an air conditioning unit and climbing down from the roof.

DALLAS, Texas A Dallas couple wants justice and to be made 'whole' after a burglar left them on the hook for $18,000 when he entered their longtime store through the roof and climbed out with a big score.

The crime went down at Freedom Beauty and Fashion off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas on June 22.

Ephraim and Olaide Oladiran, a Nigerian couple that immigrated to Texas in the 70s and 80s, have owned the store since 1983.

They primarily sell clothes, jewelry, hats, sneakers and dress shoes.

Ask anyone in the area, and they know who the Oladirans are: a Christian couple devoted to their faith and their community.

That fact is one of the reasons why they've been able to stay in business for decades.

"We try to present a good image," Ephraim Oladiran said. "We want to be treated the way that we treat people. We thought we were friends of the neighborhood, but someone didn't see it that way."

Oladiran came to the store with his wife like any normal day and noticed a massive hole in the ceiling of his building.

"As soon as I looked up, I could see the sky," Oladiran said.

Not only that, an estimated $14,000 in jewelry, clothes and shoes were missing.

When Oladiran checked the store's security footage, his fears came true: someone had burglarized his business.

You can see what appears to be a white or Hispanic man with a sleeve tattoo, wearing a Joey Galloshirt in the footage.

He's packing merchandise into a bag but crawling around on his hands and knees, trying not to be noticed by the security camera.

However, at one point, he looks directly at the camera.

Police are hoping someone recognizes him.

The burglar then got a ladder in the store and climbed back out through the roof.

The damage to the building was an additional $4,000 per Oladiran.

"That's devastating, you know, to a small business," Oladiran said.

The couple survived the pandemic for the most part but wasn't expecting a thief to set them back.

They want justice but also want to be made whole. Oladiran said he and his wife are praying one or both options come.

"We are just trusting in God," Oladiran said.

Anyone with information regarding the suspect's identity is asked to call Detective T. French with the Dallas Police Department Southeast Investigative Unit at 214-671-0112 or Crime Stoppers at 1-877-373-TIPS (8477).

If you really like to help the Oladrians, however, swing by their store and shop around.


Beloved Dallas couple now out $18K after brazen burglar hits store that's been open for nearly 40 years -

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How a Dallas mutual aid group went from winter storm response to distributing cold water in the heat – The Dallas Morning News07.09.21

Carlos Penas usual trek from shelter to shelter is slowed by the sweltering heat.

He visits The Stewpot downtown for medicine, then goes to CitySquare for food. While walking by Our Calling, a ministry for the homeless in South Dallas, he smells barbecue and stops there.

Nearby, about a dozen people gather in the shade, sipping bottles of icy water volunteers are handing out.

Pena asks for water, and one of the volunteers reaches into a cooler and pulls out three plastic bottles.

He sometimes wears a backpack that carries a liter of water. After the long walks between shelters in the middle of the summer, ice water is a welcome treat.

Pain is a thing. It really didnt affect me, but the heat is 10 times worse than it was 10 to 15 to 20 years ago, Pena said.

Feed the People Dallas gained followers and donations during Februarys storm as they delivered hot meals to people in need after the power grid failed. Now, as temperatures soar, the mutual aid organization and others like it are distributing water all summer, helping people like Pena stay hydrated.

The grid is so messed up that we cant depend on it during the summer or the winter, said Vanessa Wilmore, founder and executive director of Feed the People Dallas. Its all about solidarity, meeting people where theyre at, helping them with basic needs.

After posting calls for donations earlier this summer to its more than 12,000 followers on Instagram, Feed the People received package after package at their drop-off locations. They also received donations from bottled-water companies JUST Water, Liquid Death, Richards RainWater and Vita Coco.

We shouldnt have to be scared for electricity or water, Wilmore said. Were going to take care of our community members no matter what.

In response to the heat, the city of Dallas Office of Homeless Solutions has formed an outreach team to offer day shelter services to people in need. Their efforts include helping to get individuals on the day-shelter approved list and providing transportation to The Bridge for people who accept shelter.

The city also has made water more available through outreach teams that hand out bottles at shelter entrances. The office pointed to Union Gospel Mission Dallas, in Stemmons Corridor, as a place to escape the heat that has seating, water stations and portable air conditioners.

Feed the People also works with other organizations, including the Dallas-based Say it With Your Chest, which describes itself as a black-women led leftist-action group.

Say it With Your Chests main organizer, Danielle Carty, said she was frustrated when the Energy Reliability Council of Texas asked Texans to conserve power in the June heat.

Its definitely a failure, Carty said. Privatization is becoming a really big problem. The excuse during the winter storm for ERCOT was were not prepared for the cold, and now theyre saying were not prepared for this heat.

She emphasized the importance of providing clean water to the elderly and disabled in the houseless community who are subjected to heat.

With more than 4,500 people experiencing homelessness in Dallas and Collin Counties, according to Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, Carty focused on the need to provide services when local governments are unable to.

Next thing we know, well have people dropping like flies, she said. Its really important to get clean and cold water delivered.

Three times a week, volunteers with Feed the People Dallas load coolers of ice and water bottles into vans and cars. Some stop at shelters, including Austin Street Center, Our Calling and The Stewpot, to set up coolers and distribute water. Others head to encampments underneath the freeway to hand out bottles to each tent.

Volunteers have cultivated a relationship with the people in the encampments, focusing on asking what is needed rather than giving blindly.

Its very fulfilling to see peoples reaction with the water, to see people be appreciative of the service were providing for them and to be able to provide the service, said Patrick Averhart, founder of the United Peoples Coalition, a mutual aid group that works with Feed the People. Were beyond grateful.

Feed the People Dallas accepts water bottle donations at Sunny South Nutrition, 4500 S. Malcolm X Blvd. in South Dallas, Welcome Stranger Tattoo, 1918 Skillman St. in Old East Dallas, and The Goods Club, 3160 Commonwealth Drive Unit 160 in the Stemmons Corridor. It also accepts donations online at

But Wilmore said individuals dont need an organization to expand outreach in their community. People can carry care packages and frozen water bottles in their vehicles to distribute for themselves.

Thats what real mutual aid is, Wilmore said, getting stuff done for neighbors and your community.

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First Amendment arguments rejected in mansion fight – Florida Politics06.12.21

A lot of people want to make statements with their homes.

But a sharply divided federal appeals court Tuesday rejected arguments that a property owners First Amendment rights were violated when plans for a mansion were rejected in tony Palm Beach.

The 2-1 decision by a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stemmed from a 2013 decision by longtime Palm Beach resident Donald Burns to tear down a 10,063 square-foot oceanfront home and replace it with a larger mansion with a mid-century modern design, according to the ruling.

According to Burns, the mid-century modern design communicated that the new home was clean, fresh, independent, and modern a reflection of his evolved philosophy of simplicity in lifestyle and living with an emphasis on fewer personal possessions, the rulingsaid. It also communicated Burns message that he was unique and different from his neighbors.

But Palm Beachs architectural review commission rejected the plan in 2016, spurring Burns to take the dispute to federal court. He argued, in part, that the rejection violated his First Amendment rights.

A federal district judge sided with the town, prompting Burns to go to the Atlanta-based appeals court. And in a 70-page majority opinion and a 66-page dissent, appellate judges Tuesday sparred about Burns claims and First Amendment issues ranging from tattoos to Jeffersons Monticello home.

Judge Robert Luck, in a majority opinion shared by Judge Ed Carnes, wrote that the proposed mansion was not expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment and pointed to issues such as a wall and landscaping that would have blocked the home from public view.

One day, we may even find some residential architecture to be expressive conduct, Luck wrote. But Burns proposed new mansion is not Monticello or Versailles, no matter how much the dissenting opinion wants to compare it to those historic homes. Its just a really big beachfront house that cant be seen, located on a quiet residential street in Palm Beach, Florida.

But dissenting Judge Stanley Marcus referred to numerous famous architectural sites and drew contrasts with court precedents about protecting the First Amendment.

As I see it, the majoritys resolution of this case cannot easily be squared with well-settled law recognizing the First Amendments protection of artistic expression in all of its forms, Marcus wrote. An analysis of this kind would yield the odd conclusion that a tourists drunkenly obtained tattoo is art protected by the First Amendment, while Philip Johnsons Glass House is not; coin-operated devices by virtue of which a customer could sit in a booth, insert a coin and . . . watch a live dancer, usually nude, are protected, Monticello is not; anodyne elevator music is protected, the Empire State Building is not. These distinctions seem to me to be indefensible.

That statement drew a retort from Luck.

To dispel any lingering confusion, we emphasize again that we are not deciding whether residential architecture can ever be expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment, Luck wrote. We have not decided, as the dissenting opinion says, that Philip Johnsons Glass House isnt expressive conduct but tattooing is; we have not decided that Jeffersons Monticello isnt protected under the First Amendment but nude dancing is; and we have not decided that the Empire State Building doesnt meet (a test in a U.S. Supreme Court case known as Texas v. Johnson) but elevator music does. Not at all.

Marcus also asserted that the architectural review commission hated the proposed design of the mansion.

The question in this case is whether a government commission created by the Town of Palm Beach with the Orwellian moniker ARCOM may prevent Burns from expressing his philosophy and taste through the architecture of his home and create a work of art on land he owns solely because a majority of the members of the commission do not like the way it looks, Marcus wrote.

That also drew a retort from Luck in a footnote.

The dissenting opinion uses the name ARCOM for the architectural review commission and then calls the name it uses Orwellian, the footnote said. If by Orwellian the dissenting opinion means any government agency that administers regulations impacting our lives, then the architectural review commission is as Orwellian as the state board of therapeutic massage, the local dog catcher and every one of the alphabet soup of departments and agencies and bureaus in Washington, D.C.

The Palm Beach Daily News, citing a deed,reported in Octoberthat Burns, a telecommunications entrepreneur, sold his home for $28 million. That came six months after the appeals court heard arguments in the case, and Tuesdays ruling did not address a sale of the property.


Republished with permission from News Service of Florida.

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Dining and Dreaming at the Blind Salamander RV Park – Bon Appetit06.12.21

I stood at the kitchen sink scraping peanut butter off a spoon with my teeth. The idea of cooking an actual meal was enough to make my limbs go leaden. So my family survived on what we scooped out of jars or unearthed from the freezers icy crust.

It was November, and in anticipation of the next disaster declaration, we let the news pipe into our living room at all hours. A stone-faced anchor rattled off COVID-19 statistics. Nanny, my husband Prestons 91-year-old grandmother, interrogated the TV. Now just what in the holy hell is happening? she asked.

Nanny suffered from Alzheimers, and this question burbled up often. When the pandemic hit, when she noticed everyone wearing face masks, when our groceries arrived at the door in boxes, when the death toll climbedagain and again, she wondered what was happening. Preston and I never came up with a good answer. Theres a virus going around, like the flu, but worse, wed say.

Because finding Nanny a safe nursing facility mid-pandemic was impossible, shed moved in with usindefinitely. We all adjusted to new routines. Work Zoom meetings were followed by denture scrubbing. Then we disinfected surfaces, answered emails, and puttered around the neighborhood with Nanny in her wheelchair. And when we climbed to the tops of particularly loathsome hills, we whooped at each other like excited geese.

Six months in, though, I couldnt help but feel swallowed up. Id transformed from a carefree 31-year-old to a full-time caregiver combating infectious disease. Some days I wanted to bolt. Or crumple to the floor and let jagged, snotty sobs shake out of me. But I figured these responses would only amplify Nannys bewilderment.

So instead, after all the responsibilities (aside from cooking) were done, I retreated to my small lonely space at the kitchen sink, stared out the window, and studied a creek flowing in our backyard, looking for a way to feel normal. That evening I thought about our lives seven years earlier, at the Blind Salamander RV Parka dusty patch of Texas land, dotted with ancient pecans along the San Marcos River. Back then we were in our early 20s, not ready to become corporate cogs, eager for at least one more grand adventure. So we moved into a leaky 26-foot camper and enrolled ourselves at a nearby college.

We didnt cook much in the RV, either, but for practical reasons. Our oven was child-size, akin to the Easy Bake variety, with a temperamental pilot light. For Prestons 25th birthday, I made a rum cake. It took three hours to bake and came out of the Bundt pan in gelatinous, boozy chunks. We ate with our hands, giggling through each bite. But privately, I noticed an anxious hum in my brain.

Id left a full-size apartment and a reliable job for a tin-can home with a hardly functioning oven. Why? Right now it was just the cake that was falling apart. But what if I never finished school, never got another job? I could practically hear the whisper of self-doubta silvery voice that said, Youll never make it here.

I was spiraling. The parks groundskeeper, Eddie, noticed me frowning in a lawn chair at the helm of our RV. When I described my cake failure to him, he slapped my shoulder and said, with a no-big-deal rhythm, Come by tonight. Richards grilling.

So at dusk Preston and I walked a short dirt path to Eddies trailer. Outside, a few park residents lounged on tailgatesunhinged and scratched to hell from hauling kayaks. Richard, a tattoo artist in his 40s, manned the grill. He smoked everything over split mesquite. Until that moment I didnt realize wood had a fragrance, a flavor.

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Would the Real Toeflop Please Stand Up? – Texas Monthly05.31.21

In May 2020 a mysterious neologism began appearing across Houston. Spray-painted in cartoonish letters often several feet high was a single word: Toeflop. The cryptic disyllable was seemingly everywhere, all at once. Instagrammers documented dozens of Toeflops in a variety of styles and colorson bridges, railroad trestles, billboards, concrete revetments along bayous, and, most spectacularly, atop a thirty-story abandoned hotel building downtown. Twitter erupted in speculation about the identity of the graffiti writer or writers, and the meaning of the curious cognomen.

Redditors debated various theories. It sounds like foot drop, which is a neurological condition requiring spinal surgery, suggested one commenter. Observing the similarity of Toeflop to TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), another hypothesized that the graffiti writer had probably failed, or flopped, the exam. Others suggested their own acronyms: The Organization Exists for Loving on Potato Salad? Take On Every Freaking Louisianan on Penicillin?

In the subculture of contemporary American graffiti writing, which emerged in Philadelphia in the late sixties before spreading around the world, achieving Toeflop-level ubiquity is known as going all city. The most recent Houston writer to achieve such distinction was Rowdy, an anonymous individual whose spray-painted tags were nigh inescapable in 2019. Now it was Toeflops turn. As spring turned into summer and summer into fall, the artist or artists kept Toeflopping across Space Cityand beyond.

Sometime around September, Toeflop landed in Austin, hitting an abandoned gas station, the shuttered restaurant Shady Grove, and an oft-tagged railroad bridge over Lady Bird Lake. Toeflops were even spotted as far afield as Memphis and New Orleans. Each tag had a different look, ranging from simple monochromatic designs to elaborate, multicolored pieces with shadowed bubble letters and intricate shading.

Hes doing something kind of tongue-in-cheek, playing with the conventions of East and West Coast graffiti, said Stefano Bloch, a legendary L.A. graffiti writer who went all city in the nineties under the nom de plume of Cisco. At my request, Bloch reviewed online photos of Toeflops work. He seems to be saying, Im here in the middle [of the country], Im in Texas, and Im going to put my own spin on conventional graffiti forms.

Bloch, who is now an assistant professor of geography at the University of Arizona, said that in the early aughts graffiti writers began adopting deliberately outlandish names, like Neck Face, to distinguish their work from gang-related graffiti. You pick the most absurd of names to convey that youre actually engaged in this kind of performance street art, he explained. Theres no way that any rational person can confuse you for a gang member whos demarcating territory and willing to violently defend it. It seems to me that Toeflop is doing the same thing. You might even call him an avant-garde graffiti writer from Texas.

Former Houston graffiti writer David Flores, aka Skeez181, told me hes impressed by Toeflops productivity and geographic range. I dont know exactly who he is, but thats the whole mystique behind graffitisomebody can be painting all over the place and stay anonymous, Flores said. Some people do it for the fame, some do it for the respect, and some people just do it for themselves. Although some internet commenters have speculated that Toeflop is the name of a crew, Flores and Bloch believe its the work of a single artist.

Its typical for a single graffiti writer to use a wide variety of styles, Bloch emphasized. Never have I known of multiple people writing the same namenot even once, he said. Im 99.9 percent certain this is an individual person with multiple writing styles. The whole point of tagging is getting your name out there, he explained, so appropriating someone elses moniker would be pointless. Most graffiti writers come from communities where there are fewer outlets to make a name for yourself. Theyre expressing themselves in a way thats going to piss a lot of people off, but its also going to impress a lot of people.

Because graffiti writing is illegal in most cases, considered a defacement of public or private property, anonymity is critical; many writers dont disclose their real names even to their tagging partners. Flores was arrested in Houston in 1996 for tagging freight trains and spent four years on probation, after which he transitioned into painting authorized murals and teaching art. Bloch earned his doctorate and became a professor. The biographical blurb on the back cover of his memoir describes him as a semiretired graffiti writer. Some well-known graffiti artists such as Houstons Gonzo247, who now paints city-commissioned murals, followed similar trajectories from the margins to the mainstream. Others have maintained their anonymity, but thats not always easy.

On the evening of March 16, a security guard spotted a man and a woman breaking into the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, an art museum in Houstons wealthy River Oaks neighborhood. The pair fled toward Buffalo Bayou, where they boarded a small motorboat to make their getaway. Pursued by Houston Police Department officers, the burglars were forced to abandon their boat and escape on foot through a drainage tunnel. The police lost the trail, but inside the boat they found a backpack filled with graffiti supplies and hand-drawn Toeflop patterns. They also found a van on a Buffalo Bayou boat ramp, registered to 33-year-old Lewis Yates Robertson. (Police have not been able to identify the woman.)

Robertson was arrested in April and charged with felony burglary; hes currently free on a $1,000 bond. His lawyer, Mark Metzger III, told me that his client is innocent. Metzger denied that the grafitti designs belonged to Robertson. Even if they did, it wouldnt mean Robertson was Toeflop, he insisted. Go to any tattoo shop around town and theyre all going to have the same book with the same designs, he said. Thats kind of what this is. Its a template that all these guys carry around. Metzger subscribes to the multiple Toeflop theory, ascribing the tags to a collaboration of probably over a dozen people mimicking the same art form.

But Robertson does have a history of graffiti writing. In 2005, he was arrested on a graffiti charge, for spray-painting the wall of a business and causing between $500 and $1,500 worth of damage. When police came to pick him up, Robertson fled in his car, leading to a charge of evading arrest. The following month he was arrested again after stabbing a man during a fight. He pleaded no contest to assault and evading arrest, receiving ten days in jail and five years of probation. (The graffiti charge was dismissed as part of a plea deal.) Metzger said his client manufactures and sells leather goods out of his home in Spring Branch, an appropriately creative occupation for someone with an artistic talent for graffiti. I made two recent attempts to speak with Robertson at his one-story bungalow. On both occasions no one answered the door.

Meanwhile, after a frenetic year of activity, Toeflop appears to be slowing down. The writers most recent mention on Twitter was May 1, when someone posted a photo of a tag scrawled on a gas station bathroom mirror. Having achieved all-city status, is Toeflop taking a well-earned sabbatical? Is the artist lying low, perhaps waiting for the resolution of legal issues? Perhaps we have seen the last Toeflop tag, and the artist will reemerge in the future under a new sobriquet.

Judging by the experience of other graffiti writers, a full Toeflop retirement seems unlikely. In his 2019 memoir Going All City: Struggle and Survival in LAs Graffiti Subculture, Bloch nostalgically describes going on all-night bombing runs, tagging dozens or even hundreds of locations in a matter of hours. Raised, he says, by a mother who struggled with heroin addiction and a stepfather who was in and out of prison, Bloch found a community and sense of purpose in graffiti writing. Behind every tag is a story about survival and about striving to be seen, or a momentary reprieve from deprivation and desperation, he writes.

We may never know Toeflops full story, but we do know that the artists tags have brought a bit of distraction and levity to a state in desperate need of both. Over the past year, spotting Toeflops has become something of a game in Houstona socially distanced, pandemic-friendly reason to get out of the house and reconnect with the city. Most of the tags will eventually get painted over, but the name will endure, at least among graffiti writers.

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Would the Real Toeflop Please Stand Up? - Texas Monthly

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Where Is Taylor Pomaski? Search Is on for Missing Texas Woman, 29, Who May Be a Victim of Foul Play, Cops Say – Inside Edition05.31.21

Loved ones of Taylor Pomaski, a Texas woman last seen four weeks ago, told Inside Edition Digital they're desperate to locate the 29-year-old who vanishedunder what investigators said weresuspiciouscircumstances.

On May 11, family members of Pomaski contacted law enforcement and reported her missing and possibly endangered.The case was originally being investigated by the Harris County Sheriff's Office Missing Persons Unit, Harris County Sheriffs Deputy Sr. Deputy Thomas Gilliland said.

We are still searching and checking leads,Gilliland told Inside Edition Digital

A follow-up investigation indicated that Pomaski was last seen on April 27, following a party at her residence on Stallion Brook Lane that previous weekend.Investigators said no one had contact with Pomaski since.

On May 19, the missing person case was transferred over to the HCSO Homicide Unit for further investigation, he said.

Homicide investigators believe that Pomaski haddisappeared under very suspicious circumstances and may be the victim of foul play,Gilliland told Inside Edition Digital in a statement.

Pomaski indicted on herFacebook page that she is from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area and was a former master data specialist at LyondellBasell, a global chemical, plasticand refining company. In her last Facebook post on April 23, she indicated that she was in a relationship.

Taylor's mother Leslie Mandeville, and father Steven Pomaski told Inside Edition Digital how difficult it has been since their daughter vanished.

"We are desperate to find her. Wemiss her and we love her," Mandeville said.

In one of the missing persons flyers created in the search for Taylor Pomaski,her mother said, We are extremely concerned because left behind was the love of her life Mauly, her dog, and all her belongings, Mandeville said. Taylors very loved by so many and we just want her home.

Taylor Pomaski has long blond hair and blue eyes. She is about 5-foot-2 and weighs approximately 110 pounds. It is not known what clothes she was wearing before she went missing, according to the Harris County Sheriffs Department.

She also had two moles.One is located above her left eyebrow and the other is located on the left side of her nose. She also has a tattoo on the front of her hip that reads, "Infinity Serenity.

Tim Miller, Director of Texas Equusearch,whose organization is assisting the Homicide Unit with the search for Taylor Pomaski, told Inside Edition Digital that "he thinks something has happened."

"She certainly disappeared under suspicious circumstances, Miller said. I fear the worst.

Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Taylor Pomaski or information about her last known whereabouts is encouraged to contact the HCSO Homicide Unit or Crime Stoppers of Houston at713-967-5810- or call Texas EquuSearch at281-309-9500.


Where Is Taylor Pomaski? Search Is on for Missing Texas Woman, 29, Who May Be a Victim of Foul Play, Cops Say - Inside Edition

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It was once a KKK stronghold. Last year BLM came to town – The Economist05.31.21

May 25th 2021

by Nadja Drost

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

On June 5th last year, the town of Vidor in East Texas, home to 11,000 people, awoke in a nervous sweat. It was a hot summer and waves of anger and indignation were rippling across the country after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis.

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Maddy Malone, a 23-year-old white woman from Vidor, had been attending Black Lives Matter protests in nearby towns and wanted to organise one in her own community. She called Yalakesen Baaheth, a black friend who lived in Port Arthur, a more racially diverse city nearby. We need to do something, said Malone. Would Baaheth help her organise a march? Baaheths initial enthusiasm dwindled when she learned precisely where Malone wanted to hold it. Oh Vidor? she replied. That might be a problem.

In this part of Texas, Vidor is notorious for being a former haven for the Ku Klux Klan. Some 98% of the population is white (compared with 79% in the entire state of Texas). For generations, black people warned each other not to stop there even to buy petrol. Many knew the stories of the few black people whod been run out of town after trying to settle there. In 1993 a cover story in Texas Monthly labelled Vidor Texas most hate-filled town.

Baaheth had grown up in a conservative family that believed they should trust God alone to fight their battles. But if we dont do this, then were not giving the people in Vidor the chance to show their support, she thought. Worried that participating might endanger her job, Baaheth asked her boss at Chick-fil-A, a fast-food chain, if she could attend. Then she agreed to help.

Malone and Baaheth posted a call on social media for a Peace March in Vidor in memory of George Floyd. Within hours, it had gone viral. Some tweets sounded the alarm: DO NOT GO TO THE PROTEST IF YOU ARE BLACK! It is a stronghold for the kkk [sic]! DO NOT GO! urged one woman. A few even thought the event was a pretext to lure black people to their deaths. This is not a protest but a lynching disguised as one, implored another post.

Some Vidorians couldnt see any reason to protest. We have all races that live here and there is no problem, wrote a woman in one of Vidors Facebook groups. Stop making us a point in someone elses agenda for trouble. When people cried Black lives matter, many conservative townsfolk heard calls for defunding the police, abortion on demand and outright socialism. They wanted no part of it.

In 1993 Texas Monthly labelled Vidor Texas most hate-filled town

Malone had also grown up in a devout family. It was understood that she must date only white men. She reckoned that she was allowed to become friends with Baaheth because Malones family regarded her as a good Christian (they met through church). As Malones circle of friends expanded to include people of other races in other cities, she quickly became tired of hearing them worry about coming to Vidor (she once had to convince a black friend from Houston that he wouldnt get shot if he visited her).

Whenever I would tell people Im from Vidor, people would automatically associate me with being racist, she said. The march was a chance to show people of colour that they would be safe in her town.

Alongside messages of support, Malone also received abuse. She was called a n----r lover and an attention-seeker. A former co-worker asked Why are you bringing this to our town? Some of her social-media accounts were hacked. Agitators threatened on Twitter to turn up at the protest and shoot yall up. Organisers heard rumours from law-enforcement sources that a panoply of groups was planning to descend on Vidor: white-supremacist gangs; the Black Panthers, a black-nationalist organisation; Antifa, an anti-fascist political movement; and those merely in search of a riot.

This wouldnt be the first time in the towns history when a reckoning with race drew outside partisans. Vidor braced itself.

On the day of the march Malone woke up worrying that rioters might disrupt proceedings. Rod Carroll, the towns police chief, prayed before he left home that nothing would happen to further besmirch the towns image.

A co-worker asked, why are you bringing this to our town?

DeVon Noe, who is 25 years old, was the only black resident of Vidor to speak at the march. He had bought a new outfit for the occasion: a sleeveless hoodie and teal shorts that almost matched his jutting outcrop of dyed-blue hair.

At 3pm, under the searing sun in Raymond Gould Park, a crowd of some 200 people gathered, most of them white. Malones tank-top read LOVE MORE LOVE. A black woman wore a t-shirt bearing the date 1619, the year slaves first arrived in Virginia. White Vidorians in military vests, armed with semi-automatic rifles and pistols, clustered by a nearby war memorial, insisting that they were there simply to protect it. Someone had hung a sign on a footbridge: Vidor kneels to no one but God.

To her surprise, Malone spotted her grandfather in the crowd. She later found out that hed come, armed with a pistol, only to protect her in the event of violence. He heard her declare that they had gathered together in love and unity and to bind together under God. Malone said that her generation was reaching to break the cycle of racism. Occasionally trucks with a Confederate flag would circle through the car park.

Noe felt sick as Malone handed him the microphone. He introduced himself as Vidors resident gay black guy and told the crowd that, despite having been assailed by hurled bottles and assaulted by angry drivers, he knew that Vidor is a very damn good place. Noe was too nervous to finish his speech.

Together the protesters made a few laps of the park, chanting slogans for justice. They intoned a well-known roll-call of black civilians killed by police: Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Anthony Hill. One name, which had not achieved national renown, stood out: Matt Thomas.

Ten years earlier, Thomas had been a popular footballer at Vidor High School. Then he was found dead on the railway tracks. At the time the authorities deemed his death a tragic accident. His friends believed there was a more sinister explanation. Some hoped that this summer of reflection on race might prompt his case to be reopened.

A livestream of the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Vidor was broadcast. Pigs are flying, and its snowing in hell, tweeted one woman. Jared Hollier, a pastor at one of Vidors churches, watched with relief at home. He recalled how many Vidorians felt as the march passed off peacefully: We did it. Good for us. Now lets go back to work on Monday morning. And so a city where almost everyone is white went back to believing that it no longer had a problem with racism.

Well, almost everyone. When Malone got home, her grandfather told her she needed to pack her bags and leave. A week later, Noe received a phone call from someone who lived near his old house. She had found a dead rabbit on its doorstep.

Vidor lies 130km east of Houston. Its a town of strip malls, faded storefronts and a remarkable number of churches (over three dozen at the last count). Spacious brick bungalows with neatly mowed lawns dominate the middle-class neighbourhoods. Deeper into the backwoods, scraggy lots are dotted with trailer homes and small wooden houses. Vines hang like curtains from power lines. Piles of tyres, discarded appliances and other detritus stand like monuments to indigence and the frequent hurricanes. One in five Vidorians lives below the poverty line.

This is a town where many like to broadcast their views. As I drove there in October 2020 I saw two billboards near the highway. Wake up!! Vote Trump, the one on the left read. To its right: All lives matter Not just black lives My daughters life mattered. For 30 years a bereaved father has put up posters accusing police of bungling the investigation into his daughters murder (he inspired the Oscar-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Leave town on Farm Road 105 and theres an image of a fetus, posted by anti-abortion activists.

The sign that has most defined the reputation of Vidor no longer exists. There are differing recollections about when this sign was displayed. One resident remembers seeing it in the 1950s. The editor of Vidors newspaper reckons that if it existed a fact he is sceptical about it would have been in the 1930s or 1940s. I met one black man who swore he had seen several distinct but identical signs as recently as the 1990s. The chronology may be in dispute but they agree on the slogan: N----r, dont let the sun go down on you.

Vidor was not unique in having such a sign. It was one of hundreds of communities across America known as sundown towns, which stopped black people settling in them through ordinances that prohibited them from staying after dark or renting property and through intimidation and violence. Reputation was often as powerful as any symbol or by-law: black people knew they werent welcome.

During my three weeks in Vidor I could find no documentary evidence that this sign existed. That is totally normal, according to James Loewen, a sociologist and author of a book on sundown towns. He has combed the histories of hundreds of these towns but found only one photograph of such a sign. They became part of a citys landscape, he says no more assuming than a Rotary Club banner and therefore werent worth snapping. Their memory is preserved largely in oral histories.

Someone had hung a sign on a footbridge: Vidor kneels to no one but God

Vidor began its existence as a logging camp in the early 20th century. At the time this stretch of East Texas was filled with forests and swamps; the air was thick with mosquitoes and alligators stalked the cypress trees. Only lumberjacks and bootleggers were willing to live there. It got its name from Charles Vidor, a local timber baron (his son King Vidor became a celebrated film director and shot the first Hollywood picture with an all-black cast in 1929). Klan legend has it that the ol man that helped found this town did not allow a n----r around here.

Such views were common at the time. By 1860, just before the American civil war, a third of Texass population more than 180,000 black people was enslaved, mostly on cotton and sugar plantations. Even after the South was defeated, oppression and violence against black people persisted across Texas. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a civil-rights organisation, documented seven different kkk groups operating in and around Vidor until at least the 1950s.

Much of the history of Vidor in the first half of the 20th century is anecdotal, with stories of Klan night-riders assaulting or killing black people, and driving them out of town. There is a record of at least one horrifying incident. An oral-history project gathered testimony about a black man accused of rape who was lynched by the Vidor kkk around 1930. A crowd watched as Klan members cut off the mans genitals and nailed them to a sign around his neck that read, N----rs, dont let the sun set on you in Vidor!

Joyce Dennis was born in Vidor in 1941 and says she came to understand why she saw no black people there: If one would try to move in they would move them out. And if they didnt leave, theyd kill em, she said. She remembers her father pointing out nooses hanging from a tree: black people had been hanged there, he explained to his young daughter.

Vidor grew from the 1960s onwards as desegregation in neighbouring Beaumont sparked racial strife and prompted white flight to Vidor. Incomers regarded Vidor as a peaceful community with good schools and solid jobs in the surrounding oil refineries and steel mills. Yet it also became known as a hotbed of whatever Klan activities there are in Texas, as a newspaper article put it in 1971.

The Klan made no attempt to conceal its activities. Members met for coffee in Garys Caf and opened a bookshop on Main Street in 1974. Black shoppers and workers were attacked. When the Klan held a rally that spring, the Associated Press reported that The women sold cakes, everyone listened to speeches, and the men burned the cross. A Klan member even stood for office in the 1980s, though he was defeated by four to one.

Vidor struggled to shake off its notoriety. By 1983 Vidor was no longer a kkk stronghold, according to an article from the Associated Press, yet that impression has persisted: Community leaders bemoan the image as unfair and harmful but seem unable or unwilling to really challenge it. Some Vidorians found the citys infamy useful: it dissuaded black people from moving in.

In 1992 Vidor was given an opportunity to prove that it had changed. A federal judge ordered 170 public-housing projects across Texas to be desegregated. Open applications were encouraged and housing units were reserved specifically for black people. If they failed to desegregate, government funding would be cut off.

Vidor faced an unusual obstacle to compliance: it had no black residents in public housing. The city needed to attract black people but, quite reasonably, none wanted to move there. According to Texas Monthly, 1,300 black people on public-housing waiting lists in the area were invited to move to Vidor. None accepted.

Far-right activists in Texas saw Vidor as their last redoubt, one of the few places untouched by the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws that had once enforced racial separation. The kkk believed that campaigning against desegregation would rejuvenate the dying organisation. kkk chapters in Texan towns such as Waco and Cleveland descended on Vidor. Together with the citys remaining Klansmen, they held rallies, distributed racist literature, burned crosses and hung a banner from the interstate overpass that read Vidor White Power. They even organised a Christmas sale at a local petrol station that included a visit from Klana Klaus.

To execute the desegregation plan, the authorities had to extend their search. They eventually found a couple of black men to move in and two women one with two daughters and one with three from neighbouring Louisiana. When the women pulled into a petrol station, the attendant was polite but told them: You shouldnt be here.

They soon learned what he meant. The Klan began patrolling the housing complex, dressed in full regalia and brandishing guns. Though most Klansmen came from outside Vidor, the demonstrations boosted membership in the city (a Klan member told a reporter that the local chapter had anywhere from 40 to 200 members).

White nationalists from other states threatened to sue the city if they were refused permission to protest. Klan members offered children $50 to beat up their black neighbours. Men would holler at the two black women, telling them what theyd do if they found them outside after dark; the two black men received death threats. A Klan member from Mauriceville, just down the road, threatened to blow up the housing complex with explosives. Authorities posted a 24-hour guard.

A city where almost everyone is white went back to believing that it no longer had a problem with racism

Not everyone in Vidor was so hostile. The Central Baptist Church offered the newcomers help. Vidors mayor publicly welcomed them and decried media outlets for giving the Klan publicity (she received threatening phone calls and an attempt to evict her from office). Eighteen white residents of the housing complex held a welcome party for the newcomers; others tried to protect their black neighbours, despite death threats.

The main opposition to the Klan was organised by pastors: 17 church congregations participated in a series of prayer rallies across the town (one drew as many as 2,000 people). They didnt explicitly confront the Klan but urged participants to pray for our city and the future of our city.

Black residents were not reassured. After 16 days, the women fled with their children, as did some white Vidorians whod helped them. Bill Simpson, a homeless man rehoused in the complex, held out for six months. (On his first night back in Beaumont, he was shot dead in a robbery.)

The inescapable conclusion was that Vidor could not be integrated.

Many Vidorians felt that they were pinched between other peoples agendas: the federal government, which wished to make an example of them; the media, intent on shaming the town for its hateful past; and the Klan, which wanted to preserve this racially pure sliver of Texas.

To this day, many townsfolk believe they were painted in the worst possible light. They argue that reporters sought out those with the most extreme views (one woman told cnn that shed welcome black people as long as she didnt have to mingle or dine with them). This bruising episode did not force a reckoning. Instead, townsfolk retreated into a defensive crouch: racism wasnt something that came from Vidor, many white residents believed. It happened to Vidor.

Black people Ive spoken to who have visited or lived in Vidor since then tend to have a different perspective. Noe was born in Vidor in 1996, four years after the abortive attempt to desegregate the towns public housing. He moved with his white mother and half-brother to Beaumont to escape his abusive black father. When he was six, his mother had a car crash and died, and Noe and his brother were sent back to Vidor. Their mothers aunt Bertha and her husband took them in.

Noe learned about racism on his first day at school. Children surrounded him, kicked him to the ground, called him n----r. That night, as Bertha bathed him, Noe asked her what the term meant. The abuse continued but Noe had no fiercer protector than Bertha. When a fellow customer at the supermarket commented that the porch monkey had left the porch, Bertha hurled a tin of food at the shoppers head.

At school, he had a survival drill: keep your head down, dont make eye contact with anyone bigger than you. The bullying persisted. In high school, after Noe and some other students ribbed a classmate about an embarrassing video, Noe found a noose on his desk. He began to resent his own blackness and considered using bleach to lighten his complexion.

Things got worse when Noe came out as gay. Even his great-uncle God rest his assholes soul said, Youre not making this easy for you. As a teenager, other pupils assaulted him in the school toilets, urinating on him and calling him a faggot n----r. He was constantly insulted, and beaten almost every month. Noe told the school administrator three times about the abuse and was ignored. He began to use purple eye-shadow to disguise the bruises.

I was dealt three strikes: Im black, Im mixed, Ive lived in Vidor. Hold on home run Im also gay, Noe told me last autumn. It sucks but I would not rather bear any other cross.

The Black Lives Matter march in June 2020 perplexed many white Vidorians who didnt see themselves as racist. What was the point of having a peace rally in a peaceful town? one citizen asked me. Some worried that, like the desegregation showdown, it would draw outsiders pushing their own agendas.

In recent decades Vidor has tried to change peoples perception of it. In the 1990s the owner of a local Tex-Mex restaurant, the son of a Mexican, proposed a Thumbs Up, Vidor campaign to bring businesses, schools and churches together to promote civic pride. t-shirts with enthusiastic slogans were printed and thousands of people came together at rallies in the name of unity. In the 2000s a billboard advertising the town to prospective residents included a photo of a black girl.

The high-school American-football team, the Vidor Pirates, is the citys greatest source of civic pride. Jeff Matthews, its coach since the early 1990s, sees his players as unofficial ambassadors for a more harmonious Vidor. Some football teams have refused to play Vidor. Aware of this notoriety, Matthews says the schools athletes make a point of sitting with their black counterparts. When the Pirates play teams with black players, both sides gather in a circle after the game to hold hands and pray together.

Though Vidors official leadership has not made a collective effort to deal with the legacy of racism, many residents feel that the city has changed since the desegregation battle. There are more non-white students in Vidors schools than ever before. Yet even in 2019 just 0.4% of pupils were black (in 2000 there were still no black students at all), compared with 13% in Texas overall.

He received a phone call from someone who lived near his old house: she had found a dead rabbit on his doorstep

Several Vidorians mention the towns Walmart and the presence of black shoppers and workers there as a barometer of shifting race relations. Five years ago there were no black workers, says Malone. I was repeatedly told by young Vidorians that they and their peers speak up if they hear racial slurs; their parents would have kept silent.

But many people in Vidor are angry that outsiders continue to typecast the town. Perhaps no one more so than Randall Luker, publisher of the Vidorian, the towns paper of record. When I entered the one-person newsroom, he emerged from behind a large desk overflowing with the paraphernalia of newspaper production. He was tall, with a long face, a grey beard and a drawl as smooth as honey. His black t-shirt bore an illustration of an automatic rifle imprinted across the American flag an advert for Black Rifle Coffee, a brand that supports veterans and the right to bear arms. As we spoke, I could feel him sizing me up, trying to work out whether I was yet another journalist come to malign Vidor.

Luker thinks that Vidors reputation is undeserved. He isnt sure if the sundown sign had ever existed: he has lived in the town since he was six and met only one person who claims to have seen it. Hundreds of other towns had similar histories, he says, and they werent tarred as viciously as Vidor.

He was outraged by stories online that Vidor was still running black people out of town. These were just fables: You Google Vidor and you look at all the garbage that comes up. Matthews, the football coach, also feels infuriated. He can remember only one Klan rally in his time in Vidor and has never met a Klan member. He becomes vexed at stories of his team playing football in the 1990s against a background of burning crosses or cheering Klansmen.

Vidors lack of interest in its own past has made it harder to distinguish fact from apocrypha. I went to the library to seek out material about the towns history. So, are you interviewing people to get the good stuff? the librarian wanted to know. Everything about our town is great. All she had to offer were five thin spiral-bound volumes, entitled Portrait of Vidor, which contained photos of Vidors landmarks and its early inhabitants matriarchs and patriarchs in their Sunday finest. There was nothing in it about the sundown sign or kkk rallies.

The past was swept under the rug, Malone said. One Vidorian who lived there during the desegregation crisis confessed to having no idea why black residents left. She was astonished when I told her that they had been threatened by Klan members toting weapons. A number of Vidorians I spoke to seemed to treat their towns reputation as though it were divorced from the history that led to it.

The question of the Klans persistence throws into relief the different accounts of the towns history. Matthews believes that the Klan has barely been perceptible for the past 30 years but Noe remembers being told, as a child in the early 2000s, to duck as his family drove past a group of Klan members. When he wrote this on one of the towns Facebook pages, he was told that he must have misremembered.

Yet I found online announcements of kkk gatherings and exhibitions of regalia held at the community centre from as recently as 2003. People told me of Klan bus parades and recruitment drives over the past 20 years. In 2018 a black manager transferred from out of town to the Vidor Walmart was subjected to death threats (and the Walmart to bomb threats). The employee fled and the police investigation led nowhere. The Vidorian did not cover the story.

Vidor is still an overwhelmingly white town. According to the census of 2010 only 0.1% of Vidors residents were black (Latinos, the biggest minority, comprised 8% of the population and overwhelmingly identify as white). Many Vidorians believe that the absence of black people is not the result of racism. The paucity of black people living in Vidor means that there are few opportunities for racism to manifest itself visibly. Residents overlook or discount outbreaks when they do occur. They simply dont impinge on most peoples lives.

No one epitomises the way race is capable of being overlooked, minimised or explained away even when it appears in plain sight, more than a man I met one afternoon at a trailer park. I had gone to visit Noe, who was living off a rutted road in south Vidor with a friend and her two children. The rusty trailer sat on cinder blocks surrounded by puddles. Chunks of mouldy insulation foam hung from its underbelly. In a nearby trailer lived a wiry man with tattoos on his forearms, who wore tiny black half-hooped earrings and overlapping silver chains with big links. You sure youre not from the FBI? he asked me, scratching his thin goatee.

As a teenager, hed thought it would be funny to burn a cross on his neighbours yard when they had black friends over. His joke brought a visit from the FBI. He hadnt considered his action to be malicious or racist: hed grown up in an environment where such behaviour was normal.

His grandfather was a card-carrying kkk member and he remembered eating popcorn at rallies and picnics. The first time he saw a black person was aged 12, when his family moved for a year to Jasper, an hours drive north of Vidor, where more than half the town is black. He hadnt realised at the time that the reason kids didnt like him was because he was from Vidor. He would bring a Bible to school each day to use in self-defence.

On his 18th birthday, he was arrested after robbing the owner of a petrol station, who turned out to be Iranian. He was accused wrongly, he felt of being motivated partly by racial animus, and was sent to prison for 13 months. Like many inmates he became a member of a prison gang for his own protection. These are normally organised along racial lines and he joined the Aryan Brotherhood, the most established of the white-supremacist gangs, which the FBI considers a violent neo-Nazi gang. After his release, he covered up the tattoos that displayed his allegiance. He was annoyed when a neighbour in another trailer a lieutenant in the Aryan Brotherhood tried to pull the organisations handshake on him.

The Aryan Brotherhood has a notable presence in Vidor, though some people in the town, including the police chief, simply see its members as ex-cons compelled to adopt unpalatable views when in jail, rather than as evidence that racism persists. Noe is more conscious of their danger.

The trailer he lives in is a mile from a fenced-off plot that locals call the Compound, long known as an area where associates of white-supremacist gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Solid Wood Soldiers live and cook methamphetamines to sell. On one occasion, I was discussing the Compound with Noe in a diner. When he realised that two of its inhabitants were sitting in a booth nearby and seemed to be listening to our conversation, he got up to leave. That night he slept elsewhere.

The women sold cakes, everyone listened to speeches, and the men burned the cross

Noes neighbour seemed both to tolerate racism and deny its existence. He felt that black people were safer than him and more likely to get jobs (without seeing any contradiction, he also felt the urge to warn Noe to be careful when walking around Vidor). He couldnt see why there was any need for black people to riot they were as free as anyone else. If things were so terrible, they could leave. If theyd like to go back to Africa, they can, he said. I should say, Im not racist Im really not not even to this day, not after everything Ive been through. He stopped himself, took off his cap, scratched his head and patted down his thin hair, But a lot of it was my fault too. You know, I was young and dumb.

Jared Hollier, the pastor of Pecan Acres Baptist Church, has perhaps the clearest view of Vidors conflicts and blindspots. A 36-year-old Vidor native with dark-blond hair and beard, he lived in more racially diverse towns in Texas for years before returning home. This seemed to give him some perspective on Vidors dilemma. People hate having the reputation, but I dont know that people are willing to admit that in a lot of ways, we individuals still have those latent beliefs.

The town has become so strongly identified with racism that it is reluctant to recognise discrimination in the present to avoid reawakening the shame of the past. Often its preferable to avoid these questions altogether. The prevailing view in Vidor, he told me, was that We cant move forward, if you have to keep explaining the past and keep defending the past.

What would it take for Vidor to confront its past? No event seems in as much need of explanation and offers as much opportunity for a reckoning as the death of Matt Thomas.

One Saturday evening in late October 2011, two days after his 18th birthday, Thomas went out partying. The previous day he had helped the Vidor Pirates win a game en route to their first appearance for decades in the state semi-finals. Thomas, a mixed-race man with a thin moustache and a warm smile, had moved from Oklahoma to Vidor aged 15 to live with his mother, who is white, and her partner, a native Vidorian. His friends say that he didnt identify with black culture: on his first day of high school, he turned up in cowboy boots, starched Wranglers and a t-shirt bearing the Confederate flag. He was funny, loyal, enthusiastic and popular.

That Saturday night, he went to a couple of birthday parties. He was in high spirits and there was plenty of drink available. Sometime after 2am, having failed to find a lift, Thomas seems to have decided to head home on foot. He called a few friends and his younger brother on his mobile between 2.30am and 3.30am. Just two of them answered. His final call was to a friend whom he asked to pick him up. Thomas managed only to explain that it was cold and he was on foot before his phone died.

At around 6.50am, a train was heading north-east through Vidor into the shooting light a hunting term for the dawn light that illuminates a rifle scope just enough to spot your prey. As the train ran parallel to a section of the Old Highway 90, the engineer saw someone lying face-down and motionless on the tracks. He blew the horn and slammed on the brakes but couldnt slow down in time. The train hit Thomas.

A preliminary autopsy report showed that Thomas had sustained brain injuries and a broken neck. Within two days, the Vidor police had ruled out the possibility of foul play. There were no knife or bullet wounds. It was just a tragedy, David Shows, Vidors police chief at the time, told a local news station. You know, hes walking home, he either stumbles or lays down on the tracks, gets comfortable, goes to sleep, or he fell and hit his head and was unconscious.

Thomass friends and family dont believe this. Take a nap on the tracks? Matt wasnt stupid, Zayne Simmons, one of Thomass closest friends, told me. He was found a mile from home. If he was tired, surely he would have managed to drag himself back. He hadnt even drunk that much: a toxicology report showed that he was under the legal limit (it also found trace amounts of amphetamines). And Thomas had always been afraid of trains, according to his mother and brother: he wouldnt go near the tracks unless he really had to.

The police never established where Thomas was between 3.30am, when he made his final phone call and 7am, when the train hit him.

They even organised a Christmas sale at a local petrol station that included a visit from Klana Klaus

Among those close to Thomas, another explanation emerged. His friends recounted how, earlier that autumn, Thomas was hanging out with some other football players when a group of men from the Compound drove by, looking to settle a score with one of Thomass friends.

A fence separated Thomass friends from the Compound gang. Thomas wandered over and started talking to them. A friend who was there says one of the Compound men called Thomas a n----r and flexed his biceps, showing off an extremist tattoo. You know what fucking town youre in, the man said to Thomas, according to the friend, and insinuated that hed be back to deal with Thomas. The stand-off ended when the police arrived. Two weeks later, Thomas was dead.

Thomass family attempted to pursue its own investigation after the police wrote off his death as an accident. Shows told me that Theyre barking up the wrong tree. But they followed up a number of leads. We had names and we had a story that made sense, just from people coming to us and confiding in us about what they had heard or what they knew, Thomass brother Mike told me.

Thomass stepfather, who was well-connected in Vidor, learned of a voicemail that someone linked to a white-supremacist gang had reportedly left for another associate: We put him on the tracks and left him there. Thomass stepfather told the police about this, and even brought the person who said theyd heard the message to the station, but the police didnt follow up.

Klan members offered children $50 to beat up their black neighbours

There are also rumours among Thomass friends that a surveillance video captured at a convenience store that evening showed Thomas getting into an argument with a group, one of whom appears to be the man who threatened Thomas weeks earlier. The Vidor police files dont mention this. Eventually someone who knew this man felt that she could no longer keep quiet. She told Thomass family that shed overheard him bragging at a party that he was part of a group that had driven into Thomas with a vehicle and left him on the railway tracks.

Sometime after Thomas died, the man was sent to prison (his conviction had nothing to do with Thomas). He is now out of jail. When I spoke to him by phone, he said that the police had questioned him about Thomass death, but he was never formally interviewed. He said that he had never met Thomas and did not know who he was before he died. He didnt remember picking a fight at a footballers house.

The man said he didnt know what had happened to Thomas, but he was sure it had nothing to do with race. Vidor wasnt racist and neither was he. Since getting out of jail he has covered up his white-supremacist tattoos. These symbols and his association with a neo-Nazi gang had nothing to do with racism, he said: It was just something I was brought up in. He hoped someone would come forward with information about Thomass death. But if it were couched as a racist crime, he said, Everybody is going to shut up and go inside their house and they arent going to say nothing.

Thomas was one of only two black students in his year. He represented Vidors hopes for racial co-existence. But as time went by, his classmates began to perceive his death as racially motivated because, as David Bolinger, one of his closest friends, said, We all know what town we lived in. Bolinger also realised that Vidors history prevented its institutions from confronting racist behaviour. People thought, If we investigate this, we put ourselves 30 years back in the past. So lets just [say], Ok, he fell asleep on the tracks, were just going to go with it.

In the period of activism that followed the death of George Floyd, Jessie Fowler, another of Thomass friends, spied an opportunity to re-examine what happened. He put out a call on Facebook for new information and approached the police. A petition to reopen the case was posted on, a campaigning platform. This was a chance, Thomass brother said, for the people of Vidor to show that they cared enough about this black citizen.

Fowler called every day for two weeks before he was finally put through to a police detective. He told me that the detective initially seemed interested, particularly about Thomass stand-off with the Aryan Brotherhood, which wasnt mentioned in the original police file. He could follow up leads, he said, but he couldnt reopen the investigation unless new evidence emerged. Fowler gave him the phone numbers of 12 people to call. The detective talked to one of Thomass friends for hours. None of the other friends heard from him.


It was once a KKK stronghold. Last year BLM came to town - The Economist

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Three Longhorns were selected on Day 3 of the NFL draft, bringing the total number Texas draftees to five. – San Antonio Express-News05.06.21

AUSTIN - Three Longhorns were selected Saturday on Day 3 of the NFL draft, bringing the total number of Texas draftees to five.

First up was defensive tackle TaQuon Graham, who went to the Atlanta Falcons in the fifth round (148th overall).

The feeling was amazing, Graham said during a Zoom call with reporters. Its something that you definitely dream about as a kid and for it to finally come true and to hear those words that theyre going to use a pick on you, its just crazy. I automatically started breaking down and it got really emotional really fast.

Graham is a 6-3, 292-pound interior lineman who could really help teams in the run-stopping game. He started 22 consecutive games at tackle over the past two seasons, recording 54 tackles (28 solo), 19.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks. He earned honorable mention All-Big 12 recognition in 2020 and was also a member of the academic All-Big 12 team.

My head is everywhere, Graham said. Its something you thought might have been out of reach at a point in time, but for you to go out there and get your dream, its crazy. I dared to dream, and Im glad that I did.

A few minutes after Graham went off the board, the Denver Broncos selected Texas safety Caden Sterns in the fifth round (152nd overall).

This whole process, its a little bit frustrating sitting there, waiting, Sterns said Saturday during a Zoom call with reporters. But Im thankful. Im glad to be a part of the program and to be a Denver Bronco.

Dubbed The Wolf of DKR by erstwhile Longhorns recruiting director Bryan Carrington, Sterns and his howling wolf tattoo became immediate stars at Texas. Sterns was named Big 12 defensive freshman of the year and earned an All-Big 12 first-team nod after racking up 62 tackles, four picks, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack and a blocked kicked in 13 starts.

The things I do well is my range, Sterns said. Im versatile as well. An inconsistency of mine is tackling. Its something Im definitely working on all the time. Thats something I need to clean up for me to become a complete safety.

The Steele graduate appeared in 16 games (15 starts) as a sophomore and junior, but never recaptured the precocious magic he displayed in 2018. Bad luck played some role in that as Sterns dealt with knee, ankle and toe injuries - he underwent knee surgery in March 2019 - though even when healthy the Wolf appeared defanged at times.

Sterns recorded 111 tackles, four pass deflections, 1.0 sack and one interception as a sophomore and junior. That underwhelming production caused him to slip to Day 3, though Sterns explosive pro day (42-inch vertical, 4.40 40-yard dash) proved hes still one of the most athletic defensive backs in this draft class.

Sterns also served as a team captain last season and was at the forefront of pushing for social justice reform on campus. And the San Antonio native helped launch a fundraiser to aid the San Antonio Food Bank during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I understand things happen in the draft process, Sterns said. Im thankful for the Broncos taking a chance on me, so Im gonna give them everything I got and play my role.

Later Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts used a compensatory pick to select Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger in the sixth round (218th overall). Hes the seventh Texas quarterback drafted since 1950 and the first since Colt McCoy in 2010.

It was like Christmas morning, Ehlinger said during a Zoom call. Not knowing where I was gonna go, but understanding that I did have a good chance of going somewhere was something I was looking forward to. You never really know, but I always had a good feeling about the Colts.

Ehlinger just completed one of the most prolific careers in school history.

Among Texas quarterbacks he ranks second to only Colt McCoy in completions (923), passing yards (11,436), total offense (13,343), passing touchdowns (94), and total touchdowns responsible for (127). The 6-foot-3 power-running quarterback also ranks second among Longhorns quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns (33) and third in rushing yards (1,907).

It was certainly a longtime coming, Ehlinger said of all the waiting. It can be very easy to let anxious emotions or nervous emotions or disappointment creep up on you, but that was nothing that came upon me. Luckily I have incredible friends and family that were keeping me in the right state of mind.

Ehlinger finished his career 4-0 in postseason bowls and started 37 straight games despite suffering a variety of injuries. Ehlingers brightest moment came during Texas win over No. 5 Georgia in the 2018 Sugar Bowl, when he accounted for 241 yards of total offense with three rushing touchdowns.

Now the Austin Westlake product will join a Colts team led by 28-year-old quarterback Carson Wentz, who Ehlinger said hes eager to learn from.

I'm looking forward to just learning and playing it professional level, learning what it takes to be successful, Ehlinger said. What better guy than Carson Wentz to be able to learn from. It's truly an unbelievable opportunity and something I've always been dreaming of.

Twitter: @NRMoyle

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Three Longhorns were selected on Day 3 of the NFL draft, bringing the total number Texas draftees to five. - San Antonio Express-News

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