Lone Star Welcome

It was the kind of "welcome" that Texas will probably not feature in its next tourism campaign. A riot squad burst into the cells of a group of Missouri inmates who had just arrived at a Texas jail and began beating them viciously. What’s happening to America’s men in blue? The background to the incident is that Missouri’s prison system is severely overcrowded. Like many states, Missouri sends some of its prisoners to states that have excess jail and prison space. On September 18, 1996, a group of Missouri inmates arrived at the county jail in Brazoria, Texas. A few hours later, jail deputies entered their cells, ostensibly searching for drugs. And that’s when the attack took place. "Welcome to Texas," hollered a deputy. He ordered the inmates to get out of their bunks and crawl on their bellies like snakes. Deputies cursed at the inmates, kicked them in the groin, zapped them with stun guns, and even set German Shepherds on them. Unbelievably, the attack on the prisoners was videotaped and used for training purposes. An inmate suing the jail obtained the tape, and when it became public last month, lawmakers in both Texas and Missouri were outraged. Tragically, the attack on the Missouri prisoners is not an isolated case of police brutality: On the very day the Texas story broke, the headlines exposed another brutal story of police power run amok. In this instance, New York police officers were accused of sodomizing a suspect with a toilet plunger. The suspect was so badly wounded that he was hospitalized. The four officers involved have been indicted. Now, it’s easy to dismiss these atrocities as the vicious work of a few bad cops. But the real cause is much deeper: These acts of official brutality have their roots in America’s loss of a moral vision. When we talk about the decline of morality, we’re usually thinking of disorder in the streets. But we often forget that the loss of morality also afflicts those in power as well. The result is order without morality—and that means brutal, arbitrary force. We all want safety in the streets. But if the police themselves are not governed by a moral vision, we can expect to see more and more abuses like the ones in Texas and New York. Remember, two of this century’s worst tyrants are remembered, in part, for their willingness to use ruthless force to impose order. It was said of Hitler that he kept order in the streets, and of Mussolini that he kept the trains running on time. When we shudder over stories of police brutality, we have to help our neighbors understand that it’s not just the result of a few, isolated bad apples. It’s the result of a loss of moral vision. It’s what happens when the moral vision is gone and law is enforced by naked power alone. The result is tyranny. America must regain its moral vision to protect us not only from crime in the streets, but also from abuses at the hands of those in power.


Chuck Colson


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