The blogosphere went wild last Friday when it was discovered that Texas Department of Public Safety troopers were confiscating tampons from women trying to watch the final Senate debate on extreme anti-abortion legislation at the Capitol in Austin. Then DPS officials said they had also stopped citizens from bringing more than a dozen containers with “suspected” feces and urine inside the Capitol. Religious-right groups and politicians latched on to that claim in their efforts to attack pro-choice activists. “My constituents don’t bring feces, urine, used tampons and bricks to throw at DPS,” state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said in one sneering tweet.
But did pro-choice activists really try to bring containers of feces and urine into the Capitol to throw at DPS troopers (or anybody else)?
Today state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, posted on Facebook her concerns about the claim:
Interesting. I sent a letter to DPS on July 15 in an effort to get more information regarding the report of suspected urine/feces being brought to the capitol during the hearing on HB2. Though KVUE reports that they received DPS’ response to my letter yesterday, I have yet to receive the response myself. This is the closing statement in my letter: “I am troubled that inaccurately distributed information may unfairly and unfavorably portray the thousands of citizens who legitimately and lawfully exercised their right of democratic participation–particularly since no evidence has been shown to substantiate the allegations related to these ‘suspicious jars.'”
The Texas Tribune has more about the DPS response to Rep. Howard’s letter:
In a letter to state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said that some visitors to the Senate gallery did attempt to bring jars of feces and urine inside during Friday’s debate on an omnibus abortion bill.
McCraw’s letter is a response to one that Howard sent Monday, in which she asked, among other things, for documentation of the actions. In response to that specific query, McCraw says that suspicious items were not confiscated and that people could store them outside the gallery or throw them in trash bags.
DPS did not take the names of anyone caught trying to bring feces, urine or other forbidden items inside the gallery, the letter reads, because “no crime had been committed, and it would be unreasonable to document names of visitors based on what they might or might not do.”
DPS officers interviewed by The Texas Tribune on Friday said they had not seen any feces or urine themselves, with several saying the interview was the first time they had heard of people trying to bring either item inside the gallery.
So let’s see if we’ve got this right. DPS troopers suspected that numerous people were trying to sneak bodily wastes into the Capitol to protest legislation, but they arrested no one and kept no evidence? Really? (And we’ve seen no evidence that backs up Rep. Toth’s claim that protesters brought those and other things into the Capitol to throw at DPS troopers.)
DPS troopers have been praised for their efforts to maintain order and protect visitors and lawmakers during last week’s emotion-filled protests and debate. We join others in applauding them. Our experience was that troopers largely acted professionally in a tense environment. If some individuals did plan to attack DPS troopers (or anyone else) with bodily wastes, bricks or whatever, that would be deplorable.
But like Rep. Howard, we’re troubled by the lack of evidence behind these charges. If there’s evidence to back up these claims, we will join others in condemning those who are guilty. But some on the right are using these unsubstantiated claims to discredit and defame the many citizens who were lawfully speaking out against government restrictions on the ability of women to decide whether and when to have children. That’s also deplorable.