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A removed statue dredges up racism against blacks, Latinos in Texas Rangers' history

"Texas Rangers have a long history of suppressing civil rights movements throughout the 20th century, using force, violence and intimidation," says historian Monica Muñoz Martinez.

A 12-foot statue of Texas Rangers Capt. Jay Banks that stood in a Dallas airport as a towering tribute to the state's investigative force is now hidden away — while officials ponder whether it has become a symbol of police brutality.

The statue of Banks, a Texas Ranger in the 1950s, was pulled from its perch at Dallas Love Field Airport late last week as protests over the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer continued in America's streets.

The removal of the statue was prompted in part by local officials' reactions to the book "Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers" by Doug J. Swanson.

The book, to be released Tuesday, tells of racial incidents involving the Rangers, including Banks' role in keeping black students from enrolling at a Dallas-area high school and at a community college in East Texas.

The move to re-examine the Rangers' history of racially motivated policing comes as a national uprising is taking place over the failure to hold law officers accountable for brutal and at times lethal enforcement.

"It was long overdue," said Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who tried to get the statue removed in the early 1990s when he served as a Dallas City Council member. A statue of Adelfa Callejo, a civil rights leader believed to be the Dallas area's first Latina leader, was supposed to have replaced it this year, but it was put elsewhere amid opposition.

The statue of a Texas Ranger was taken down at Dallas' Love Field Airport on Thursday, June 4, 2020, after the controversial past of the man depicted in the statue came to light.Dallas City Hall

The statue's removal stunned some in Texas, where the Rangers hold a lofty place but whose history of perpetrating sanctioned racial violence, particularly against Mexican Americans, has recently gotten greater exposure.

Swanson's book includes a photo of Banks leaning against a tree while a black figure hangs in effigy at the entrance of the school, an image getting wider recognition with news of the statue's removal. Unlike officers sent to escort black children into white schools, the Rangers, led by Banks, were there to keep the black children out, Swanson wrote in an excerpt published by D magazine.

Swanson says that Banks "saw no need to remove the effigy or disperse the mob" and that Banks wrote that the people protesting the children's enrollment were "salt of the earth citizens" who were "concerned because they were convinced that someone was trying to interfere with their way of life."

A spokesman for Dallas' mayor told The Dallas Morning News that the mayor was unaware of the decision and that he and the council would likely weigh in on the removal. The statue is stored for now.

The Department of Public Safety said in a statement to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth that it is aware that "the city of Dallas has elected to remove a Texas Ranger statue from the Love Field Airport, which they have the authority to do."

"We remain committed to the mission of protecting and serving the community and people of Dallas," the agency said.

'Unsettling figure to be venerating'

Historian Monica Muñoz Martinez chronicled the Texas Rangers' violence against Mexican Americans in her 2018 book, "The Injustice Never Leaves You."

She said that, like Confederacy statues, Texas Ranger statues and memorials were erected "to intimidate racial minorities" at times when they pushed for more rights. The Banks statue dates to 1963. A monument to Terry's Texas Rangers, a regiment of the Confederacy, has stood on the Texas Capitol grounds since 1907, Muñoz Martinez noted.

"The Texas Rangers statues have been used as icons, not only as memorialization, but in policing, to quash and destabilize movements that were for civil rights," Muñoz Martinez said.

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The Ranger statue that greeted travelers and visitors to Dallas Love Field, which exuded an image of frontier bravado and cowboy culture, included the Rangers' motto, "One Riot, One Ranger" — the tribute to the idea that Rangers can get the job done. But it also assumes that the people who are "rioting" are lawless and should be suppressed, Muñoz Martinez said.

Banks is an "unsettling figure to be venerating," and he isn't a figure the state should be celebrating if it's going to advance democracy and civil rights, she said.

Massacre haunts Rangers' mythic past

The Rangers, an integral part of the state's public safety infrastructure, are often called in to lead independent investigations. They opened an investigation of the Midland County Sheriff's Office and one involving a Hays County constable and his staff in February. They were called in to investigate the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs in 2017.

The Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco touts the Hispanic and Native Americans who served as Rangers in the mid-1800s. Although the Rangers have had a spotty record over the decades in hiring blacks, Latinos and women, there are minority members who are proud of the group's work and look to them with respect.

But the Rangers hold a difficult place in Texas' Mexican American history and among some of the state's Latinos. Mexican Americans such as García, who grew up with stories of the Rangers' violence, say they've had to try to reconcile it with the Rangers' image as the state's "elite" law enforcement group enshrined and honored in books, media, museums and statues.

García spent his young life in Porvenir, Texas, where, in 1918, the Rangers and U.S. cavalry soldiers pulled 15 Mexican American men and boys from their beds and shot and killed them at a nearby bluff, emptying their guns into their bodies on the ground. They returned the next day and burned down the village.

The Rangers had been hunting García's great-grandfather Chico Cano. Families from the village fled to Mexico and later returned, but they lost land because of the Rangers' raid, García said.

"To the Latino community, the Rangers have been almost a terrorist organization," García said. "Porvenir is something my tíos [uncles] and tías [aunts] always talked about. They were terrified about the Texas Rangers."

The iconic statue of a Texas Ranger was taken down from Dallas Love Field Airport on Thursday, June 4, 2020, after the controversial past of the man depicted in the statue came to light.Dallas City Hall

A congressional investigation of the Porvenir massacre and other violence by the Rangers lasted weeks and resulted in a 1,600-page report full of evidence of their brutality. No one was prosecuted, and some of the Rangers who were fired went on to be sheriffs, deputies or prison guards.

"The failure to hold the police officers accountable in 1919 allowed that violent cult of policing to continue in local communities," Muñoz Martínez said. "Some went on to shape the Border Patrol. The captain of the Texas Ranger company that orchestrated the Porvenir massacre was fired and rehired later."

In the 1950s, the governor directed the Texas Rangers to run the NAACP out of town when it was in Texas to investigate lynchings. Later, the Rangers were used to prevent integration, said John Morán Gonzáles, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas.

Rangers were also used to bust unions and intervene in Chicano Movement protests, Morán González said.

Morán Gonzáles is part of the Refusing to Forget project, which was formed to bring to the public consciousness state-sanctioned violence against Mexican Americans through law enforcement.

With the Texas Rangers' bicentennial coming up in 2023, Muñoz Martinez said, it's important to put their history in proper context.

"Texas Rangers have a long history of suppressing civil rights movements throughout the 20th century, using force, violence and intimidation. ... Questioning the word 'riot' here [in the statue] is as important as it is to question why the police show up to protests today in riot gear, assuming protesters are dangerous or wrong and shouldn't be exercising constitutional rights to organize for social justice," she said.

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