Botham Shem Jean was murdered in his apartment by a police officer, and the most exculpatory account for her actions — that she mistakenly believed she was in her own home – is highly damning. Dallas police subsequently leaked the claim that Jean possessed a small amount of marijuana in his home in a blatant attempt to tarnish his image and retroactively justify the murder.
Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke has denounced this incident as an example of racial injustice in policing, of which there is overwhelming evidence exists on a wide scale. (Radley Balko recently compiled a vast store of rigorous evidence of the criminal justice system mistreating African-Americans.) O’Rourke’s opponent, Ted Cruz, who is attempting to paint him as a left-wing radical, tweeted a short clip of O’Rourke denouncing Jean’s murder during a town hall at the Good Street Baptist Church in Dallas:
From Cruz’s point of view, the clip is damning of his opponent. It is not clear precisely which part of O’Rourke’s argument he disagrees with — that it’s wrong for police to murder an innocent person in their home? That it was wrong for them to release the claim that the murder victim had some pot in his house? That O’Rourke opposes the killings of unarmed black men in general?
Cruz has not taken issue with any of these specific points on the campaign trail. Instead he has tended to dissolve the issue into a broader question of respect for the police, which he displays with his characteristic smarm. Nowhere in this clip does O’Rourke attack the police in general, dispute the need for effective policing, or insist that all or most officers are racist.
The element that Cruz considers damning is O’Rourke campaigning against police injustice (even a very clear one) before a heavily black audience. Cruz understands that his victory requires overwhelming support and turnout from whites, and he believes that if his opponent is seen as representing African-Americans and their dismay with the system, it will cause a white backlash from which he will benefit.
This is not Trump-style overt racism. It is old-fashioned conservative wink-and-nod Willie Horton racism, leading the audience toward the desired conclusion without shouting it out for them like Trump does.
There have been innumerable attempts to show how Trump managed to take over the GOP, and why figures like Cruz, an avatar for the intellectual vanguard of the conservative movement’s elite, adapted themselves to his takeover so easily.