A STUNNING RESIGNATION
Shortly after lunchtime, on first of March, Sheriff White called up Mike Clore, his chief deputy, and announced that he was quitting. Immediately.
“I could tell there was urgency in his voice,” Clore says, “and he said that he was going to resign for personal reasons. The reasons had nothing to do with his work. He has things that he has to deal with and he felt he couldn’t do that while doing his job.”
““I like Chris,” County Judge Steve Young told the local paper. “He was a good sheriff; we are going to miss him. He had just taken the oath in January.”
Pretty much everybody seems to like Chris White. I’d probably like him too, if I knew him. But I don’t know him.
Unfortunately, certain things need saying.
White’s resignation caught everyone in Milam County off guard. He won 66% of the vote in a three-man primary race, and ran unopposed in the 2020 election. A week before stepping down, White had been on television talking about a train-semi-trailer collision that garnered national attention. He seemed relaxed and in charge.
When public officials step down, they typically announce they won’t be seeking another term, or, at the very least, they give their co-workers a few weeks of transition time. White just flat quit. If he had been Texas governor, or the mayor of Houston, the media would have asked about the “personal reasons” that sparked his abrupt departure. But White was sheriff of a County of 25,000 people. His non-explanation was taken at face value.
The ex-sheriff doesn’t need anybody poking around in his business. He just wants to be left alone to pick up the pieces of whatever is broken.
A LEGAL TRAVESTY IN REVIEW
I wish I could honor that desire. But I can’t. I have another man to think about. A man who has served eleven years of a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Whatever Chris White is dealing with, it’s nothing compared with the horror Shaun Cooks wakes up to every morning.
If you have been following this series of articles, you know the details and you can just forward ahead to section III. If you are new to the story, a quick survey of the salient facts will have to suffice.
Chris White was just a sheriff’s deputy when he made a fateful traffic stop in the early morning hours of December 20, 2009. White admitted on the witness stand that he had no reason to pull Shaun Cooks over. The man wasn’t breaking any laws. But he was riding with two white girls and a white baby. And, it turned out, he had missed a pre-trial hearing in another case. Which meant that, if he showed White his license, he would be arrested on the spot.
So, he ran. And White pursued. At speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. After an eighteen-minute chase, Shaun realized he wasn’t going to outrun the deputy. Knowing that confrontations between White police officers and young Black males often end badly, Shaun wanted to separate himself from his passengers so they wouldn’t become collateral damage. If he was lucky, he could hop a nearby fence and disappear into the night. He grew up in this region and knew it intimately. Stopping his car by the side of the road, Cooks ran across the field. White pursued in his patrol car, reaching the fence just as Cooks was poised to clamber over it.
Then things get fuzzy. At trial, White testified that Cooks tried to run away, but tripped and plunged face-first into the muddy field. In this version of events, as White stood over Cooks, the suspect rolled onto his back and fired two shots at point blank range. White fired his Taser, and retreated behind his patrol car. There, he called for backup. When he saw Cooks running back toward where his abandoned car, White fired two shots at Cooks, the suspect fell as second time, and White waited for back-up to arrive.
Shaun Sayers, an officer with the Hearne Police Department, made the arrest and dozens of other officers from Milam and Robertson counties arrived on the scene. The officers visited with White for the better part of an hour as they waited for investigator Jay Beathard to arrive from Cameron. White told them his story. Since the suspect was unarmed at the time of arrest, a futile search ensued for the missing gun.
Beathard discovered the gun moments after his arrival. It was lying in plain sight, right next to the fence, exactly where the other officers had been searching with their high-powered flashlights. The recovered gun was inoperable due to a “stovepipe” jam, which explains why officer White was still alive.
When I spoke by phone with the arresting officer, he told me White appeared to be frozen in indecision as the suspect was running next to the fence. White testified that he fired two shots after a fleeing Cooks. The arresting officer insists that no shots were fired.
When Cooks, post-arrest, was waiting in a police car, an EMS tech arrived from Cameron to remove a taser barb from his back, which means White didn’t fire his Taser after Cooks rolled to face him; he fired it while Cooks was trying to flee.
White admits he never saw a gun, he simply heard shots fired. He says he can’t remember firing his Taser. This suggests that White could also have fired his side arm, before or after discharging the Taser. I have suggested that White didn’t just forget that he fired his Taser; he had no clear recollection of the entire encounter. Trial witnesses reported that he appeared to be coming off “an adrenaline dump” when they arrived on the scene.
Although White’s dashcam was pointed into a farmer’s field, the audio portion of the episode, right up to the point where Investigator Beathard arrived on the scene, was captured because White forgot to shut off the dashcam. This means that portions of the conversation between the dozen-or-so officers who answered White’s APB are recorded. White and Beathard used a spurious legal argument to ensure that neither Cooks nor the jury heard that audio tape. I want to know why?
Two shell casings from White’s weapon were discovered at the scene; no casings were found from the gun attributed to the Cooks.
Most damning of all, standard forensic protocols were ignored. The suspect’s hands weren’t dusted for gunshot residue. The gun wasn’t dusted for GSR or for fingerprints. As every munitions expert knows, a stovepipe jam prevents the next round from reaching the chamber, and yet trial testimony clearly indicates that a fresh round had been chambered. This almost certainly means that the spent shell was inserted in the gun after the fact.
My guess is that standard forensic tests were run on the weapon; but they turned up embarrassing and inconvenient facts. It is inconceivable that, given the facts of this case, the weapon would go untested.
The weapon presented at trial was traced to a resident of Hearne, Texas, a community just two miles from the altercation between White and Cooks. No attempt was made to trace the gun from its owner to Cooks. The most likely scenario is that an officer with the Hearne Police Department, or the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office, planted the gun shortly before Jay Beathard arrived to do his investigation. Since the weapon was hiding in plain sight, why did the initial search come up empty?
I am not suggesting that Chris White (or Jay Beathard) planted the gun at the scene, but somebody did. And an experienced officer like White had to know that. Early on, perhaps, he didn’t care. I suspect he sincerely believed that shots had been fired in his direction even if the details were fuzzy. He had feared for his life. And he feared the suspect would evade serious prison time.
White probably thought the fifteen-year plea agreement initially offered to Cooks fit the crime pretty well. That’s why he dropped by Cooks’ cell and urged him to take the deal. If a few corners had been cut to achieve a rough kind of justice, so be it.
But Cooks refused to take the plea. That late in the game, White couldn’t derail the legal process without implicating himself and his fellow officers. His primary loyalty was to his friends, not to a random suspect with a prison record. That was true for everyone associated with this case. You couldn’t draw attention to the obvious flaws in the investigation without placing careers in jeopardy.
The wrongful conviction of Shaun Cooks required the active or passive participation of virtually every public official in Milam County. The sheriff’s department, the district attorney who prosecuted the case, the presiding judge signed off on the particulars. Two defense attorneys failed, in the most embarrassing fashion imaginable, to defend their client. The attorney assigned to write Cooks’ appeal was Bill Torrey, the conservative Republican currently serving as District Attorney of Milam County. Torrey filed an Anders brief, suggesting that there were no issues on which his client could appeal. A credible attorney would have successfully attacked every aspect of the case on simple procedural grounds.
But I want to focus on Chris White. Why did a respected lawman place sign off on a travesty of this magnitude? To answer this question, we will the portions of White’s social world that are open to public scrutiny.
THE CORRUPTING INFLUENCE OF JOHN PASCHALL
Chris White spent the first decade of his law enforcement career with the Hearne Police Department, an agency I have called “the most corrupt police force in Texas”. The corruption at the heart of the Hearne Police Department was thoroughly exposed by the ACLU’s investigation into the Derrick Megress case. Organizational culture is typically a function of leadership, and, in Robertson County during the years under consideration, John Paschall was the only leader who mattered. Even if you never met the man personally, if you worked with the Hearne PD, Paschall set the tone.
In theory, the office of the district attorney and county law enforcement are distinct and separate entities. In Paschall’s Robertson County, local police departments, especially in Hearne, functioned as agents of John Paschall. I have discussed Paschall’s paramilitary tactics previously, and the 2008 film American Violet accurately chronicles the racist contours of his authoritarian regime. Twice, he was driven from office by scandal, but he was always able to claw his way back.
Paschall’s political philosophy was much like Donald Trump’s: appeal to the racist tendencies of your base and they will follow you anywhere. The portions of Robertson and Milam counties bordering the Brazos River formed the heart of a Texas plantation system that, prior to 1865, enriched a small portion of the white community through the commodification of Black bodies. Following the Civil War, this system gave way to the tenant farm system in which Black and poor white farmers labored on behalf of a small, prosperous elite. When the tenant farm system gave way to corporate agriculture, small towns like Hearne (in Robertson County) and Cameron (in Milam) received an influx of ex-sharecroppers. Good jobs were scarce. Poverty was rife. Gradually, crime rates rose. The primary job of law enforcement was to clamp down hard on this population whenever social deprivation produced underground economies of one sort or another.
As we have seen, Shaun Cooks came of age in this system. So did Chris White. There is no indication that White had direct contact with Paschall during his years on the force. But the Hearne PD functioned as an occupying force with a laser focus on poor Black neighborhoods, and the manipulation of confidential informants and the production of tainted evidence were common strategies. Even if White steered clear of the worst abuses, he was surrounded by the kind of corruption exposed by the investigation into the Megress case. That case was no anomaly; drug roundups grounded in questionable informant testimony were an annual affair in Hearne.
When Chris White became Milam County Sheriff in 2018, his office began advertising for confidential informants. Essentially, White was offering cash in exchange for snitch testimony. There is no indication that White ever developed the elaborate network of snitches that Paschall employed in Robertson County, but he had to know that information obtained through bribery is inherently unreliable. I can’t link to the snitch advertisement White published on his personal Facebook page because, since his sudden resignation, he has, understandably, withdrawn from social media.
White was fresh out of the police academy when he signed on with the Hearne PD in the mid-1990s. This takes on a troubling relevance when we consider the crime scene the night Shaun Cooks was arrested. Most of the cops who responded to White’s call for back-up were from Robertson County, and the arrest was made by White’s old buddy, Shawn Sayers, an officer with the Hearne PD. Sayers, in turn, was best friends with Phil “Red” Crowell, the man who taught Derrick Megress how to create fake drug evidence and intimidated Hearne shop owners who displayed an advertisement for a local showing of American Violet. In late 2009, seven years after White left the Hearne PD, Paschall was still calling the shots in Robertson County. It is possible, in fact, that White was looking for Shaun Cooks on December 20, 2009 because the Hearne PD asked him to.
The officers who raced to the assistance of Chris White inhabited a police culture accustomed to the manipulation of evidence and testimony. Officer White knew these people. When he said shots had been fired in his direction, they believed him. That’s why they searched for the weapon. Imagine their frustration when no weapon appeared. When Jay Beathard discovered a firearm precisely where these officers, without any difficulty whatsoever, precisely where these officers had just been searching, everyone understood the nature of the game being played. White looked the other way, a skill he developed during his years with the Hearne PD.
THE TEXAS NATIONALIST MOVEMENT
You may have heard the joke, “I didn’t grow up in America; I was raised in Texas.” Native Texans don’t see Texas as just one state among many. Texas is special. Texas, in the eyes of many, is a distinct nation. The phenomenon known as “Texas nationalism” lives on a continuum. Some just see Texas residence as more significant than American citizenship. At the other end of the spectrum are those who want Texas to formally secede from the United States. In a 2009 poll, 60% of Texans surveyed had no interest in Texas Succession (popularly known as “Texit”), but 48% of Republicans supported the idea. In rural counties like Milam, support for Texit is probably the dominant view, at least among Republicans. Whether they would actually vote for this radical option is unclear; but they get a kick out of talking about it.
The Taxes nationalist impulse lies at the heart of the legislative agenda currently being pursued in the Texas Legislature. Republicans are scandalized by a “revisionist history” that suggests that the Republic of Texas was created in 1836 because Mexico had abolished slavery and the “Texians” wanted to keep their slaves. The idea that Texas began as a slave state, was welcomed into the Union as a slave state, and gladly joined the Confederacy to preserve its peculiar institution, is abhorrent to Texas nationalists. In their view, Texas was created in opposition to the tyranny of Santa Anna. Texas, they say, was founded on the principle of individual freedom.
If you watch John Wayne playing Davy Crockett in The Alamo, you would believe that too, but that movie, like so much of the Western genre, exists in the realm of fantasy. Section 9 of Constitution of the Republic of Texas left little doubt that human bondage was an essential feature of Texas freedom:
All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude… Congress shall pass no laws to prohibit emigrants from bringing their slaves into the republic with them, and holding them by the same tenure by which such slaves were held in the United States; nor shall congress have the power to emancipate slaves; nor shall any slave holder be allowed to emancipate his or her slave without the consent of congress, unless he or she shall send his or her slave or slaves without the limits of the republic.
Texas nationalists don’t necessarily deny that Texas was a slave state prior to 1865; they just don’t want to talk about it. The movement doesn’t overtly embrace white supremacy; in fact, Black and Hispanic Texans who embrace the core tenets of Texas nationalism are welcomed, even celebrated. For instance, Allen West, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is Black and much of his appeal resides in that fact. But few people of color are attracted to a movement that writes them out of history. Black police officers can rise in the ranks if they endorse the prevailing orthodoxy.
Support for Texit is readily apparent on the Milam County Republican Facebook page, largely as an expression of frustration with the status quo. Similarly, support for gun rights is best understood as an expression of defiance. This could be seen during the most recent election year when scores of Texas counties declared themselves Second Amendment Sanctuary counties where federal gun laws would not be enforced.
When White was asked if he was willing to support making Milam County part of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement, he expressed strong support on his Facebook page. “The Milam County Sheriff’s Office believes in the right to keep and bear arms as well as the keeping of a well regulated militia to protect against a tyrannical government,” White said. “I pray that God would bless and protect us, and protect our Republic against the mobs or politicians that are working to take [the right to bear arms] away.”
When a Sheriff endorses popular revolt against “tyrannical government,” dismisses the Black Lives Matter movement as a “mob” and refers to Texas as “our Republic” (something it hasn’t been for 176 years) you get a pretty good idea where he is coming from.
In another post, White shared a meme arguing that “the number of hunters in the state of Texas would be the largest standing army in the world by itself.” For this reason, the shared article asserted, “America will forever be safe from foreign (and domestic) invasion with that kind of home-grown firepower.” Hunting, therefore “isn’t just a way to fill the freezer. It’s a matter of national security. That’s why all enemies, foreign and domestic, want to see us disarmed.”
WHITE CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM
In places like Milam County, the Texas nationalist movement walks hand-in-hand with White Christian Nationalism. The basic idea is that America is a nation uniquely chosen by God. The US Constitution takes on a biblical authority because “the framers” were being guided by Judeo-Christian principles whether or not they identified as orthodox Christians.
Christian nationalism appeals primarily to White people because, like Texas nationalism, it ignores the inconvenient details of America’s racial history. The centuries-long massacre of the native population may have been regrettable, but it was unavoidable. Similarly, slavery and Jim Crow segregation are treated as historical footnotes not worthy of serious consideration. Racism is viewed as a spiritual problem that would disappear if everyone just “gave their hearts to Jesus”.
White Christian nationalism is a standard feature of the preaching Chris White has been exposed to since moving to Cameron, Texas in 2002. His pastor, Brother Wayne Kirk, preaches from The American Patriot’s Bible, a Christian nationalist publication which, according to Greg Boyd’s review in Christianity Today, attaches divine authority to “an idealized version of American history” by “weaving it into the biblical narrative.”
“As God fought on the side of the Israelites to ensure victory over their foes,” Boyd’s review continues, “so God’s providential hand was at work in all of America’s military victories. And just as God used the children of Abraham to bless the whole world, so God has used, and wants to continue to use, America to bless the entire world by bringing it freedom.”
On August 22, 2020, Brother Wayne rallied the troops in advance of the presidential election. Red, white and blue bunting adorned the altar. A sign proclaimed that “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God then we will be a nation gone under.”
It was two months after the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests were still erupting across the nation.
“Well, we’ve been blowing the trumpet for four weeks now, blowing the trumpet, standing on the wall,” Brother Wayne told his flock. “You know why? Because the enemy’s on the march, beloved . . . The walls of freedom and decency and morality are being stormed in a way in America that’s unprecedented . . . And we, God’s people, must be willing to stem the tide of immorality and ungodliness and rebellion and anarchy in this nation . . . We don’t have a lot of time. What, less than a hundred days now to the election.”
Next, Brother Wayne tackled the fraught subject of abortion, decrying the mass slaughter of infants since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. (He didn’t tell his people that the abortion rate is currently lower than it was prior to that court decision.) Instead, he suggested that the folks in Cameron’s two retirement communities would soon be slaughtered by the government so money could be freed up for “the green new deal.”
Next, the preacher inveighed against gay marriage. It was being “promoted in our schools,” he declared, because “they want to sound the death knell of the biblical family in America and our children and our grandchildren are the targets of their big guns.”
Next, Brother Wayne stood up for Israel. According to the tenets of Christian nationalism, America and Israel are equally God’s chosen nations. Until quite recently, Brother Wayne believes, American civilization was shaped and guided by a Judeo-Christian ethos. Because Republicans want to perpetuate that legacy and Democrats hope to destroy it, victory in the culture war is essential.
As the 2020 election approached, Brother Wayne’s disgust with Democrats, liberals and Black Lives Matter protesters grew ever more intense. “Those who unashamedly mock the Word of God and the Savior who died for them are running rampant in America today,” he told his flock on August 2nd. “They flaunt their immorality. Amen. And they promote their anti-biblical lifestyles. And here we sit and we say, ‘Oh well, we’ve gotta be kind, we gotta love them’.” Brother Wayne was in no mood to love his ideological opponents. They must either be converted or silenced.
Racial resentment courses through Brother Wayne’s preaching. While paying lip service to the principle of racial equality, his scathing critique of BLM and kneeling athletes exposes a deep antipathy for the racial justice movement. Brother Wayne’s antipathy for Black athletes runs so deep that he no longer watches sports on television.
Thanks largely to the preaching of Wayne Kirk, Chris White has been exposed to a steady diet of White Christian Nationalism for two decades. When you share Brother Wayne’s most controversial sermons on Facebook (as White once did), you endorse the message.
A FANATICAL DEVOTION TO DONALD TRUMP
Like Brother Wayne Kirk, Texit supporters, and a majority of white Milam County residents, Chris White is a passionate supporter of the former president. In 2020, Trump received over 75% of the vote in Milam County. The County electorate is 61% white, 18% Latino, and 11% black. Statewide, 89% of Black voters and 67% of Latino voters supported Joe Biden. If those numbers held up in Milam County, the white vote for Trump was in the neighborhood of 90%. There are white Democrats in rural Texas but, these days, they keep their political opinions to themselves.
In his capacity as Sheriff, White helped organize a Trump Caravan that drove through Milam County towns waving MAGA banners and honking horns. It may seem highly inappropriate for a public figure to engage in partisan politics, but, in a community in which white support for the former president is sky-high and Democrats keep their mouths shut, hyper-partisanship is unsurprising.
But enthusiasm for Trump is more a symptom than a cause of authoritarianism and racial resentment. Trump was initially opposed by Fox and the Republican establishment. Conservative media outlets and the Republican Party eventually backed Trump because the Republican base gave them no choice. People loved the Forty-fifth president because he was a perfect and unfailing reflection of their views, passions, and fears.
It will not surprise you to learn that Chris White’s pastor, is an outspoken Trump supporter. In Fact, Brother Wayne Kirk may be the most pro-Trump preacher in America. In his sermon on August 2, 2020, Kirk compared the Democratic and Republican candidates. “What do they call [Trump], Type A?” he asked. “I hear he sleeps four hours a day, that’s all he sleeps. And he is rollin’, he is rollin’. And I know he can be arrogant and I know he can be proud. I know he can, but I love him, I love him.”
On July 12th, Kirk told his congregation that this was the most significant election in American history. “As I said in my newsletter this week,” he said, “I’m not going down with the blood of this nation . . . on my hands having not stood up. I might go down, but it won’t be your blood, or the nation’s blood on my hands, it might be my own spilt blood.”
At one point, pastor Kirk told his congregation that he would be fasting and praying every Wednesday until the election was over.
On November 8th, the first Sunday after Biden’s victory, Brother Wayne launched into a passionate, twenty-five-minute lamentation. I will be quoting at length from this disturbing performance because it cuts to the heart of the social reality I am describing. Although Kirk spoke confessionally because he knew his congregation shared his sorrow.
“I want to tell you about a friend this morning who has endured such wrath, vitriol, and hatred,” Kirk began. “As a matter of fact, he’s with us today.” At this point, Brother Wayne exited the pulpit, returning seconds later with a three-foot-tall cardboard cutout of Trump giving the thumbs-up sign with one hand and waving a “Trump 2020” placard in the other.
His audience broke into sustained applause. “Win or lose,” the defiant preacher declared, “he was coming to church this morning, and I don’t know if he’s lost yet, by the way.”
“He might not know me, but I know him, and I’ve watched him for a long time,” the preacher continued. “He’s endured the wrath of even some in his own political party who wouldn’t stand up for him. For over three-and-a-half years, they wouldn’t stand up for him . . . I know we’re on Facebook and YouTube, and I know we’re on the radio. I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but I’m not ashamed of Donald Trump either.”
“He was called an elitist,” the Brother Wayne continued. “He was called a white supremacist. He was lied about by the media who constantly berated him and made fun of him and his family. The Communist News Network (CNN), MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, Hollywood and music and TV, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL. Major League Baseball, professional sports filled with multi-millionaires that took a stand against this president. ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter, terrorist and anarchist groups who hate America and are bent on her destruction.”
Kirk described a recent conversation with a parishioner that opens a disturbing window onto the heart of his rage.
I had a man call me on the telephone. He knew how I was feeling. I’ve been really low since Tuesday and I get low, and I get mad, I get discouraged and a little bit of depression. Haven’t slept for several days, and I know, God’s Sovereign and he’s on his throne, but sometimes that just ain’t enough for this country boy. And it’s really bothered me. And if I’m not worthy to be pastor here because I get down like that, I’ll walk away. But I’ll tell you, beloved, it makes me want to go out into the midst of them and go to town. You know what I’m talking about? So, my friend tells me, ‘Brother Wayne, there’s always a purge when socialism takes over, and I think it’ll be the white males of America.
“He defends out rights as citizens to keep and bear arms,” Kirk told his followers. Then, in a dramatic flourish, he ripped back his suit jacket to reveal a handgun hostler. The defiant preacher held that pose for an instant before continuing.
By the end of this remarkable performance, Brother Wayne was semi-delirious, his voice cracking with emotion. He asked the congregation to bow their heads as he prayed the most unhinged prayer I have ever heard.
Father, I pray for president Trump. I know that this is very partisan today. I don’t care. I love him, as a man and as my president. And I thank you for him. I thank you that we’ve had four years of greatness. American pride came back. The most powerful country in the world. The most powerful military. The most prosperous. After eight dark years of someone apologizing for America, Donald Trump came on the scene, and I thank you for him. And Lord, in these coming days, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Lord, I pray that, somehow, things could turn. I don’t know what else to pray. You know the hearts of most of these people in here today, Lord, I hope all of us, that we don’t want to see America degraded and go down. I know that I am never, never, never going to support their agenda. I will never give in, and I will always stand up against the wickedness on the other side. In Jesus name, Amen.”
It is easy to criticize Kirk’s partisan rant. Placing a politician on the altar conjures images of the golden calf in the Exodus story. Kirk almost appears that a politician has kicked Jesus out of the Holy Trinity and usurped his place at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. But let’s just set all of that to one side for a moment. Pastor Kirk’s post-election rant is probably the most emotionally transparent sermon I have ever encountered. Although I don’t share his convictions, my heart goes out to him. He is a man in the midst of a personal crisis. And he’s not alone.
Things haven’t gotten any easier for Brother Wayne in recent months. His sermons easily veer off into pollical rants, and he’s still losing sleep. After the January 6 insurrection, the country preacher stopped listening to news of any kind (even Fox). The mere mention of politics, he told his congregation, rekindles his fury.
Brother Wayne’s torch song for Trump received a standing ovation from his listeners. The sermon garnered three times his regular Sunday viewership. The raw racial resentment he displayed is shared by his constituency. And that includes Chris White.
CHAUVINISTIC THERAPEUTIC NARRATIVE AS A DISTINCT GENRE
Texas nationalism, Christian nationalism, and an intense devotion to Donald Trump are all expressions of what I call chauvinistic therapeutic narration. Chauvinism has been defined as “excessive or prejudiced support for one’s own cause, group, or sex”. Narration is a fancy word for simple storytelling. Chauvinistic stories are therapeutic because they create a feeling of rejuvenation, a sense of emotional wholeness. Brother Wayne’s American Patriot’s Bible is riddled with of American patriots and photographs of American military conquest. The Bible becomes just another repository of chauvinistic therapeutic narratives. Donald Trump’s success resides in his willingness to sell himself as the prophet and exemplar of chauvinistic therapeutic narrative.
The story Chris White told the jury at the trial of Shaun Cooks was a form of chauvinistic therapeutic narrative. A white authority figure, determined to save two innocent white girls and a helpless baby from the evil machinations of a black thug, laid his life on the line. Had it not been for a gun that jammed (divine intervention?) White wouldn’t have survived to tell his tale.
This narrative is every bit as fraudulent as the Texas nationalist version of the Alamo or the Christian nationalist portrait of the Founding Fathers. But it was powerful.
A more accurate narrative has a traumatized officer overwhelmed by a powerful rush of adrenaline. His short-term memory was virtually erased. He was filled him with a sense of dread and a powerful urge to flee for cover behind his vehicle. That was not the story the jury wanted to hear. It was not the kind of story that can be parlayed into a life sentence. So, a new story had to be created. Quickly. Too quickly.
This explains why, in the course of the past year, I have labored to recreate the full social context of the White-Cooks encounter. It’s the only way to understand why the official story crumbles at the slightest touch, and why an innocent man is serving a life sentence.
A RAY OF HOPE, AND A PERSONAL PLEA
Chris White lives in a world brimming with white racial resentment, corrupt professional practices, and paranoid politics. On a normal day, none of that stopped him from discharging his duties with integrity. Despite the social pressures I have described above, White was dedicated to the ethics of his profession.
On May 28th, 2020, he forced himself to watch the video of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. “I have tried to avoid watching the video,” he told his Facebook friends, because “based on what I had heard it was not going to be easy to watch.”
White was outraged by the behavior of Derek Chauvin and the officers who stood idly by as the life gradually drained from Mr. Floyd’s eyes. “There is truly nothing I can add that has not already been said by anyone who watched the video and were outraged by the actions of the officers on that scene,” White concluded.
“I am praying that God will restore faith in the American justice system,” he concluded, and “for those who believe it has completely broken down. I am also praying that the leaders in charge of fixing the issues with our justice system are given the compassion, wisdom and determination to fix what is broken for the good of all people while fortifying the principals (sic) our nation was founded on.”
I am asking Mr. White to direct some “compassion, wisdom and determination” in the direction of Shaun Cooks, a man serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. It takes a village to convict an innocent man; but you may be the only person with the power to turn this thing around.