According to a report from Fox News on the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Florida, more than a few attendees said they feel Donald Trump has changed the focus of the Republican Party for the better but don't necessarily want him to be the GOP's presidential nominee in 2024.
Speaking with attendees at the conference that was moved to Florida this year due to avoid stringent COVID-19 restrictions in Washington D.C., the name of Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was a popular choice for those with an eye on reclaiming the White House after Trump lost to now-President Joe Biden.
Seemingly every attendee expressed support for the twice- impeached Trump, with one stating, "I think President Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. He is still the leader even if he's not president -- at least of our party," but admitted it may be time to move on to a new candidate.
According to Val Biancaniello from Pennsylvania who was a Trump delegate in 2020 and claims he has a substantial amount of support among the conference attendees, "I really like Ron DeSantis in '24. I think President Trump has a huge role in our party ... fundraising and helping candidates get elected. His America First policy is still a very strong sentiment. If the theme of CPAC is 'America Uncancelled,' I think Ron DeSantis is really the face of that right now ... He's a proactive governor instead of a reactive governor."
Attendee Aaron Rosenthal from Florida agreed, adding he didn't want to see Trump "pushed out," but, "The way it stands right now, if I were to make my very own prediction, my hopes as a native Floridian is it's going to be our very own Ron DeSantis."
Carson Wolf, who admitted that he is attending CPAC with his parents, stated that Trump has "re-defined" the GOP as a populist party, but added it may be time to look forward instead of backward for the party's new standard-bearer.
"You know, we used to be so conservative and always sticking to the same rules and the same set of standards that haven't evolved. But he has pushed us forward in helping us become a more national populist side of things. I can see him as the Republican nominee, " he stated before confessing, "I personally really want to see somebody like Gov. DeSantis or somebody like Dan Crenshaw running. I think we need a new face, you know? But I love Trump and I'd be so satisfied to see him in 2024."
Attendee Aaron Timko suggested another nominee -- name-checking DeSantis and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- saying he wants "Somebody who is not Trump."
"Somebody in the Republican Party who can stand up to the media with a bit more regality than Trump can. Despite how wonderful he was for the country, we can't have a media focusing on him for the next four years instead of Biden," he suggested.
You can read more here.
GOP lawmaker sentenced to jail — will refund Michigan his legislative pay while incarcerated: report
Michigan state Representative Bryan Posthumus was sentenced to 15 days in jail on Friday and was placed on probation for two years, the Detroit Free Press reports.
Posthumus was arrested on April 30 after he hit a mailbox and rolled his Jeep after leaving his family's farm.
Michigan law requires a blood alcohol content below 0.08% to operate a motor vehicle, Posthumus reportedly had a blood alcohol content of 0.13%.
The GOP lawmaker said he would refund Michigan the portion of his annual salary he will accrue while incarcerated.
Posthumus is the son of former Michigan Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and the brother of Kent County Clerk Lisa Posthumus Lyons, who was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in the 2018 midterms.
Posthumus will lose his license for 30 days and was fined $1,820.
Texas veterans homes overseen by George P. Bush were often the deadliest places to be during COVID-19 pandemic
July 23, 2021
"Texas veterans homes overseen by George P. Bush were often the deadliest places to be during COVID-19 pandemic" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
About this story: The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle spent months investigating how Texas cared for veterans and their spouses during the coronavirus pandemic at the nine state-run veterans homes. Reporters reviewed hundreds of pages of inspection reports and internal emails, and interviewed more than a dozen experts, resident advocates and families.
Mary Kay Dieterich was encouraged last year when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush promised to shake up the management of the El Paso nursing home where her father died of COVID-19.
She knew it wouldn't bring Eugene Forti, a World War II veteran, back to life. But as the top elected official in charge of all nine of the state's nursing homes catering to veterans in Texas, Bush certainly had the power to hold the private management company accountable for what Dieterich saw as a botched response to the pandemic.
Yet, despite telling the for-profit operator of the Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home that he was “deeply concerned" about the care it was providing in El Paso, Bush's promised shakeup, delivered to the local news outlet El Paso Matters, never came — even as COVID deaths soared at the facility.
More than a quarter of its infected residents died, nearly double the average 13% death rate across El Paso County's 21 nursing homes.
And it's not the only one.
Nursing homes, which care for people who are already medically vulnerable, were ravaged by the pandemic. But Texas' state-run veterans homes were often the deadliest places to be.
The nine state homes had more than double the death rate among COVID-19-infected residents compared with other nursing homes in the state, according to a Texas Tribune-Houston Chronicle analysis of state data from the pandemic's start until June 2021.
The Houston Chronicle and The Texas Tribune spent months investigating how Texas cared for veterans and their spouses at the height of the coronavirus pandemic at the nine state-run veterans homes in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, El Paso, Floresville, Houston, McAllen, Temple and Tyler. After reviewing hundreds of pages of inspection reports and internal emails, and interviewing more than a dozen experts, resident advocates and families, the Chronicle and the Tribune found:
- Texas' state-run veterans homes had more than double the death rate among COVID-19- infected residents compared with other nursing homes in the state.
- Seven of the homes had a fatality rate of 25% or more — far higher than the statewide average — 11% — among Texas nursing homes.
- Approximately 23% of the state veterans homes nationwide are overseen by outside management companies, but in Texas all nine of them are, and they account for a quarter of the privately run homes in the United States.
- Resident advocates say for-profit nursing homes tend to have lower staffing levels and perform worse than nonprofit and government-run facilities. Average staffing levels in Texas nursing homes are among the lowest nationwide. Five of Texas' veterans homes fell beneath the state average.
- On July 8, one day after the Tribune and the Chronicle shared their analysis with the agency, Land Commissioner George P. Bush decided to end the relationship with the two for-profit operators of the homes and asked his staff to conduct a nationwide search to find replacements.
Three of the state's nine veterans homes — including Ambrosio Guillen in El Paso — had the highest death rate among all nursing homes in their county. Seven had a fatality rate of 25% or more, far higher than the statewide average of 11% across Texas nursing homes.
All told, nearly 570 veterans home residents tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas and nearly a quarter of them, 134, died.
Veterans home residents are typically male and older than people in other nursing homes, and many have chronic conditions that can make them more susceptible to severe infection, Bush's agency and experts said. The homes are often larger facilities, which studies have shown were at greater risk of outbreaks.
But Texas' nine veterans homes are also among about 23% nationwide that are managed by private contractors rather than the state, which residents' advocates and experts said could expose them to cost-cutting by for-profit companies.
After the Tribune-Chronicle findings were shared with Bush's office two weeks ago, he vowed to take action to improve care — by not renewing the operators' contracts and starting over from scratch.
Two for-profit companies manage Texas' nine state homes under the auspices of the Veterans Land Board. The board, which oversees programs for veterans, is headed by Bush and housed within the General Land Office. A representative of Bush's agency is on-site in each home and has sweeping access to attend meetings, hear complaints, “protect the interests of the board" and advocate for residents' rights, according to the homes' contracts.
Three of the homes are run by Texas VSI and accounted for 40% of the fatalities among sick veterans home residents.
The other contractor, Touchstone Communities, oversees the state's other six veterans homes — including one in Floresville where state inspectors found residents were in “immediate jeopardy" and failures that constituted “actual harm," according to regulatory records from May 2020.
After inspectors documented multiple violations, the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home was hit with state and federal fines totaling nearly $300,000 — the largest by far of the veterans homes in Texas, health authorities say. It had the most coronavirus cases and second-highest death toll of the five nursing homes in Wilson County, where Floresville is the county seat. (The home with the highest number of deaths had a dedicated COVID-19 ward that took in patients from other facilities and hospitals, its administrator said).
A second inspection in February of this year uncovered a new infection control violation at Frank Tejeda and resulted in another $30,000 in fines, federal records show.
Floresville Mayor Cecelia Gonzalez-Dippel blamed the Bush-led Veterans Land Board for failing to follow up on complaints and to ensure that residents received proper treatment.
“It makes me angry, you know. Yes, angry at COVID. But also angry at 'how did this happen?'" Gonzalez-Dippel said in a January interview. “I can't go and investigate [the veterans home] myself. I'm leaning on the Land [Board] to do everything they can to take care of all of the residents."
On July 8, one day after the Tribune and the Chronicle shared its analysis with the agency, Bush — now running for Texas attorney general — decided to end his agency's relationship with the for-profit operators of the homes and asked his staff to conduct a nationwide search to find replacements with “a proven track record at infection control procedures," General Land Office spokesperson Rachel Jones said.
“The care our veterans receive is of utmost importance to the Veterans Land Board, and we take every charge levied by family members, residents, and public health authorities seriously," Jones said.
Texas VSI and Touchstone referred questions to Bush's agency.
The land board, citing incomplete federal data, said the homes operated by San Antonio-based Touchstone had a comparable death rate with other skilled nursing facilities nationwide. The Tribune-Chronicle analysis did not use the federal data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services because it does not include all COVID-19 cases and deaths before late May 2020 — and therefore doesn't capture more than two dozen cases and 14 deaths at state veterans homes captured by state data.
Touchstone has managed every veterans home in the state at some point, Jones said.
Texas VSI is affiliated with South Carolina-based HMR Veterans Services, which manages at least nine veterans facilities across four states. In 2018, inspectors found an HMR-operated veterans home in South Carolina failed to thoroughly investigate claims of abuse and injuries and encouraged employees to be misleading in reports, according to The Greenville News.
The Land Board has previously tried to replace the operators without success, but as COVID-19 infection rates have dropped, the agency is “now able to review practices and procedures … and better prepare all homes for future pandemics," Jones said.
In the meantime, inspectors have continued to find problems. A second Touchstone-operated facility, the Richard A. Anderson Texas State Veterans Home in Houston, was hit with another “immediate jeopardy" finding — a severe deficiency meaning at least one resident is at risk of harm or death — when an 81-year-old veteran was “found outside, unsupervised, crawling on the ground in his undergarments" in May of this year, according to federal records obtained by the Tribune-Chronicle.
After the Tribune-Chronicle sent Bush's agency the federal records, Jones said the agency had already moved to terminate Touchstone's contract to oversee the home, which opened at the end of 2019. Bush told agency staff to do so after the incident happened but before the “immediate jeopardy" finding was issued, she said.
The home received a $69,225 fine, according to federal health officials.
The disproportionate death toll in Texas' veterans homes follows a national trend: According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the facilities were among the hardest hit during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
The heavily male and elderly population inside veterans' homes may explain some of the discrepancy, since men are more likely to die from COVID-19 than women. But Texas' nine homes account for about a quarter of the privately run state veterans facilities in the United States, and experts and residents' advocates say for-profit nursing homes tend to have lower staffing levels and perform worse than nonprofit or government-run facilities.
“Studies for decades have documented that not-for-profit and public facilities have more staff, they spend more money on staff, they spend more money on supplies, on food, things like that, and they generally have better care," said Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a national nonprofit.
Texas' nursing homes overall have some of the lowest nursing hours per resident nationwide, behind all but three U.S. states, and five of Texas' nine veterans homes fall beneath even the state average, according to federal data. At the end of 2020, six of Texas' veterans homes were reporting that residents received less time with a nurse each day than the average across nursing homes nationwide.
The numbers are “cause for serious concern," said Richard Mollot, head of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, an advocacy group based in New York.
It's particularly disheartening to see government officials fail to ensure proper care for a population that gave so much to keep Americans safe, he said.
Veterans homes are “set up to care for people who have sacrificed — or dedicated at least a part of their lives to protecting our country," he said. “We've kind of stepped back, as a country, from protecting them just when they needed it most."
The Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home in Floresville is administered by the Veterans Land Board. Land Commissioner George P. Bush's General Land Office hires the for-profit contractor that runs the facility.
Credit: Billy Calzada
“Who's in charge?"
COVID-19 outbreaks in veterans homes nationwide have highlighted what critics describe as a porous regulatory structure, where oversight is fragmented among states and federal agencies — as evidenced by the title of a July 2020 congressional hearing: “Who's in charge?"
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs gives states funding to help operate each home and inspects each facility annually. But the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office criticized those inspections as lax and said the VA did not post information about the quality of the homes on its website. VA officials have now done so and emphasize the homes are “owned, operated and managed" by the states.
More than half of the veterans homes, including all those in Texas, are subject to extra scrutiny from federal health authorities because they receive Medicaid or Medicare payments.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is the primary regulator for nursing homes in the U.S., but most of the health agency's inspections were paused during the pandemic. The surveys that did occur were focused on infection control or responding to serious complaints, leaving a gap in oversight, said Charlene Harrington, a professor emeritus of social behavioral sciences in the University of California, San Francisco's nursing school and an expert on nursing homes.
Following federal guidance, nursing homes halted visitation to forestall the spread of the virus. The state ombudsman's office, an independent advocate for nursing home residents' rights, also stopped making in-person visits because of the pandemic.
“I think that nursing homes knew they didn't have the oversight and they could pretty much do what they wanted," Harrington said. “So they took advantage of it. And as a result, I think there were a lot of unnecessary infections and deaths."
A Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokesperson noted that federal authorities increased penalties for noncompliance with infection control, issued regulatory waivers to help nursing homes obtain staff quickly, and provided funding for facilities to buy tablets and other communication devices to help residents better communicate during the pandemic.
But Melissa Jackson, president of the National Association of State Veterans Homes and administrator of Vermont's state-run veterans home, said critics unfairly villainized the homes during a pandemic that the entire country was unprepared for. Administrators scrambled to find protective equipment that was initially in short supply and had to hire contract staff to help when their employees had to quarantine.
The first positive case at her state's veterans home was the “worst day" of her career, she said. She at times felt helpless or went home and cried.
“I still haven't done that sigh of relief. You go into long-term care — in any setting but specifically in the setting when you're caring for America's heroes — and you do everything you can to keep them safe," she said. “Then you have this outside virus and all of the system failures that came down."
Nursing homes often have more than one resident in each room, which can make it difficult to separate residents to stem the virus's spread. Many of their employees are front-line workers who receive low wages, sometimes lack paid sick leave and work in multiple facilities — providing hands-on care in close quarters.
“You couple that with a virus that can be asymptomatically spread and that's airborne, and that's going to pose a risk pretty much no matter what nursing homes do," said R. Tamara Konetzka, a health economist at the University of Chicago, who co-authored several studies about nursing homes during the pandemic.
Studies have found that the prevalence of the virus in the surrounding community and the size of the nursing home largely determined how hard facilities were hit: Larger facilities in COVID-19 hot spots were more likely to have infections. Having more staff helped to blunt an outbreak once the virus entered a nursing home, according to one study.
A sign for Floresville, where the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home is located.
Credit: Billy Calzada
Like “pulling teeth"
Inspection records from the state's health commission paint a chaotic picture of life inside several of the state veterans homes as the pandemic took hold.
In the spring of 2020, state inspectors found potentially life-threatening deficiencies at the Frank Tejeda home in Floresville, reporting that the facility — then home to some 140 residents — hadn't put in place recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prepare for COVID-19, and failed to prevent transmission of the virus to more than a dozen residents and nine staff members.
Residents with no symptoms were not separated from those who tested positive. Employees cared for both infected and well residents, sometimes while not wearing proper personal protective equipment. Some of the residents' care plans didn't say they were infected or should be isolated.
“I can't believe they have both positive and negative [residents] on the same hall way," one licensed vocational nurse told the state inspectors, according to the report. “We are trying to be careful not to cross contaminate, but it's going to [happen]. Especially with staff coming in and out of the resident rooms."
The director of nursing told the inspectors that residents weren't separated because employees were waiting for coronavirus test results to come back and figured those not yet sick “were already contaminated." Another employee said it was difficult to separate residents because there was not enough staff working overnight to care for both the sick and healthy groups.
Touchstone is disputing the state report in administrative proceedings, and Bush's office said the contractor is asking federal authorities to remove deficiencies they documented in a published report — including alleged failures in infection control and PPE use. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said it could not discuss the related state case due to the “active litigation."
Workers at the home also said they had to reuse masks and were told they did not need goggles or face shields.
One nurse would take her mask home, spray it with disinfectant and let it air dry. Another employee said she was given a loose-fitting N-95 and wore it while working in each unit, including the one housing infected residents, the inspection report said. Others wore just surgical masks while caring for patients with the coronavirus rather than the recommended N-95.
Credit: Billy Calzada
The findings anger but don't surprise Jeanette Christensen, whose 64-year-old husband has been housed at the Floresville home since 2019. She said getting information from Touchstone during the pandemic was like “pulling teeth."
In one email she sent to Touchstone and the land office in January, she said a message the operator sent notifying families about new cases came across as a “slap in the face" because it included only a link that led to a webpage with no information about the Frank Tejeda home.
“This is NOT transparency in any possible way, shape, or form. In fact, if I may be so bold as to speak truth, it has a tendency to feel more deceiving than clarifying," she wrote to the company.
Before the coronavirus, she said, Touchstone had a “revolving door" of workers at the home and failed to help her husband with daily tasks — like regularly brushing his teeth — and did not consistently change a patch that helps control symptoms of his dementia.
“The corporation is always about the bottom line," she said.
Beyond the Frank Tejeda facility, at least six other Texas veterans homes were cited for health or regulatory failures since the pandemic began, including deficiencies unrelated to the pandemic like poor continence care and unpalatable foods (“pureed sausage — gravy grainy and salty," according to a March 2021 state inspection of the Lamun-Lusk-Sanchez Texas State Veterans Home). Four, including Frank Tejeda, received fines for the lapses; another faces a potential fine.
Jones, the General Land Office spokesperson, said the land board was not made aware of the problems at the Frank Tejeda home until after state inspectors issued their warning to the company, and was not told about any protective equipment shortages by Touchstone. She faulted Touchstone for the “failure" of not ensuring staff wore available protective equipment and said the agency helped obtain COVID-19 test kits for each home.
Jones noted the contractors are in charge of staffing, but she did not respond to questions about why the land board's on-site representative did not alert the agency to problems at Frank Tejeda and other homes.
“It makes me furious"
Local officials and distraught loved ones say Bush's land board and the veterans home operators left them blind to the risks posed by COVID-19 and with little information about what was happening inside the homes as the pandemic took hold.
Cecelia “Cissy" Gonzalez-Dipple, the mayor of Floresville, said she was unhappy with the Veteran Land Board's response to complaints about care at the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home.
Credit: Billy Calzada
Floresville's mayor, Gonzalez-Dippel, said the situation there has been “very, very concerning since day one, since the first reported case and the first reported death." She said she was “not impressed" with the land board after it provided her with incorrect information — that residents would receive coronavirus tests in a set time frame, which didn't happen — in the pandemic's early days.
Gonzalez-Dippel said Touchstone Communities never returned her calls.
She learned of new cases at the home through information the Veterans Land Board released to San Antonio media outlets. Family members of residents said they “didn't know how their loved one was doing" or whether they had tested positive for the virus, Gonzalez-Dippel said.
In the spring of 2020, Gonzalez-Dippel alerted state health officials to possible problems in the home after hearing there wasn't enough protective equipment and that it was being improperly stored. She said no one told her that the inspection in May 2020 found that residents were in “immediate jeopardy" — and resulted in fines totaling $281,500.
“It makes me furious," Gonzalez-Dippel said after being told last month of the violations and the fines. “These people deserve so much more than what they got."
Jones said the agency stayed in regular contact with Gonzalez-Dippel throughout the pandemic.
Mary Kay Dieterich, the daughter of Eugene Forti, a World War II veteran who died of COVID-19 at the Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans home in El Paso, believes her dad got poor care after the virus struck the facility.
Credit: Nick Oza for the Houston Chronicle
At Ambrosio Guillen in El Paso, Mary Kay Dieterich said she and her brother Guy Forti could get almost no information about their ailing father despite promises from management that they would be kept in the loop.
“I'd have to really give them a poor, poor grade for communication. And especially during such a stressful time," Dieterich said. “We were getting no information."
Forti was admitted to a nearby medical center last May with chest pains, a fever and a dry cough. He tested positive for the coronavirus and was moved to a COVID-19 wing on the seventh floor of the hospital, where his attending physician called Forti's son and daughter and promised to give daily updates.
Before that, they'd received two text messages — similar to Amber Alerts — saying the facility was locking down to prevent spreading the new coronavirus and that visitors were no longer allowed, even at the windows.
An employee at the veterans home also had declined to tell Forti's son how many cases the facility had.
“Those numbers were protected by law and could not be revealed," Dieterich said her brother Guy was told by phone around the time his father tested positive.
Yet the for-profit contractor was providing regular updates to the General Land Office, many of them obtained this summer by the Tribune and the Chronicle. In one email, sent just weeks after the promised leadership shake-up that never came, a Texas VSI representative told Bush's office that 14 new residents and nine staff members had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“El Paso test results were horrifying but this was no Halloween trick," the employee wrote. “4 residents are hospitalized. … Current numbers are 44 positive residents and 19 positive staff members."
In later calls with Texas VSI officials, Dieterich said she was told the contractor didn't have the staff or funding to have employees wait to receive negative test results before starting to work.
Jones called the email update by the VSI representative “disrespectful and unprofessional in every sense" and said the state could release medical information only to a resident's “responsible party" — in Forti's case, his son Guy. She also said the homes together sent thousands of mass messages during the pandemic.
Dwight Henry, a 77-year-old resident of the El Paso home, was hospitalized with COVID-19 for 14 days, four in the intensive care unit, around the time his friend Forti was also in the hospital, he said.
He learned of Forti's death while he was there. Two other residents who lived across the hall from him also died, he said.
“We lost a lot of them," he said.
Dieterich said her father had improved in the hospital after receiving a convalescent plasma treatment. But he took a sudden turn for the worse three days after he was returned to the veterans home.
He stopped eating and drinking. He wasn't responding verbally. The next day, he was dead.
Dieterich said in a June 2020 email that her dad was “a war hero, a husband of 68 years to a woman he adored, and a dad that worked his fingers to the bone supporting his family."
She believes her dad's death was “100% preventable" and said she was “extremely disappointed" that Bush did not follow through on his promise to shake up the leadership of the Texas VSI team that oversees the El Paso facility.
“He was demanding these leadership changes and nothing happened. Nothing," Dieterich said. “George P. Bush certainly needs to be held accountable."
Texas Tribune Deputy Data Visuals Editor Chris Essig contributed to this story.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/07/23/texas-coronavirus-veterans-homes-george-p-bush/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a lightning rod for conservative ire at any discussion of racism, anti-racism, or the non-white history of America. Across the country, bills in Republican-controlled legislatures have attempted to prevent the teaching of CRT, even though most of those against CRT struggle to define the term. CRT actually began as a legal theory which held simply that systemic racism was consciously created, and therefore, must be consciously dismantled. History reveals that the foundation of America, and of systemic racism, happened at the same time and from the same set of consciously created laws.
Around the 20th of August, 1619, the White Lion, an English ship sailing under a Dutch flag, docked off Old Point Comfort (near present-day Hampton), in the British colony of Virginia, to barter approximately 20 Africans for much needed food and supplies. The facts of the White Lion's arrival in Virginia, and her human cargo, are generally not in dispute. Whether those first Africans arriving in America were taken by colonists as slaves or as indentured servants is still debated. But by the end of the 17th century, a system of chattel slavery was in place in colonial America. How America got from uncertainly about the status of Africans, to certainty that they were slaves, is a transition that highlights the origins of systemic racism.
Three arguments have been put forth about whether the first Africans arriving in the colonies were treated as indentured servants or as slaves. One says that European racism predisposed American colonists to treat these Africans as slaves. Anthony and Isabella, for example, two Africans aboard the White Lion, were acquired by Captain William Tucker and listed at the bottom of his 1624/25 muster (census) entry, just above his real property, but below white indentured servants and native Americans.
A second argument counters that racism was not, at first, the decisive factor but that the availability of free labor was. "Before the invention of the Negro or the white man or the words and concepts to describe them," historian Lerone Bennett wrote, "the Colonial population consisted largely of a great mass of white and black [and native] bondsmen, who occupied roughly the same economic category and were treated with equal contempt by the lords of the plantations and legislatures."
In this view, slavery was not born of racism, but racism was born of slavery. Early colonial laws had no provisions distinguishing African from European servants, until those laws began to change toward the middle of the 17th century, when Africans became subject to more brutal treatment than any other group. Proponents of this second argument point to cases like Elizabeth Key in 1656, or Phillip Corven in 1675, Black servants who sued in different court cases against their white masters for keeping them past the end of their indentures. Both Key and Corven won. If slavery was the law, Key and Corven would have had no standing in court much less any hope of prevailing.
Still, a third group stakes out slightly different ground. Separate Africans into two groups: the first generation that arrived before the middle of the 17th century, and those that arrived after. For the first generations of Africans, English and Dutch colonists had the concept of indefinite, but not inheritable, bondage. For those who came after, colonists applied the concept of lifetime, inheritable bondage. Here, the 1640 case of John Punch, a Black man caught with two other white servants attempting to run away, is often cited. As punishment, all the men received thirty lashes but the white servants had only one-year added to their indentures, while John Punch was ordered to serve his master "for the time of his natural life." For this reason, many consider John Punch the first real slave in America. Or was he the last Black indentured servant?
Clearly these cases show the ambiguity, or "loopholes," of the system separating servitude from slavery in early America. What is also clear is that one by one these loopholes were closed through conscious intent of colonial legislatures. In this reduction of ambiguity over the status of Africans, the closure of loopholes between servitude and slavery, are the roots of systemic racism.
Maryland enacted a first-of-its-kind law in 1664, specifically tying being Black to being a slave. "[A]ll Negroes or other slaves already within the Province And all Negroes and other slaves to be hereafter imported into the Province shall serve Durante Vita." Durante Vita is a Latin phrase meaning for the duration of one's life.
Another loophole concerned the status of children. Colonial American law was initially derived from English common law, where the status of child (whether bound or free) followed the status of the father. But adherence to English common law posed problems in colonial America, such as revealed in the 1630 case of Hugh Davis, a white man sentencing to whipping "for abusing himself to the dishonor of God and shame of Christians, by defiling his body in lying with a negro..." Whipping proved no deterrent for such interracial unions between a free European and a bound African. If English common law was followed, then the child of such a liaison would be free. So, in the years following Davis' whipping the legislatures in Maryland and Virginia enacted statutes that the status of the child, whether slave or free, followed that of the mother.
But closing this loophole assumes that only the sexual exploits of European men needed containing. The famous, and well-documented case of Irish milkmaid, Molly Welsh, who worked off her indentures in Maryland, shows the reverse actually happened as well. Welsh purchased a slaved named Banna Ka, whom she eventually freed, then married. They had a girl named Mary, who was free. Mary married a runaway slaved named Thomas, and they had a boy named Benjamin, who was also free. And Benjamin Banneker, a clockmaker, astronomer, mathematician, and surveyor, became an important figure in African American history, having authored a letter to Thomas Jefferson lamenting the lofty ideals of liberty and equality contained in the nation's founding documents were not extended to all citizens regardless of color.
Closing the religious exemption was another way in which colonial legislatures sought to separate Blacks from whites, and force slavery only on people of African descent. One of the reasons Elizabeth Key prevailed in court was that she asserted she could not be held in slavery as a Christian. In fact, there was a widespread belief in early America that Christians holding other Christians in slavery went against core biblical teachings.
Most first generation Africans in colonial America came from the Angola-Congo region of West Africa, first taken there by the Portuguese. Christianity was well-known, and practiced by Africans in these regions as early as the 15th century. So, many Africans destined for slavery, or indentured servitude in America, were already baptized, or were christened by priests aboard Portuguese slave trading vessels.
Colonial legislatures got busy. Maryland updated the 1664 law, cited above, with a 1671 statute that specifically carved out a religious exception for people of African descent. Regardless of whether they had become Christian, or received the sacrament of baptism, they would "hereafter be adjudged, reputed, deemed, and taken to be and remain in servitude and bondage" forever. Acts like this led to a tortured, convoluted American Christianity, developed to support slavery, and this legacy of racism within American Christianity continues to this day.
Apprehension of runaway servants and slaves was still another area in which colonial legislatures targeted people of color for differential, oppressive treatment. While granting masters the right to send a posse after runaways, a 1672 Virginia statute called "An act for the apprehension and suppression of runawayes, negroes and slaves," granted immunity to any white person who killed or wounded a runaway person of color while in pursuit of them. It read:
"Be it enacted by the governour, councell and burgesses of this grand assembly, and by the authority thereof, that if any negroe, molatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, runaway and shalbe persued by warrant or hue and crye, it shall and may be lawfull for any person who shall endeavour to take them, upon the resistance of such negroe, mollatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, to kill or wound him or them soe resisting."
Acts like this became the basis for slave patrols, and for the police forces that arose from them. Today, we still deal with the consequences of "qualified immunity," stemming from ideas like these enacted in 1672, which shield police from prosecution in cases of violence and brutality, especially against people of color.
Protection of southern rights even found its way into the Constitution. The Second Amendment protects the right of militias (a polite term for "slave patrols") to organize and bear arms. The Fugitive Slave Clause (never repealed) guaranteed southern slaveholders that their slaves apprehended in the North would be returned. Even the Interstate Commerce Clause allowed Southerners traveling North with their slaves assurances those slaves would not automatically become free by setting foot in states that outlawed slavery.
Though enacted centuries ago, the laws cited above are representative of the many laws that came to define American jurisprudence, and have at their core, the repression and oppression of Black Americans, and other people of color. This is why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857, handed down a 7-2 verdict in the Dred Scott case, with the words that Blacks had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This is why critical race theory states that systemic racism was consciously created, as these laws and their enforcement show they were.
But this is also why Republican legislators and their supporters lump anything and everything having to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion into the box of critical race theory, then try to keep it out of schools and public institutions. They're afraid of Americans being told the truth: that the foundation of America, and of systemic racism, happened at the same time and from the same consciously created laws. In this way, these individuals are actually living proof of the validity of critical race theory, because they seek to consciously enact laws today which perpetuate the racial inequality established by laws enacted hundreds of years ago.
Clyde W. Ford is the author of numerous books including Of Blood and Sweat: Black Lives, and the Making of White Power and Wealth, due out next year from HarperCollins.
Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.
$95 / year — Just $7.91/month
I want to Support More
$14.99 per month