Lessons from George Wallace
The legacy of George Wallace lives on.
The Alabama governor was best known for skillfully pandering to
the racial animosity harbored by so many white voters — not only
in the South but also, as his presidential campaigns showed,
throughout the nation. Wallace was especially savvy about
exploiting white fear of black crime, claiming he would restore
“law and order.”
After decades of using subtle but racially-charged code words, the
Republican Party has embraced the Wallace playbook explicitly.
Donald Trump showed GOP politicians they could abandon dog
whistles for a fog horn, leaving no doubt about whether they
meant to widen the racial divide.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas is recklessly following the
Wallace playbook with his decision to pardon Army Sgt. Daniel
Perry, convicted of murder earlier this month for the shooting
death of Black Lives Matter protestor Garrett Foster in Austin.
Though Foster was white, he was the subject of the same
seething rage that consumed many whites who wanted to portray
all BLM protestors as thugs, looters or “antifa,” no matter how
peaceful they were. (Foster may have incited more anger in some
white critics than black protestors, since they may have seen him
as a race traitor.)
According to testimony at the trial, Perry, who was working as a
ride-share driver, turned into the crowd of protestors on the night
of the shooting, July 25, 2020. Garrett was legally carrying an
assault-style rifle across his chest and approached Perry’s car.
Perry shot Garrett from inside his car, claiming self-defense,
insisting that Garrett had raised the rifle to fire. But the
prosecution introduced evidence showing Perry’s deep-seated
animosity toward BLM protestors. Among his text messages and
social media comments were the following: “I might have to kill a
few people on my way to work, they are rioting outside my
apartment complex,” and “I might go to Dallas to shoot looters.”
The jury also heard testimony from a friend of Perry’s who tried to
persuade him not to murder a protestor and claim self-defense.
“Shooting after creating an event where you have to shoot, is not
a good shoot,” the friend told Perry in a social media message.
The jury took that evidence into consideration as they deliberated.
“ . . .it was the messages that gave us his state of mind and what
he was thinking regarding the protest,” one juror told The New
That wasn’t good enough for the governor. He leapt into action
even though the appeals process for Perry has barely begun. He
tweeted, “Texas has one of the strongest ‘Stand Your Ground’
laws of self-defense that cannot be nullified by a jury or a
progressive District Attorney.”
Abbott’s abrogation of a jury verdict stands in dramatic contrast to
his practice with pardons. He has been quite stingy with his
clemency power in the past, using it for a few people convicted of
minor crimes, according to The Dallas Morning News. In 2021,
for example, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
recommended 75 requests for clemency, but the governor only
pardoned eight Texans.
But Abbott couldn’t resist pressure from ultra-conservatives,
including Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, a George Wallace
acolyte. Carlson has tweeted, “Apparently the state of Texas no
longer recognizes the right to self-defense,” and on his highly-
rated show, he insisted that Abbott pardon Perry. Perry’s
defenders also include the notorious Kyle Rittenhouse, who has
made a lucrative living from speaking to rightwing groups about
killing two unarmed BLM protestors and getting away with it,
If you see a pattern here, you’re right. It’s a pattern that stretches
back to the late 19 th century, when white vigilantes killed black
freedmen (and women) with impunity. In the 1960s, bigots got
away with murdering white allies of civil rights activists, such as
Episcopal priest Jonathan Daniels.
While the criminal justice system has made great strides toward
equal justice for all in recent decades, Abbott and his cronies
clearly want to turn back the clock. Jury verdicts, apparently, won’t
stand in their way.
The legacy of George Wallace lives on.