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Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

Slim on City
Hall's new doors

I saw Slim the other day. He was mad. You kind of have to know Slim to know when he is mad.

His face looks like old saddle leather that somebody etched a road map on with a screwdriver. You have to know how to read those lines and the glint in his eyes to know if he is smiling or ticked off. The cigarette clamped between his lips is a clue. If the tip is glowing cherry red Slim may be less than happy.

Today, the tip of that cigarette looked like it was a window into Hades.

"What gives Slim?" I asked.

"You know Smoke," he said without further ado, "I like living in a small town."

"Me to," I said not knowing what that had to do with the red coal of the cigarette or the hard glint in his eye.

"I like going to the bank and knowing the gal counting my money. I like walking in the post office and having my postman smile and say `howdy." I like pulling up at the four-way and having to wave at three other folks because I go to church with one, work with another, and hunt with the third."

"Yeah, a lot of us live in small towns for those reasons," I said.

"Yep. I like knowing my police chief and my commissioner and my councilman and most everybody on the school board," he said and the tip of that butt glowed even redder as he paused.

"You know where I just came from?" he asked.

"No," I said slowly. "Where did you go Slim?"

"City Hall. Went down there to take care of a little business."

"Yeah," I said.

"You know what happened?"

"I walked in through the front door and ran smack into another set of doors," he said without waiting for me to guess.

"Yeah, I know about the new security doors. Lots of folks have mentioned them," I said.

"The darn things were locked," Slim spit.

"The little gal behind the counter told me I couldn't go past those doors without her first checking with whoever it was I wanted to see. Wanted to know if I had an appointment. What I wanted."

"Yeah, that's the new security system. The city manager thought it would make things more professional," I said. "Safer too."

"Professional? What's professional about locked doors at city hall? Only a junior league Nazi, control freak would come up with a hare-brained idea like that in a town like Pecos."

"Well there is the matter of security," I said.

"From what? But I thought of that. I was so mad I just walked out. Who do those guys think they work for? I tell you who. Me. And you. And every other citizen in this town. Anyway, I checked with the police. Nobody at the police station can remember a single "security problem," at city hall," Slim said.

"And if they were really worried about some mad gunman they didn't do much for those poor girls up front did they?"

"No, I guess they aren't as important as the folks behind the doors," I said. To tell the truth I'm not real keen on the doors either.

"I'll tell you what this is about. It's about city employees not wanting to be bothered by the folks they work for. Might be inconvenient if a citizen were to walk in there. That is what it's all about."

Slim took a final drag on the cigarette and stubbed it out on a post.

"Damn waste of money too. Every year this city is scraping the bottom of the barrel to pay the bills and here we are spending money on a couple of silly doors to keep the citizens out of city hall. Nothing more than a monument to an oversized ego," Slim said.

"Well Slim, you don't know that. And Pecos is trying to improve its image. We need to show that we are a progressive community," I said trying not to smile. Slim is fun to goad if you do it right.

"The only thing those doors prove is that there is a loose screw in city hall. I called Lubbock and Odessa both to see if any big towns around here had locked doors like that. Neither one have anything like it."

"The assistant city manager in Odessa said that there were directions in his lobby telling folks how to get to the city manager's office. Directions. Not locked doors but directions on how to find him."

"Maybe they are not as worried about having to deal with irate citizens as our officials are," I offered.

"Maybe not. But come election time, our officials may have to deal with a few irate citizens at the ballot box."

"You think so?"

"Heck yes. Most years candidates for mayor and city council around here have to look hard for any kind of an issue. Seems to me that `Kicking Down the Doors at City Hall' might be a pretty good campaign slogan next time we're electing a mayor or couple of city councilmen. It would sure enough get my vote."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Smokey Briggs is the editor and publisher of the Pecos Enterprise whose column appears on Tuesdays. He can be e-mailed at:

Our View

Pickup ban is first-class hypocrisy and subtle discrimination

On September 1st Texas' newest form of state sponsored discrimination will go into effect as the total ban on children under 18 riding in the back of pickups becomes law.

Under the ever convenient banner of safety the state has effectively banned anyone who cannot afford an expensive SUV from having more than a couple of children without facing officially sanctioned harassment from the police.

Poor families who need a pickup and cannot afford a second car are put between a rock and a hard place with this new tightening of the pickup truck laws.

Without question this law discriminates directly against Catholics and the poor. The discrimination may be subtle, but it is still discrimination. In Texas, if you are both poor and Catholic, you are probably Hispanic. That should not be a crime.

But, if you cannot afford state approved transportation, then you cannot afford a third child and you surely cannot afford to abide by the Catholic Church's prohibition on birth control.

If the ACLU is serious about its stated mission, this law ought to be in its sights as an affront to the Equal Protection clause of the 14 th Amendment, the Freedom of Religion clause of the 1st Amendment, and as violation of half-a-dozen federal civil rights statutes.

If Texas really cared about child vehicle safety, we would be enacting laws regulating the unnecessary transportation of children on dangerous streets, mandatory helmets for all occupants of a vehicle, safer speed limits, mandatory prison time for unsafe driving that causes injury, four-point safety harnesses for all vehicle occupants, and head and neck restraints that have been proven to reduce fatalities on the race track.

But such measures might prove inconvenient to the majority of middle class and more affluent Texans.

So, instead, we embrace hypocrisy, pick on a semi-defenseless target, and make ourselves feel good for protecting the children (as long as it is not inconvenient).

Your View

The matter of the Martinez hanging

Dear Editor:
To me, the Martinez case was not about whether the kid was guilty  or not, it was more about the rule of law, or lack of it in Pecos, Texas circa 1911.

The "Ghost Writer" was right about one thing; and that's the fact that Martinez was eventually hung by the neck until dead. Whether, as Mr. Hughes stated in his book, Martinez was truly "legally" sentenced to hang will forever be a matter of conjecture.

Ms. Emma Brown was found murdered, said murder having allegedly occurred on July 22, 1911. The very next day 16 (or 17) year old Martinez was arrested and sent to Midland while a Grand Jury was impaneled which quickly issued a true bill of indictment.

Martinez was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death on July 29, 1911. His defense attorneys who rushed down from El Paso via train opted not to seek an appeal when surrounded by a crowd of "angry and murderous men" that threatened "That there would be three to hang before morning.

From the safety of his El Paso office, 216 miles west of Pecos, Martinez's attorney George Estes filed an appeal. During the appeals process it was revealed that: The District Attorney went into Martinez' jail cell and procured a confession without presence of counsel; the only other evidence were a few human and horse tracks; the Presiding Judge Isaacks knew he was dealing with an angry mob; the Court was illegally convened; the Grand Jury illegally impaneled; Martinez was denied the right to challenge the Grand Jury proceedings; Martinez met his defense attorneys on the morning of trial; that he was denied the opportunity to meet alone with his attorneys to prepare for trial (there was a Ranger present); after he was found guilty he was given only two hours instead of the statutorily required two days to request a new trial (New Trial was promptly denied); he was denied his right to appeal; he never waived his right to appeal. There were a few more troubling things. Ultimately Martinez was hung on May 11, 1914.

In short, the Martinez ease was a textbook case on how to give a kangaroo court a veneer of legitimacy.

What bothered me about the case was never whether the kid was guilty or innocent. He may have in fact been guilty of the crime. Rather what is sad about this case is that mob justice prevailed and a District Court Judge failed to uphold the law. The law demands fair trials that are conducted in accordance with established rules, procedures and principles of law to protect the rights of every man.

Judge Isaacks, by yielding to the mob turned his courtroom into an "engine of oppression". One just as vicious and barbaric as a vigilante mob.

Aside from Mr. Hughes fine work, "Pecos-A History of the Pioneer West", you can peruse (or copy) the original case file over at the Courthouse. It's styled "State of Texas v. Leon Martinez"; Cause No. 616; in the 70t' Judicial District Court. For another interesting read, go down to your local attorney's office and ask to see "Ex Parte Martinez", 145 S.W.2d 959 (Tex. Crim. App. 1912).

Respectfully submitted,

Travelers want to thank their helpers

Dear Editor:
I'm writing from Pittsburgh, PA. 

A few months ago my fiancé and I were driving through Texas on summer site-seeing tour.

One night, as we were looking for a campsite near the Balmorhea State Park, our truck became irreparably stuck in thick, mortar-like, Texas mud. We couldn't get it out even after repeat attempts to jack, push, shim, pull, threaten and even plead with it.

The next day, as I was walking down some interminable road with a borrowed shovel in hopes of digging our vehicle out of the earth, a woman driving a maroon Chevy Cavalier (I think that's the model and make) asked if I needed any help. If not for her and her husband, a former trucker and part-time musician, who live next to the lake responsible for churning up this insidious mud, (it's still stuck to our truck, after several washings, too) I spoke of earlier and who pulled us out with their truck, we would have been proverbially "up the creek."

The woman gave us her e-mail address, but we lost it after living in our truck for those two weeks. We never had a chance to say thanks. Maybe you can help me?


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