“We have too many offenders out here killing,” said Marnita Hinton, whose son Christopher Mena was shot in the head and robbed as he slept in his Jeep in a Walgreens parking lot in November 2020.
Family members held up photographs and shared often tearful stories of loved ones murdered, encouraging each other to pray. The pictured victims ranged in age from five to 83, and while some families reported that a suspect had been caught and sentenced, for Hinton and many others their cases remain unsolved.
For some families, having suspects arrested and charged brought the shocking realization that the alleged killers were already out on bond for violent crimes in Harris County.
Lourdes Medina described how suspects robbed and ran over her mother, 71-year-old Martha Medina, last year. One of the three suspects arrested and charged, Andrew Williams, was out on a $150,000 bond for a Capital Murder charge when he allegedly participated in Medina’s murder.
Despite allegations that Williams had repeatedly violated his bond conditions, Judge Hilary Unger declined to revoke bond until he was rearrested and charged with killing Medina.
“Crime has always existed, but I have seen a tremendous amount of difference since these judges are in office,” said Medina.
Harris County has seen a significant rise in crime in recent years. Last year, the medical examiner’s office reported 720 homicides, up from 436 in 2018. Although at previous National Day of Remembrance events Crime Stoppers of Houston staffers read aloud names of the previous year’s murder victims, this year, Victims’ Advocate Andy Kahan said there were too many to name.
Many in the community have correlated the rise in crime to the 2018 election of progressive criminal court judges and County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who oversaw the settlement of a federal lawsuit over bail bonds that largely governs misdemeanor bail policy in the county.
Multiple elected officials were present to listen to the families, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) who surprised attendees by referencing bail bond practices in Harris County.
“If you’ve got a violent criminal [and] you know he or she has a violent proclivity, why are they out?” asked Lee, who said she had worked to get $100 million for the Houston Police Department to help with crime.
Hinton thanked Lee for her efforts, but added, “The police are putting them in jail, but the judges are letting them out. We are seeing the same thing over and over and over again, but what are we going to do about that? How are we going to solve that problem?”
A father in the audience shouted, “Vote them out!” drawing cheers and applause from the crowd.
Multiple other local elected officials attended the event, including state Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and state Reps. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) and Lacey Hull (R-Houston).
Neither Hidalgo nor Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner showed up, but county commissioners Jack Cagle (R- Pct. 4) and Tom Ramsey (R-Pct. 3) spoke alongside District Attorney Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. Houston City Council members Mike Knox, Mary Nan Huffman, and Sallie Alcorn offered brief remarks. Republican nominee for county judge Alexandra del Moral Mealer attended but did not speak.
Some victims’ family members thanked the elected officials present, but also referenced politicians invited but not in attendance.
Homicide survivor Jessica Gaehring showed a photo of her fiancé who was stabbed to death in 2019, saying she sees the same elected officials at every crime event and adding, “When you vote, remember who you see here and who is not here.”
April Aguirre, aunt of nine-year-old Arlene Alvarez shot and killed last year, specifically critiqued Hidalgo and county commissioners Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and Adrian Garcia (D-Pct. 2) for failing to attend.
Knox, whose son Jason perished in a 2020 Houston Police Department helicopter crash, sympathized with the grieving families and elicited thunderous applause when he criticized the county’s millions spent to “fight crime through environmental design.”
“Bicycle trails, landscaping, and lighting are not law enforcement,” said Knox. “We need our county officials, we need our city officials, we need our sheriff and our police departments to start being able to use what they know how to do.”
One mother of a five-year-old girl shot to death last year blamed local officials for not giving enough funding for police, but also expressed anger over the state law allowing individuals to carry handguns without a permit.
Public safety is listed as a top issue for Harris County voters this year. Several families at the National Day of Remembrance have joined forces with the Stop Houston Murders political action committee promoting new criminal court judges for Harris County.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.