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When ‘law and order’ means neither

Pardoning a man convicted of murdering a Black Lives Matter protester in Texas is an endorsement of white vigilantism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott.Ricardo B. Brazziell/Associated Press

In a tweet last month, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas declared, “Texas has been — and always will be — a law and order state. And we are going to stay that way.” Yet there was Abbott last weekend promising a get-out-of-jail-free card to a man who was convicted of murder less than 24 hours earlier.

This has nothing to do with law and order and everything to do with right-wing politics and who is — and isn’t — deemed worthy of justice in America.

On July 25, 2020, in Austin, Texas, Daniel Perry shot and killed Garrett Foster, who was attending a Black Lives Matter protest. After Perry drove his car toward a crowd of demonstrators, Foster, who was legally armed in the open-carry state, approached the car. Perry killed him. (Like Perry, Foster was white.)


Foster died exactly two months to the day after the tragedy that spurred such demonstrations nationwide — the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Perry, an Army sergeant, claimed self-defense. The jury disagreed. After 17 hours of deliberations, they found him guilty of murder.

But even before Perry could be sentenced, Abbott tweeted: “I am working as swiftly as Texas law allows regarding the pardon of Sgt. Perry. 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.”

In one shocking statement, Abbott undermined the rule of law, took a swing at Jose Garza, the Travis County district attorney whose office prosecuted Perry, and robbed Foster’s loved ones of any modicum of accountability for his murder.

“For the first time since I lost Garrett, I felt some sense of justice and relief when the jury rendered its verdict,” Whitney Mitchell, Foster’s fiancée, said in a statement released after Abbott’s comments. “But the governor has immediately taken that away since he announced there are two legal systems in Texas: one for those with power, like Mr. Perry, and one for everyone else. . . . I hope the governor never again claims that he stands for victims’ rights.”


The only rights Abbott is recognizing are those of the man who, months before he killed Foster, texted to a friend, “I might have to kill a few people on my way to work” because, he claimed, protesters were “rioting” near his apartment complex.

Whitney Mitchell, the fiancée of Garrett Foster, cried as the verdict against Daniel Perry was read on April 7.Jay Janner/Associated Press

Much like Kyle Rittenhouse became a Republican darling after he shot two men to death and wounded a third at an antiracism protest in Kenosha, Wis., in 2020, Perry is regarded as a hero. After Rittenhouse’s acquittal in 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida said that he “did what we should want citizens to do in such a situation: step forward to defend the community against mob violence.”

That’s the same extremist motivation behind Abbott’s push to pardon Perry. In conservative circles, men like Perry should be hailed as defenders, not tried as defendants when they strike against anyone challenging the racist status quo. Their lawlessness is deemed not just acceptable, but necessary in defense of white supremacy.

What Rittenhouse and Perry did is not “what we should want citizens to do.” For any politician to say so is tantamount to state-endorsed vigilantism. And like that strident “anti-rioting” legislation DeSantis signed into law in 2021, the intention is clear — to stifle the constitutional right to peaceful protest and dissent under the shadow of unpunished violence. (DeSantis’s law remains temporarily blocked and knotted up in court cases.)


Without question, the 2020 protests after Floyd’s murder, arguably the largest demonstrations in this nation’s history, left Republican lawmakers shaken and reactionary. It’s no coincidence that some were eager to send a pointed message to those dedicated to upending systemic racism and police violence.

When Mark and Patricia McCloskey, St. Louis’s barefoot Bonnie and Clyde, pointed guns at peaceful protesters walking by their home, they weren’t criticized by Republicans for fomenting fear and unrest. Instead, they were invited to speak at the virtual Republican National Convention in 2020. A month after they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, the couple was pardoned by Republican Governor Mike Parson of Missouri.

Abbott can’t pardon Perry — yet. But he’s pushing to fast-track the process with the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles. Meanwhile, Fox News is calling Garza a “Soros-backed DA,” an antisemitic GOP attack that evokes George Soros, the liberal Jewish billionaire and frequent target of Republican ire.

As is their right, Perry’s lawyers have filed an appeal for a retrial. But for now the jury’s verdict stands. Absent a reversal, Perry is a convicted murderer who should spend the rest of his life in prison. But in all likelihood, he won’t. For purely political reasons, Abbott, who preaches law and order, wants a killer back on the streets of a divided nation where, increasingly, “law and order” means neither.


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.