A new federal grant will help Fort Worth police fight crime and strengthen residents’ trust.
But lately, no word stirs more hatred and distrust than federal.
Within hours after Fort Worth landed a Justice Department grant to promote greater public safety and colorblind justice, conspiracy bloggers suspected sinister intent.
“Feds Announce Massive Takeover of Police,” headlined one fake-news website in Arkansas. “Obama Federalizes Police,” another read.
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Fort Worth and the five other winning cities sharing the $4.75 million grant are “in dire need of cash,” TeaParty.net accused on its phony “news network,” blasting Mayor Betsy Price and Police Chief Rhonda Robertson as “willing to sell their city’s local rule in exchange for short-term financial gains.”
Innocent readers shared the posts on Facebook, where conspiracy fiction passes for genuine news.
Texas secessionists took particular glee in warning against a “federal takeover.” But they disagreed about whether to blame “jackbooted thugs,” the commies or the coming end times and the Antichrist.
One wrote: “The prophets warned us what Obama would do.”
Rick Van Houten of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association said he’d seen some of the comments.
His reaction was succinct: “I think they’ve lost their minds.”
Van Houten said he and labor leaders were involved from the start in the grant application. The idea is to bring chiefs, union leaders and academia together to balance justice and boost community relations.
“Fort Worth people have a good relationship with the police — we want to keep it that way,” he said.
“This is an opportunity to bring in some of the brightest minds in academia. They’re going to see our strengths and also tell us ways we can improve.”
In a statement, Robertson said the department is honored to be among the six chosen and hopes to “develop new relationships built upon trust.”
Van Houten said it can’t hurt.
“There are not many times when the command staff and labor leaders get together and say, ‘This is a good thing,’” he said.
“The federal government will have no more control over this than they do over a highway bridge built with federal dollars.”
Yet one Fort Worth resident took to Twitter to warn about “martial law.”
Call it another Facebook fairy tale.
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538