On Tuesday night, state Senator Wendy Davis' staff announced that someone had set a small fire outside the door of her Fort Worth office using bottles filled with lighter fluid. The senator wasn't there at the time, and no one else was hurt during the incident, which badly scorched the door of the office. Authorities said a building maintenance worker chased a man from the scene, but was unable to catch him. An arrest was made late last night, but police declined to release the man's name at the time.
Now, the Star-Telegram reports that the man is being identified by police as Cedric Steele, 40, a homeless man who had showed up at the senator's office twice in the previous week, asking to talk to her; Davis said in interviews yesterday that Steele's demeanor at the time led her staff to conclude that he was "probably not stable." The Morning News reports that when he was told Davis was unavailable, he told the staff that they would "soon be reading about him in the news."
Court records show Steele has several previous convictions in Oklahoma and Texas for assault, including a charge in Dallas County for assaulting a family member in December 2006.
After the attack was announced, speculation quickly mounted that Davis had been targeted because of her vocal support for Planned Parenthood. She spoke at a rally in support of the organization just 10 days ago, and has said more than once that she relied on Planned Parenthood for her healthcare as a young single mother. Burnt Orange Report wrote about the incident, which it described as probably "politically motivated," and set up a donation page for her re-election campaign.
The Star-Telegram has also previously reported that Davis recently provoked the ire of Republican candidates at a forum for her support for increasing public school funding. The report says that each time her name was mentioned, there was a "growing chorus of growls and a few boos" from the audience.
In a phone conversation with Unfair Park today, Davis said it was too early to know what Steele's motives might have been for the attack or if they were related to her recent appearance in support of Planned Parenthood. She declined to say what Steele had said to her staff because Fort Worth police asked her and her staff not to publicly discuss too many details about him.
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"Probably the most appropriate thing to consider when something like this happens is just that respect for differences of opinion sometimes is absent," Davis told us. "Especially when we're talking about issues like Planned Parenthood. Hopefully, whether this was related to that or not, it's a reminder to us that we should be respectful in our tone and be careful about the choice of words that we use."
Davis also said that she was disturbed by media reports recounting Republican forums where she's been attacked by the candidates. "The way that it's been characterized to me, as it's been recounted, is that in some Republican forums, they're holding me up as this object of hatred, that I must be taken out, that I am the most dangerous thing to their values, is the way they talk about it in the state right now, and that I should be the number one target in the state in the next election cycle."
Davis said she hopes the incident at her office "is a reminder that when we use words and we speak in ways to try to incite negative emotion, that there are consequences to that. We have to mindful of the fact that there are people who may not be as stable as some of us. Using those kinds of emotional pleas, for lack of a better way of saying it, can have a response."
Davis said the Texas Department of Public Safety is talking to her and her staffers about security protocols for the office. "We'll look to them for their guidance," she said. "But we're not intending on becoming a fortress here. We have an open door and we will continue to have an open door. And I'll continue to talk about the things I've been talking about. I don't intend to change my public positions on those issues or to be quiet going forward."