How the 2020 campaign is exposing divisions in Texas’ suburbs

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HOUSTON — This summer, Whitney Hanzik got a startling notification on her phone. There’d been a stabbing near her home, and one person was injured. Then she looked outside and noticed a helicopter flying over her suburban Houston neighborhood.

Hanzik, a 35-year-old mom who home-schools her three children, wanted to know whether a dangerous person was on the loose. So she logged on to the Prestonwood Forest Neighbors & Friends Facebook group.

“Can anyone verify or does anyone have any further details?” she posted, along with a picture of the crime alert.

Hanzik, who’d grown up in Prestonwood Forest and moved back as an adult, didn’t expect the firestorm that followed.

One longtime resident, an older white woman, complained that it was yet more evidence that the area surrounding Prestonwood, a subdivision developed in the 1970s, was turning into “the ‘hood,” according to several residents who read the now-deleted comment.

That triggered accusations of racism from some residents, including a Black couple who said they never truly felt at home in the mostly white but slowly diversifying neighborhood. Those posts were followed by several from white residents who said they couldn’t understand why people were making it about race.

Fifty-three comments later, Hanzik scrolled through the replies, stunned.

“I just wanted to know what was going on,” she said of the stabbing, which turned out to be tied to a domestic dispute at a nearby apartment complex. “I’ve got three kids at home by myself. I just want to know that the area is secure, right? And then when somebody made one comment, everything took a turn for the worst.”

But it wasn’t the first time this year — or the last — that Prestonwood Forest’s community Facebook group has unraveled into a heated argument over crime, politics and race.