KLRU organized the event titled ATXTogether: Community Solutions for Civil Rights Issues as Austin and the nation continue to reel from a devastating string of catastrophic events, including two highly controversial deadly police shootings (in as many days) of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the subsequent murders of four Dallas police officers and a Dallas rapid transit officer at a #BlackLivesMatter protest.
KLRU’s summit was organized in the format of a town hall discussion and moderated by former Austin television news anchors Judy Maggio and Ron Oliveira, and Travis County Democratic Party Chair Vincent Harding.
“This is an important night,” said Maggio. “If anyone can have a conversation with respect and kindness, it’s Austin, Texas.”
If anyone can have a conversation with respect and kindness, it’s Austin, Texas.
Oliveira said the evening was about discussing the Black Lives Matters movement and much more.
“We’re hoping to encourage an open, frank discussion that will bring people together so that we can come up with solutions for solving some of the issues plaguing us today,” he said. “It’s not only about what’s happened over the last few days, but it’s also about issues like LGBTQ, the division presidential politics has fostered, immigration, ‘the wall,’ and attitudes toward Hispanics in this country. We can all talk about the problem, but what’s the solution?”
The audience was a diverse mix of races and ages, even toddlers.
There was strong Austin police presence with several officers and representatives from the department (Maggio explained that police chief Art Acevedo was attending a memorial service in Dallas,) local officials including NAACP president Nelson Linder and Travis County Commissioner (Precinct 2) Brigid Shea, and a slew of young social activists including Austin Justice Coalition co-creator Chas Moore.
The purpose of the evening was to allow the Austin audience to talk candidly about three topics:
- Barriers in the way of creating a genuinely united Austin community
- Positive efforts by systems and organizations (APD, school districts, non-profit organizations, churches, etc.) to foster peace
- Concrete commitments audience members could make to ensure Austin is not a city that tolerates hate
For the full hour of the scheduled live taping and another 15 minutes beyond, audience members queued up to voice their concerns on a range of issues, the majority of which focused on the plight of Black Austin residents and disparities and inequality that exist.
Moore asked Black members of the audience to raise their hands if they would prefer to be treated the way they perceived white people are treated in Austin. A healthy number of hands went up.
“Now, how many white people in here would want to be treated like Black people are treated in this country today,” he asked. There was silence and no show of hands.
“Besides carrying on these types of conversations, which is great, at some point we have to stop talking and do some acting,” Moore continued. “It comes down to unlearning. If you’re white you have to unlearn your privilege. If you’re Black, you have to unlearn that you’re less-than.” Moore went on to say Black people in America have PTSD — Post Traumatic Slave Disorder. “We’re angry,” he said. “We just want equal access.”
The most compelling aspect of the evening was audience members learning from each other about the many organizations, movements, and programs in Austin designed to promote unity and eliminate the opportunity gap that exists between white residents and Austinites of color.
While none of Austin’s civil rights problems were solved, audience members eagerly and passionately participated in the conversation.
“We didn’t arrive at this heartbreaking chapter in history overnight,” Maggio said. “We won’t solve the problems overnight. But let’s all pledge to keep the commitments we made. Together, Austin has the power to raise the bar and find a way to put hate and violence behind us.”
From talk to action
Arguably the evening’s most incensed comment came from Linder, who had a direct appeal to police departments.
“Let’s be real, if we can’t stop the killing, we can’t stop the problem,” he said. “Stop killing our Black men.”
Stop killing our Black men.
Other comments ranged from topics of gentrification and gun control to mental health issues and the importance of voting in local and national elections.
Moore commended the event as a start, but called for more direct action to achieve social justice
“I think last night was a really good start as far as having the conversations about race and racial issues that reside here in Austin. It was good to have people of all races in one space to discuss these things,” Moore said.
“However, after the conversation and sharing of ideas, we, as a community at large, must be dedicated to putting some action behind the words. There will always be time for the sharing of feelings and ideas, but the time for action is right now.”