Austin Walks the Talk: Black Lives Really Do Matter

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will,” Frederick Douglass spoke those words in 1857. Those same words are ringing loud and clear across the United States and the world in 2020.

Austin is one of several cities whose citizens have demanded radical changes, not only in the leadership of the local law enforcement entities but in its budgetary priorities. On Thursday, June 11th, the Austin City Council unanimously voted for four resolutions that directly impact the funding and operation of the Austin Police Department.

The votes stood in stark contrast to the council’s seemingly tone-deaf vote to approve additional funding for APD in a special meeting held on June 4th.  This came after hours of passionate resident testimony decrying police brutality and police culture. This was widely criticized as a slap in the face and missed opportunity to those who had painstakingly laid out the justification for redirecting police funding.

In an obvious rebuke of the manner in which APD responded to the local protests that arose in response to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, one item prohibits police from using tear gas, bean bag rounds and so-called “rubber bullets”; both of which have historically been presented as “less-lethal” forms of force. Officers using such items injured Justin Howell, a 20-year-old black man, 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala, and at least 29 others seriously enough to hospitalize them.

Other items voted on strengthen the requirement for police officers to intervene when they witness another officer use unjustified force or otherwise violate policy. And it requires a list of police officers with a history of misconduct to be publicized and sent to prosecuting entities. 

Council Member Greg Casar added a policy that specifically addresses using deadly force on someone fleeing the police. The policy states that the person must pose an imminent threat to justify an officer shooting. Such a policy might have saved the life of Michael Ramos, an unarmed biracial black and Hispanic man, killed by Austin police in April. Ramos was pulling out of a parking lot when police officers shot and killed him.

What is notable about Thursday’s vote is that it occurred both unanimously and in opposition to Chief Manley and the historically very influential Austin Police Association.

We are about to take money away from police

“We are about to take money away from police and push it into alternate forms of public safety, something that’s never been done… The rules have always protected officers who violate policy and assault Black and Latinx people,” Chas Moore, president of the Austin Justice Coalition said in a recent press release. “We have made huge strides today, but we are about to start a much longer fight and will need this movement to grow even bigger,” 

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