Central Austin Edition - June 2020

BUDGING ON THE BUDGET City Council on June 11 unanimously committed to reducing the Austin police budget as part of its reform eorts. Some activist groups have called for a $100 million reduction. A $100 million reduction would bring the budget to its lowest level since 2013-14.

and attempting to drive o away from the ocers. Taylor red his rie three times at Ramos, killing the 42-year- old Austin resident. Police later con- rmed that Ramos was unarmed. Travis County District Attorney Marga- ret Moore said she will bring the case to a grand jury. Protests across the country that focused primarily on Floyd, police bru- tality and systemic racism revamped local calls for justice in the Ramos case. Just like other major U.S. cities, the ini- tial demonstrations held inAustin grew violent as police clashed with protest- ers in front of APD’s headquarters and on I-35. Civilian videos show Austin police ocers indiscriminately ring “less-lethal” bean bag bullets out of shotguns —the same weapon police ini- tially used on Ramos— and deploying tear gas into crowds of protesters. Twenty-nine protesters were hos- pitalized between May 30 and June 1, according to Austin-Travis County EMS Chief Ernesto Rodriguez, 11 of whom were injured by the bean bag bullets. One of the victims was 20-year-old Justin Howell, an unarmed protester who was shot in the head, putting him in critical condition . Another was 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala, who was shot in the head while standing alone, away from the crowd of protesters. Ayala suered life-threatening injuries but was reported to be in stable condi- tion following the incident. Rodriguez said the injuries sustained from the bean bag bullets could take years of recovery. Austin police’s tactics galvanized Austin City Council to hold a special called meeting June 4 to listen to resi- dents—their experience at the protests and opinion on how police handled the situation—and better understand from police what happened. The meeting drew public engagement rarely seen at a City Council meeting, with over 300 people wishing to weigh in. One of those people was Edwin Sanchez, the older brother of Ayala, who called in, sobbing hysterically over his brother’s injury, condition and pain. “He’s in so much pain, and I can’t help him,” Sanchez said between sobs. “[The doctor said] the velocity [the bean bag bullet] hit him with was like a 100 km baseball smashing into his head. He was the kindest, most respon- sible kid I knew. He still is. He’s in so much pain.” Adler later called the roughly eight hours of public testimony heard that night the most dicult he has sat through. “I’ll be hearing Edwin’s sobs for

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at the hands of police, which only attracted further, widespread scru- tiny and criticism of police tactics and culture. The video of Floyd’s death created a tidal wave of protests from citizens demanding change and promises from policymakers to rethink policing in communities throughout the nation and the world. Changes are already underway locally. In a signicant show of unity June 11, Austin City Council members unanimously resolved to decrease next year’s police budget and reallo- cate funds to social service initiatives. They also set stricter policies against the use of deadly force, deployment of weapons on protesters, and committed to reducing the police department’s stockpile of “military-grade” equip- ment and the racial disparities in trac stops. The mayor and all 10 Austin City Council members also signed o on language that said they have “no con- dence” that police leadership intends to implement necessary changes. City Council is scheduled to have budget and tax rate public hearings July 23, 30 and August 4 before holding budget adoption meetings Aug. 12-14. Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city has been working on police reform and addressing institutional racism in “bits and pieces” for years. However, the energy behind funda- mental shifts in the way the city oper- ates feels fresh, he said. “What’s been happening here the last fewweeks has been dierent from anything I’ve seen before,” Adler said. “What’s new is both the scale and urgency of what’s being discussed, the willingness of the community to think outside the box, and the possibility of reimagining [how we do things],” Acitizenrybecomesgalvanized Locally, Floyd’s death drew closer attention to the case of Austinite Michael Ramos, a black man who was killed by ocer Christopher Taylor on April 24, after police responded to a 911 call about people smoking “crack and crystal meth” inside a parked car and claiming that the male in the driver’s seat was holding a rearm. Civilian-recorded footage of the inci- dent shows Ramos with his hands up, telling ocers he did not have a gun when rookie Ocer Mitchell Pieper red a bean bag bullet, hitting Ramos. A separate civilian recording shows Ramos, after the initial shot, falling back into his car, closing the car door

POLICE BUDGET

Percentage of tax dollars that go to the police budget

40.5% 39.9%

$100 $200 $300 $500 $400

41.3% 41.0% 39.8% 37.7%

36.2%

0

Fiscal year

HOW TO FILE A CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT File a complaint with the Austin Oce of Police Oversight.

ONLINE AT:

WWW.ATXPOLICEOVERSIGHT.ORG

1520 RUTHERFORD LANE, BLDG. 1, AUSTIN IN PERSON AT: 5129722676 OVER THE PHONE AT: P.O. BOX 1088, AUSTIN, TX 78767 MAIL TO:

SOURCES: AUSTIN OFFICE OF POLICE OVERSIGHT, CITY OF AUSTINCOMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER

a long time when I close my eyes,” Adler said. Three days later, the Austin Justice Coalition held its Justice For Them All March, which focused on police brutal- ity, systemic inequity and the history of institutional racism faced by the black community and people of color in East Austin. The event, which began at Hus- ton-Tillotson University, Austin’s his- torically black university and its oldest institution of higher learning, led his- toric crowds, in the several thousands, on a 1.5-mile peaceful march through East Seventh Street to Congress Ave- nue and up to the Texas Capitol. “Yes, it’s about the police brutality, but it’s about the economic brutal- ity. … We still know how the system operates,” said Chas Moore, executive director of the Austin Justice Coali- tion. “That’s why we’re not surprised when we see brothers and sisters on the street. … It’s not lost upon me that we cannot x this. We have to literally uproot this evil system and think of another way to do public safety.” Council promises change Communitymembers and advocates have called for at least a $100 million slash to the city’s police budget. Those nal decisions will come later this sum- mer, but council resolved June 11 to cutting the budget in some fashion in the future, with plans to reallocate the

money to other social programs. After council adopted the set of police reform policies, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said she was heartened by the verbal commitments to imple- ment real change, and set the stage for the upcoming decisions regarding the police budget. “These votes were easy compared to the ones coming up,” she said. “Our community is at a boiling point.” Ken Casaday, president of the Aus- tin Police Association, the police o- cers’ union, said budget cuts and a reduction in resources for an already understaed department will make the community less safe. The depart- ment has 170 vacancies and Casa- day expects more—he said morale “couldn’t be lower” and many ocers are looking to retire, resign or nd work in a dierent city. Council members also put pressure on City Manager Spencer Cronk to lay out a plan on how he will address lead- ership within the Austin Police Depart- ment, and District 10 Council Member Alison Alter called Cronk’s silence on the topic “deafening.” “Few would disagree that we need to act and that we need to act in a big way,” Adler said.

For more information, visit communityimpact.com .

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CENTRAL AUSTIN EDITION • JUNE 2020

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