Austinites recount police violence during weekend protests, demand cuts to APD budget
The Austin City Council heard from hundreds of people during an emergency meeting Thursday that addressed police violence at weekend protests against the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Austin.
Council has been holding its meetings remotely, via video chat, so speakers called in. Some demanded the city slash the police department’s budget and put that money toward health care and other social services. Others detailed police violence they experienced as protesters this past weekend, including when officers used tear gas and shot “less lethal” ammunition at demonstrators.
“It felt like a war zone,” said Sam Kirsch, who protested alongside Black Lives Matter demonstrators Sunday.
Kirsch said he was shot with what he thought was either a bag filled with lead pellets or a rubber bullet, which broke at least five bones in his face. (APD has said it did not use rubber bullets this past weekend.)
Edwin Ayala, whose 16-year-old brother Brad Levi Ayala was hospitalized after an officer shot him in the head with a lead-pellet bag, spoke to Council members through sobs Thursday.
“We thought he was going to die,” Edwin said. “He’s in so much pain and I can’t help him.”
At least two others, including a pregnant woman and a 20-year-old university student, were also injured by police over the weekend.
At the meeting, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said his officers would no longer use this type of ammunition on crowds of people, but said it “is still an appropriate tool in many other circumstances.”
Council Member Greg Casar, who represents North Central Austin, told Manley his response was “insufficient,” saying he’d seen a video of Levi Ayala being shot and that he’d been standing alone, not in a crowd.
“Changing the policy for crowds would not have changed this,” Casar said.
Other speakers asked City Manager Spencer Cronk to fire Chief Manley and to cut the police department’s budget; Council allocated more than $440 million to the department last year.
“Give (the money) to our black people. We need it; better health care, our economy, our schools. We need food. We’re homeless out here,” said Nyeka Arnold, who has lived in Austin for 27 years and said she’s never felt safe. “Defund it, period.”
Manley said policing is not perfect.
“These are men and women in very dynamic situations,” he said. “Unfortunately, there will be mistakes …. We are committed at the Austin Police Department to serve our community, to serve them rightly and appropriately and to look for opportunities to improve.”
Council members are scheduled to reconvene Friday morning to hear from police about what happened last weekend, although they will not vote or take any action at that time.
“When is the time going to be to change? When are we going to actually do something? When are we actually going to matter to the people who have been paid to protect us?” Ashleigh Hamilton asked Council.
Casar said he hopes that as early as next week Council can vote on changes to police department policy, pointing toward eight demands from the national policy group Campaign Zero. These include a policy banning officers from using chokeholds and strangleholds, and shooting at moving vehicles, which is how Ramos was killed in April.
“I’m tired of talking,” said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents East Austin, at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting. “This is not mine or that of any other black or brown or otherwise marginalized person; this is all of ours. We all should feel sad and mad and demand that we stop talking.”
This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Austin Police Department: the law enforcement entity for the City of Austin.