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City leaders respond to protests

Monday, June 1, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Over the weekend, protesters across the country left their homes in a call for justice for George Floyd and other black victims of police brutality. In Austin, people turned out in an expression of solidarity and to demand accountability for the death of Mike Ramos, in a series of protests that included arrests, the shutting down of Interstate 35, looting, tear gas and fires. Through it all, many city officials remained mute.

Organizers canceled a Sunday march, though many still showed up at the Capitol and later shut down the highway for the second day in a row. Austin Justice Coalition Executive Director Chas Moore addressed the cancellation in a Facebook live video. He explained that protests had been co-opted, posing a threat to good-faith participants and the black community.

“White people have colonized the black anger and the black movement in this particular time frame and have used black pain and black outrage to completely become anarchists in this moment,” Moore said. “There’s no way, with good mind and a good conscience, that we can have this event today, because there’s no way possible we can ensure the safety of black folk.”

Moore said that, in Austin, white people predominantly led the protests that shut down I-35 and led to confrontations with police. The protests and response continue to dominate the news and social media in Austin.

At press time, Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Greg Casar and Kathie Tovo had all used their platforms to speak about Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests. Through the weekend, many Austin City Council members remained curiously quiet on social media. No other Council members had released statements, though Council Member Ann Kitchen did retweet Harper-Madison’s call for “deep and lasting changes to our social structures and institutions.” By Sunday night, Council members Jimmy Flannigan and Paige Ellis had commented on the protests.

Harper-Madison also signed on to a statement from Eastern Crescent elected officials including state Rep. Sheryl Cole, Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion, Manor Mayor Larry Wallace and Pflugerville Council Member Rudy Metayer.

The statement read, in part, “When our systems fail to distribute equitable justice, we must come together to challenge the status quo. … To our people who are marching and demonstrating: We see you and we feel your frustration. We share your pain and we weep with you. And we also know we cannot simply sit back and empathize. We must, and we will, use our abilities and resources to change our society for the better. Now is the time, for the sake of true equity, for the sake of true justice, and for the sake of the true American promise, to stop tolerating intolerance and to stop ignoring the plight of our neighbors and of ourselves.”

Garza posted on Friday and then again on Sunday about the protests, in an expression of solidarity with protesters. “Together we can implement real institutional change, we can hold police accountable, we can achieve criminal justice reform, and we will fight for and win the just and equitable society every single person in our community deserves,” she wrote. “Black Lives Matter.”

Adler, who addressed the protest during his Friday night Facebook Live, also released a statement: “George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Larry Jackson. David Joseph. Mike Ramos. As the list grows, so do the tears and the fears. Only real accountability will restore trust in those who swear to serve and protect. People who kill – including police officers – should be arrested and see due process from inside a courtroom and from the defendant’s table. These incidents did not begin with cell phone cameras. For our black and brown neighbors, the fear of appearing in one of those scenes is a generations-long ache, resulting in an erosion of trust in the police that makes the entire community less safe.

“I am committed to do what it takes to make this stop,” he concluded.

Casar posted a lengthy statement on Facebook, which included a statement from Brenda Ramos, the mother of Mike Ramos.

She later spoke to the press, asking for justice. “I call for Officer Taylor to be suspended. I call for him to be fired. I call for Officer Taylor to be prosecuted for killing two people. I call for the police to stop killing!” she said. “I need your voices. Some days I do not feel strong enough to carry on. I need your help. We must get justice for Mike.”

Ramos had earlier issued a plea that no one commit violence in the name of her son.

“I stand with Ms. Ramos’ call to not commit acts of violence in her son’s name. I also believe the principles of nonviolence must be followed by police officers as much as demonstrators,” wrote Casar. “The response to any peaceful protestor of police brutality cannot be police brutality. I’ve spoken with families who were needlessly injured by APD yesterday while they were peacefully demonstrating. Similar stories are being shared from across the country. This is unacceptable.”

He continued, “People are angry, and they’re hurt, and they’re sad. People are upset about the killings. They’re upset that your ZIP code is a major determinant of your life expectancy in Austin. Our economy has failed black lives. Our entire criminal legal system has taken so many black lives. We should all be upset about this reality.”

Michael Ramos was fatally shot during an incident with Austin police on April 24. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced Friday that she would present the Ramos case to a special grand jury. Though critics and the media have long pointed out that this process favors law enforcement, Moore issued a statement that she came to the decision after review with her civil rights director.

In response to protests throughout Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster Sunday. Abbott ordered troopers and the National Guard to assist the Department of Public Safety in their response to protests.

Update: Council Member Jimmy Flannigan posted this statement to Twitter on Sunday night:

Council Member Kathie Tovo posted this statement to Facebook on Sunday:

Council Member Paige Ellis posted this statement to her social media channels on Sunday:

Council Member Leslie Pool released a statement to the media about the protests in Austin on Monday.

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Council Member Alison Alter posted about the protests Monday night.

This story has been corrected and updated with missed social media posts and posts from City Council members that spoke about the protests after our deadline. Photo by Caleb Pritchard.

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