Hundreds of concerned citizens gathered and directed questions about police violence to Mayor Adler and the Austin Police Department.
Video filmed and posted to YouTube by Travis County Democratic Party volunteer Robert Sheldon. This is the first of five parts. Find all of it here.
AUSTIN — On Monday, August 24, 2015, the Travis County Democratic Party (TDCP) hosted a Community Conversation on race and policing in Austin. The event drew hundreds to the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin.
It started at 7:32 p.m., the time when Larry Jackson, Jr. died on July 26, 2013. Austin Police Detective Charles Kleinert shot Larry Jackson, Jr., an unarmed African-American, to death. Several members of Larry Jackson, Jr.’s family were present. Adam Loewy, the attorney representing the Larry Jackson, Jr. family, was a panelist.
TCDP Secretary Vincent Harding moderated the event. In his introduction, Harding said the event followed up on a resolution passed by the Travis County Democratic Party. Prompted by the urgency of addressing deaths like Jackson’s, the resolution urged the Austin Police Department to use body cameras, train officers on de-escalation techniques, and adopt Community Policing reforms.
After introducing the panelists, Harding lost no time directing a question to Austin Mayor Steve Adler on budgeting to implement body cameras in 2016.
City Council member Ora Houston spoke with passion about the need to address police violence and economic inequality. The mayor responded to the issue of body cameras. He also urged people to attend an event scheduled for Saturday, September 12, on economic inequality.
Margo Frasier, former Travis County sheriff and current Austin Police Monitor, responded to a question about the delay in issuing her report. It has been three years since the last report was issued, a delay she blamed on the length of time to conclude cases. She did say that the report was currently on the city manager’s desk.
Other panelists included Nelson Linder of Austin’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and community activist Meme Styles.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo was supposed to be a panelist, but was in Washington, D.C. at a White House conference on Community Policing. He was replaced by APD Asst. Chief Brian Manley.
The attorney for the family of Larry Jackson, Jr. described the death as murder. The APD detective responsible, Charles Kleinert, is now retired. He succeeded in using the fact that he was on a federal task force to move his manslaughter case into federal court where he will have greater protection.
Perhaps the most poignant exchange happened when an African-American man said: “People in Austin care more about animals than people.” Unfortunately, the Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier corroborated the assessment when she told the audience that they received far more calls when APD killed a dog than when they killed a person.
There have been 20 questionable deaths by police violence between 1984 and 2013 — 14 African-Americans and six Latinos. The Austin NAACP’s website has a comprehensive list of these deaths on their website.
The Community Conversation gathered hundreds of concerned citizens, allowed many to direct questions to the mayor and APD. It is likely that it prompted the Austin Police Monitor to finalize her report. It focused attention on action items that can be implemented, such as body cameras, de-escalation training, and Community Policing initiatives. Perhaps most important, it made it clear to the mayor and APD that this conversation can’t be ignored.
Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.
[Rag Blog associate editor Alice Embree is co-chair of the Friends of New Journalism and a veteran of SDS, the original Rag, and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Alice is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union.]