After two back-to-back homicides early Sunday morning, Austin reached a 60-year high of 60 homicides this year.
The number is the highest the Austin Police Department has recorded in its 60 years of record-keeping and surpasses the murders in 2020 by 25%, when the city saw 48 slayings.
The numbers came quick early Sunday morning, when police officers responded to a call at the El Nocturno Night Club on 7601 N. Lamar Blvd after reports of gunfire. A man was found with several gunshot wounds at the scene and was later pronounced dead.
Less than 10 minutes later, officers responded to a reported stabbing downtown. When they arrived at the scene, they found an injured man who later died. No more information has come from either report.
According to the Austin-American Statesman's Tony Plohetski, the homicide rate when using 2020 census data is 6.2 per 100,000 residents, up from a previous high of around 5.0 in 2020.
Austin Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon said the city's "boomtown" growth is now being met with "boomtown" problems.
"This is about us truly becoming a big city," Chacon said. "We are starting to experience big city problems. Having said that, I still think that among the big cities, that we remain one of the safest in the country."
Rising crime in Austin has been part of contentious political debates, including a controversial proposition from Save Austin Now to increase police staffing and statements from Gov. Greg Abbott.
Some politicians have pointed to Austin's police budget cuts following the George Floyd and Michael Ramos protests in the summer of 2020 as the culprit for the city's rise in crime. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said the city is "now one of the most dangerous cities in America and definitely in Texas."
But some, like Chacon, say this is more indicative of a nationwide uptick in violent crime in recent years. According to the most recent FBI crime data, Austins violent crime rate sat at 400 incidents per 100,000 residents, or 28th out of the nation's 30 largest cities, in 2019. The city's murder rate for 2019 sat at 3.2 murders per 100,000 residents in 2019, putting Austin in the middle at 15th among Texas' 25 largest cities.
Still, Chacon worries that murders will only rise as the year's final four months come to a close, and the department responded in May by introducing a Violence Intervention Program aimed at preventing gun violence.
"As we go through criminal justice reform, we cannot forget why we have a police department, which is to keep the public safe," Chacon said. "So, we are looking at public safety through that lens, as well."
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After months of speculation, a new report says political personality Beto O'Rourke is mulling a run for Texas governor that he will announce later this year.
Sources tell Axios the former congressman is preparing his campaign for the 2022 election, where he will likely vie for the position against incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott. The only other candidate that has announced he will take on Abbott for governor is former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West—no Democrats have announced they are running as of yet.
"No decision has been made," Axios reports David Wysong, O'Rourke's former House chief of staff and a longtime adviser, said. "He has been making and receiving calls with people from all over the state."
A new poll from The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows O'Rourke is narrowing the gap between himself and Abbott's prospects for governor. In the poll, 37% said they'd vote for O'Rourke over Abbott, while 42% said they'd vote for Abbott.
Abbott has been in the hot seat due to his handling of COVID-19 and the signing of landmark legislation into law, including new abortion and voting rights laws; 54% of poll respondents voted they think the state is headed in the "wrong direction." Still, Texas hasn't had a Democrat as governor since the 90s.
O'Rourke's people-focused approach to the 2018 Senator race, which he lost to Sen. Ted Cruz, gave him a widespread following and many hoped he'd throw his hat into the ring since he said he was considering it earlier this year.
"We hope that he's going to run," Gilberto Hinojosa, the state chair of the Democratic Party, told Axios. "We think he'll be our strongest candidate. We think he can beat Abbott because he's vulnerable."
Austin rapper Jordi Esparza may not have won the 2021 Red Bull Batalla, the world's largest Spanish freestyle rap competition, but for a spirited two rounds, the 22-year old Mexican native looked like he had every right to.
On Saturday evening in Los Angeles, the event itself looked like Cobra Kai meets Star Search with graphics adding a very Batman Beyond aesthetic. Over a dozen rappers hoping to represent the U.S. in the international round of the competition took to the stage with in-your-face jabs at accents, sexual orientation and odors, among other things.
This was Esparza's second rodeo; he had placed third at the 2020 National Finals, automatically securing him a spot this year.
However, things were different this year. He was not nervous about the contest. Unlike in 2020, when he made his Red Bull Batalla debut, the anxiety of the event led him to "feeling so bad."
Affecting a casual calm, the locally-based landscaper said he just felt "so relaxed, so happy" and primarily wanted to "enjoy everything."
Choosing his first-round opponent, Esparza, whose stage name is Jordi, elected to go against LA-based Boss.
Esparza freestyled an attack on his opponent's weight and cholo style of dress.
Boss—bracketing his Latin freestyle with English appeals to the crowd—mocked Jordi's lack of education, made fun of how clean Jordi's shoes looked and suggested that Jordi just came back from a Footlocker.
That first round went to Jordi.
But his next opponent Eckonn would prove to be his undoing.
Eckonn compared Jordi to Hannah Montana, while Jordi soulfully explained that he had learned from the best.
Esparza's verbal dexterity is matched by a rattling rhythm and a game face that is as mawkish as it is mockish. The overall effect is that of an underdog with bite.
Eckonn beat Esparza in that round with the overall championship going to Palm Beach-based rapper Reverse.
However, Esparza was just happy to be there. He recently told Austonia going to the finals again was a dream come true—a pinnacle that he said he won't know how to top.
With his nimble jabs and sneaky prowess, honed from pop culture and the swagger of a young working man hungry to be more, Jordi Esparza is just getting started.