Austin police and city leaders say they are preparing for November protests as the city steels itself for an election that has wrought tension at the highest levels of national government.
The election, which President Donald Trump has warned will be "rigged" and said the outcome may not be clear for "months," comes after a summer marked by near-daily demonstrations, both in downtown Austin and across the nation, over civil rights and police brutality.
Nearly two dozen people were hospitalized in late May after clashes with Austin police, whose use of bean bag rounds during protests resulted in sweeping changes ordered by the Austin City Council and a ban on the use of less-lethal weapons against demonstrators.
In July, demonstrator Garrett Foster was shot by a man who said he was unconnected to protests but driving for Uber in the area when his car was attacked by protesters. Daniel Perry, an active duty sergeant with the U.S. Army in Killeen, said he shot Foster in self defense. Charges have not been filed.
A tense memorial for him brought clashes between those who thought Perry was there to cause trouble, and those who believed Foster threatened him—with both sides heavily armed, including armed members of the Proud Boys militia, an extremist right-wing group that has made national headlines recently.
Police said this week that they are getting ready for the protests but declined to specify what their plans will include. An emailed statement suggested that officials are planning for potential unrest beyond the peaceful atmosphere seen in the majority of protests through the last several months.
"The Austin Police Department will plan and prepare for any large protest or civil unrest events related to the upcoming elections," said police spokesperson Tara Long, in a statement emailed to Austonia. "The goal of such preparations is to ensure the safety of the community, while protecting the rights of people to peacefully exercise their First Amendment Rights."
Demonstrations a way of life in Austin
In 2016, on the day after the November election between Trump and Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, demonstrators marched in Austin to protest the fact that Trump had won the election in spite of the fact that Clinton had won the popular vote.
On the day after Trump's January 2017 inauguration, tens of thousands descended on downtown Austin to show solidarity during the Women's March on Washington.
"Austin has a storied history of large-scale peaceful protests when election results have offended our community's sensibilities," said City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, chairman of the Council's Committee on Public Safety.
Home to the state Capitol, Austin has played host to countless demonstrations throughout the years.
Local and statewide groups have demonstrated on myriad issues including immigration laws, gun control, or demanded higher pay for teachers or the legalization of marijuana or the protection of a woman's right to choose abortion.
"As a state capital city, we are always prepared and continuously improving our process for peaceful protest," Flannigan said.
Flannigan said he doesn't anticipate any voting issues on Election Day that might cause clashes at the polls, saying that elections in Williamson and Travis counties, parts of both of which fall within his district, have worked hard to accommodate voters with little incident.
Even with the recent national tensions over masks and potentially thousands of partisan poll watchers at voting sites, he and others said they don't anticipate clashes on a local level over those issues.
"Austin has a long history of safe and fair elections, and I have no doubt that Austinites of all political perspectives are eager to vote and will do so responsibly and safely, wearing their masks and taking the necessary precautions," Flannigan said.
He and others noted, however, that the potential for unrest after the election is fairly high—given the likelihood that the presidential election may not be over on Election Night.
The appetite for protest in Austin certainly hasn't abated in recent weeks, with groups from all parts of the political spectrum planning protests over voting sites, masks and other issues.
PROTESTS MUST HAPPEN NOW. Gov Abbott reduces drop boxes to one per county. Harris County has 4.2 million people. VO… https://t.co/LKm3iOgYjc— Helen Armstrong (@Helen Armstrong)1602040887.0
Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, one of the council's loudest voices for police reform in the wake of the protests, called on Austinites to "continue to raise our voices, exercise our rights, and keep holding officials accountable" after votes are cast.
"APD, by their own admission, needlessly harmed peaceful protesters this summer, including hurting medics and nearly killing two teenagers, and the entire City Council has made it clear that this is not acceptable," Casar said in a statement to Austonia. "We remain committed to protecting all people's First Amendment rights, and we remain committed to safety for our city employees as well as everyday residents. I will continue to fight for policies that protect Austinites' health, safety, and right to protest, no matter the election results."
Asked whether downtown businesses were taking any actions in anticipation of rowdy protests, the Downtown Austin Alliance released a statement that did not detail any plans but supported the notion of civic engagement—noting that demonstrations on the Capitol steps and along Congress Avenue are a way of life in Austin and "a foundation of our democracy."
"For the past several months, there have been peaceful protests and demonstrations almost every day downtown," the statement said. "As stewards of downtown, we remain focused on ensuring that downtown is a vibrant and welcoming place for all who want to engage civically."
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After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
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Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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