This weekend marks one year since Austinites marched en masse in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, joining protesters in cities across the country—and world.
Spurred by the April 24 police killing of Mike Ramos in Southeast Austin and the May 25 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the Austin Police Department headquarters on May 30, 2020. Some later shut down I-35. APD officers used so-called "less-lethal" rubber bullets, leaving some protesters with permanent brain damage.
More protests followed, including one organized by the Austin Justice Coalition that saw thousands march from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol. In response to the demonstrations and outrage over APD's actions, Austin City Council criticized then-APD Chief Brian Manley and voted unanimously to cut the department's budget.
Protests against police violence and racial injustice in Austin and other cities sparked reform but they also prompted pushback from the state's Republican leadership and coincided with a national increase in violent crime. Although unexplained, this trend has led some to question the utility of "reimagining public safety," as local elected officials have pledged to do.
In the year since, Austin has seen the shooting death of protester Garrett Foster, the resignation of Manley and the historic indictment of APD Officer Christopher Taylor, who was charged with first-degree murder in Ramos' death in March. More recently, City Council approved a pilot class of the APD training academy, which was put on hiatus last July due to curriculum concerns, and state lawmakers sent a law to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk that will, if passed, prohibit police funding cuts in Austin and other large Texas cities.
Criminal justice reform advocates say there is still work to be done. Meanwhile, public safety interest groups argue that the reforms already enacted go too far. As Austin heads into its second year since these protests, one thing is certain: their legacy continues to influence the city's direction.
Austinites protested on May 30, 2020, following the police killings of Mike Ramos in Southeast Austin and George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Protesters first gathered outside of the APD headquarters in downtown Austin.
They later spread out, eventually shutting down I-35.
APD officers used rubber bullets, bean bags and tear gas to disperse protesters.
The police response left many protesters injured, including a pregnant woman, and left a 16-year-old and 20-year-old with permanent brain damage.
The protest spurred others, including one the following weekend that saw thousands march from Huston-Tillotson University to the Texas Capitol.
The series of protests ultimately led to reforms at the local and state levels, some of which are still taking shape.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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