100% Austin news, info, and entertainment, straight to your inbox at 6 a.m. every morning.
In five minutes, you're fully informed and ready to start another great day in our city.
David Frost, 22, had never attended a protest before the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in May. Then the cell phone-wielding Austinite became a key player in a series of events that touched off major change in the Austin Police Department.
When Austin police officers began using tear gas on screaming protestors to clear I-35 on May 30, Frost pulled out his phone and hit the record button.
"I wasn't originally going out there planning on filming," he said.
One video showed a group of protesters carrying Justin Howell's limp body to medics after an Austin police officer shot the 20-year-old Texas State student in the head with a "less lethal" round.
His 45-second clip on social media now has more than 10 million views. Outrage over the video, and similar ones on social media, led to a ban on less lethal rounds and tear gas at Austin protests.
"The importance of documenting this stuff is, like, nobody knew Justin's name for 48 hours," Frost said.
@arianalipkin https://t.co/ZGHtMpPj8B— David Frost (@David Frost)1590986632.0
Amateur video footage has been critical to the Black Lives Matter movement since it gained national prominence in 2014 following the Ferguson unrest—and most recently in the death of George Floyd, which prompted protests around the world.
Austin police have even recognized the amateur videographers as valuable, frequently calling on citizens to send in their footage to help—including in the cases of Howell and Brad Levi Ayala, 16, who suffered brain damage after being hit with a bean bag round that same weekend.
"I have been filming," Frost said. "And I have noticed a lot more people filming as well."
Local activists are using video footage not only to capture and post isolated incidents but also to record protests, rally support and investigate misconduct.
"I'm seeing new tactics as well as new platforms being deployed," said Professor Dhiraj Murthy, who researches social media activism at the University of Austin at Texas.
It fits into a broader trend of the public watching the police, he said, a practice known as "sousveillance."
"It's the idea that you can monitor how the police are treating people," he said.
When Brendan Walsh, another newcomer to protests, saw video clips of the Austin protests in late May, he described it as "warfare on Austin citizens."
Walsh scoured the internet for clips showing Ayala being hit. His goal: To identify the officer who fired the weapon.
Reddit has a strict anti-doxxing policy, due to its users wrongly accusing an innocent 22-year-old of being one of the Boston bombers. So Walsh created the Instagram account @justice4ayala, where he posted updates on his investigation.
Last week, APD confirmed to Texas Monthly what Walsh had already discovered: The officer's name was Nicholas Gebhart.
"There's a reason people are interested in my work," Walsh said. "They feel that this officer might not be held accountable."
Murthy says the actions of these amateur investigators tend to incite those who believe they're vigilantes.
"There have been plenty of incidents where the people filming footage have had abuse online leveled at them and that has resulted in real threats against them," he said.
Walsh said some protesters have sent footage to him instead of APD because they fear officers will ask why they were searching through their social media accounts.
Hiram Gilberto Garcia, an independent journalist who interviewed Austin protester Garrett Foster on camera the night he was shot and killed by an Uber driver, has documented being arrested by APD and discouraged comments that "initiate disagreement or discord."
In spite of of that, however, Walsh hopes more people follow his lead, especially as official inquiries drag on.
"This only took me 25 to 30 hours by myself to get a significant amount of progress," he said. "And now it has pushed from something that was just kind of an online project to what I feel is real change."
- Austin paints Black Lives Matter on Congress - austonia ›
- Thousands in Austin march against police brutality - austonia ›
- Austin black-owned restaurants see support after protests - austonia ›
- Man who shot Garrett Foster reveals identity - austonia ›
- How Austin's affluent suburbs are thinking about the protests ... ›
- Video fires up effort to remove APD police chief after protests - austonia ›
- 8 Austin Twitter accounts you should follow - austonia ›
- BlueLeaks hack reveals clandestine surveillance of Austinites - austonia ›
- BlueLeaks hack raises questions about racial profiling in secret surveillance of Austin residents - austonia ›
- Charges against austin black lives matter protestors dropped - austonia ›
- Austin City Council takes step toward creating Black Embassy - austonia ›
- Austin's Black Lives Matter protests shape city a year later - austonia ›
After Austin voters passed Proposition B, reinstating a ban on public camping, City Council directed staff to look into possible sanctioned campsites where homeless residents could live legally. Now two members are asking to shelve discussion on the controversial topic.
Staff presented dozens of possible sanctioned campsites across each fo the 10 council districts in late May, following the election. But members mostly pushed back on the proposed locations, citing cost, wildfire risk and lack of transparency as concerns.
With updated criteria, staff recommended two sites—one in District 1 and the other in District 8—for further review last week. After being briefed on the options during Tuesday's work session, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, and Council Member Paige Ellis, who represents District 8, issued a joint statement proposing "a pause" on further discussion of temporary sanctioned encampments.
"We are not convinced that these sites would be a cost-effective solution, but rather a band-aid tactic when we need to be supporting the long-term strategy to get folks off the street permanent," they said. "It is our responsibility to look at the situation holistically and objectively, and to spend out city's limited resources on solutions we know can work."
Homeless Strategy Officer Dianna Grey noted that the two locations were imperfect and would require a lot of time and money to outfit as sanctioned campsites during the briefing.
City staff and homeless experts have previously raised concerns about sanctioned encampments, saying they are expensive to maintain, challenging to manage and hard to close, even when intended to to be temporary.
In 2019, staff declined to make recommendations for such sites despite being directed by council to do so, citing 2018 guidance from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "Neither authorized encampments nor parking areas provide housing for people experiencing homelessness," staff wrote in a memo. "Rather, each option detracts from the staff resources assigned to addressing this moral imperative."
But with Prop B being enforced and too few shelter beds and affordable units for the estimate unsheltered homeless population in Austin, the city is facing the same predicament that prompted District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo to pursue possible sanctioned campsites in the first place: "When individuals in encampments ask where they should go, we need to have places to suggest," she said at a May 6 council meeting.
- City of Austin reveals two possible sanctioned homeless camps ... ›
- Austin City Council will review possible homeless camps - austonia ›
- Sanctioned homeless sites raise concern after Prop B passes ... ›
Don't lose your mask just yet—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is now recommending masks in areas that are surging as cases rise nationwide and the Delta variant looms.
The CDC announced Tuesday that even fully vaccinated individuals should mask up indoors if their community is experiencing substantial transmission—defined as areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people. Travis County is sitting at an average of 94.59 cases per 100,000 over the past seven days, falling into the highest risk category, according to the CDC.
#DeltaVariant surging in U.S. New data show Delta much more contagious than previous versions of #COVID19. Unvaccinated people: get vaccinated & mask until you do. Everyone in areas of substantial/high transmission should wear a mask, even if vaccinated. https://t.co/tt49zOEC8N
— CDC (@CDCgov) July 27, 2021
After two COVID-19 recommendation stage jumps in the last two weeks, from Stage 2 to Stage 4, Austin-area cases are the highest they have been since February. The seven-day average for cases is on an upward trend, reaching 226 on Tuesday.
The CDC is also recommending that all students K-12 wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. A May executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits schools from requiring masks, regardless of vaccination status. Austin ISD is "strongly" encouraging students to wear masks.
Although vaccinated individuals are still protected against the most severe symptoms of the variant, infections are spreading rapidly and now make up 83% of confirmed cases in the U.S. At least a dozen cases of the delta variant have been confirmed in the Austin area, though there are likely more since testing for it is limited.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that hospital admissions are "almost exclusively" coming from people who are unvaccinated but those who are vaccinated can still catch and spread the virus.
"Unlike the alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant," Walensky said. "That leads us to believe that the breakthrough infections, rare that they are, have the potential to pool and transmit at the same with the same capacity as an unvaccinated person."
Research suggests those who become infected carry 1,000 times more of the virus than other variants and could stay contagious for longer.The announcement comes on the heels of the Biden administration ramping up cautionary measures in the face of the Delta variant. Just last week, the CDC said it had no plans to change its May guidance of vaccinated not having to wear masks unless there was a significant change in the data. Officials met on Sunday night to review new evidence, according to reports.
- Austin businesses resume mask mandates amid Stage 4 shift ... ›
- Here's where you can get vaccinated and avoid Delta today - austonia ›
- Unvaccinated Austinites at risk of Delta variant with hospitals seeing ... ›
- Should Texans be concerned about the delta variant? - austonia ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
The Moody Center, a $338 million, 530,000-square-foot multipurpose arena at the University of Texas at Austin, celebrated its topping out on Tuesday.
With the final beam placed, the arena's steel-frame structural phase—which involved more than 5.3 million pounds of steel—is complete.
"This past year has been full of unprecedented events, not to mention weather challenges, and yet the women and men working on this project continue to deliver," Moody Center General Manager and Senior Vice President Jeff Nickler said in a press release.
To celebrate the topping out Oak View Group, the development and investment firm behind the Moody Center will affix a tree to the final beam in keeping with the time-honored tradition.
The practice dates back to ancient Scandinavian religious rites, which involved placing a tree atop new buildings to appease tree-dwelling spirits displaced during the construction process, according to the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers in Washington D.C.
After the steel-frame structure phase, the development will move on to enclosing and finishing the interior of the Moody Center.
The arena is set to open next April and already has some major acts scheduled for its inaugural year, including The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, John Mayer and The Killers. It will replace the 43-year-old Frank C. Erwin Jr. Center and serve as the home of UT's men's and women's basketball games, among other sports and community events.
- New Moody Center secures The Weeknd for grand opening in 2022 ... ›
- Dell becomes founding partner of Austin's new Moody Center ... ›
- A peek inside UT's new $338 million Moody Center - austonia ›