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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."
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Austin is on a rollercoaster that only goes up, according to the new U.S. Census Bureau data that says the city has been the fastest-growing large metropolitan area in the U.S. for a full 10 years.
The data, which was released on Tuesday, said the population between the five counties in the Austin metro area—Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell—increased by 3% since 2019 and 34% since 2010.
Austin still isn't the largest metro area but it does have the fastest population growth compared to other U.S. metro areas with over a million people. In the past decade, the metro population has gone from around 1.7 million to 2.3 million people.
The huge increase in Travis County alone is enough to bring the city closer to the leagues of other big cities, jumping above San Francisco and San Jose, California and Jacksonville, Florida in the ranks of most populous.
An increase of more than half a million people in the metro area puts it as the 29th largest, an increase of one spot from last year.
However, in terms of just population growth compared to last July, Austin was beaten by a few other Texas cities: Dallas ranked first in the U.S. with an increase of 119,748 and Houston took third, gaining 91,078. Austin ranked fourth with a growth spurt of 67,197, averaging out to 184 new people per day including natural increase, or the difference caused by births and deaths.
Overall, Texas gained the most residents out of all other U.S. states.
With companies like Tesla, which has promised to hire 10,000 people at the new Gigafactory, Oracle, Samsung and Google putting down roots in Austin and Texas tax breaks and lack of personal income tax, it's no surprise companies and people are flocking to the Lone Star State.
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This week, Austin FC Head Coach Josh Wolff returns to a team that has his name plastered on their stadium walls.
Wolff, Sporting Kansas City's fourth-place all-time scorer, is returning home to Kansas City, but this time, he's the opponent as Austin FC looks to up their win streak to three straight games.
The MLS is abuzz with Austin FC's quick rise in the standings—predicted to just maybe crack the playoffs, the club is already ninth in Week 4's MLS Power Rankings and fourth in the West. The club is coming off of a breakout 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids and a slower-paced, but still decisive, victory over Minnesota United FC.
It's only the start, however. The club is facing a few injuries, and Wolff predicts that clubs are going to try to crack the league's golden team. "We want to play a certain way and some teams want to destroy that," Wolff said.
Here's what to expect for Austin FC's fourth-ever match on the road this weekend.
What to expect
A founding MLS member, Sporting KC has been around since they were the Sporting KC Wizards in 1995. They're not having the greatest start, however. KC has given up five goals and scored three so far, most notably losing 3-1 to an on-fire Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
The lone goal they scored was a doozy, though. KC's Khiry Shelton sent a smooth cross along the ground to Gianluca Busio, who, in a clever move, faked out on the pass and let it keep rolling. Kansas' leading striker, Alan Pulido, was there to score his first goal, and the play was completed in a matter of seconds.
Austin FC clearly needs to dismantle the chemistry between Pulido and team. Busio, especially, has been trying to create looks for the club. Kansas City is lacking some bite in their defense, however, and it looks like their back end is sometimes hesitant to go after the ball. Good news for Austin.
Could Austin FC get insights from KC vet Matt Besler, who will most likely join Wolff as a hall of famer after 12 seasons with the club? Wolff says maybe.
"I certainly expect Matt to give us some information, an inside scoop," Wolff said.
If the pattern continues, ATX might see more roughing up of Cecilio Dominguez, who has been targeted after his two-goal breakthrough against Colorado. They can also expect Kansas City and other clubs to start pressing higher up the field, bringing in more physicality and disrupting the club's offensive structure.
Projected starting lineup
Why fix something that isn't broken? Austin FC finally found their stride in midfield with the Holy Trinity of Alex "ringleader" Ring, repeat goal-scorer Diego Fagundez and Designated Player Toto Pochettino. No hate to Daniel Pereira, however. He could easily start too, but it seems as though the 20-year-old will have to wait for that Fagundez fire to burn out before he sees the starting pitch again.
Same goes for right wing. It's a good thing when a team has multiple players who could be on the starting XI, and Rodney Redes is no exception. He stood out in preseason and against LAFC and very nearly scored against both the Rapids and Minnesota, but Jared Stroud is proving a great strategist at the front of the field. He provided the cross that led to Fagundez' goal, and he's threatened goal with a few shots of his own.
Other than that, we can probably expect more of the same. Matt Besler is going head-to-head against his former teammates, and Zan Kolmanic is adjusting to the MLS after former starting left back Ben Sweat tore his ACL two matches ago.
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