Austin Justice Coalition march aims to amplify black voices in thousands-strong demonstration against police brutality
Thousands of people gathered at Huston-Tillotson University on Sunday afternoon for a rally against police violence organized by the Austin Justice Coalition. The event ended with a march to the Texas State Capitol.
The event followed an AJC demonstration that was canceled last weekend due to concerns about police violence and vandalism.
Mayor Steve Adler was among the kneeling protesters.
Protestors—nearly all of whom wore masks—gathered Sunday on the historically black university campus to hear from AJC Executive Director Chas Moore, Huston-Tillotson President Colette Pierce Burnette and Brenda Ramos, whose son Mike was killed by an Austin Police Department officer in late April, among others.
Moore started the rally by asking black protestors to join him on a hill, under the shade, overlooking a field. White protestors were asked to make room for them by gathering below, under the hot sun, where he said black people have spent the last 400 years.
Pierce Burnette then spoke to the crowd, saying that Huston-Tillotson's campus symbolizes "a tale of two cities." Although it is Austin's oldest institute of higher learning, it has been "treated like a stepchild," she said.
The university co-hosted the event, and Pierce Burnette urged protestors to continue making noise. "Be part of a movement, not just this moment," she said.
Ramos called on APD Chief Brian Manley to resign and said her priority is passing a new law in her son's name that would require the department to release evidence, such as body- and dash-cam footage, to victims' families and more immediate consequences for those officers involved. "No one should live through this," she said in tears.
Ramos also said her family is not associated with the Mike Ramos Brigade, a group of unidentified individuals who have hosted previous protests outside of APD's headquarters.
Moore called to defund APD, in addition to other policy reforms. "We can't fix a police department that was designed to catch runaway slaves," he said, alluding to law enforcement's origins. "It's operating the way it's supposed to."
In addition to calling for policy changes, Moore also asked white protestors to do more than circulate hashtags and make signs. "Black women, I love you," he said. "White people, I love you too, but you've got to do better."
At the start of the march, Moore asked white protestors to make room for black protestors at the front and to surround them in a show of solidarity.
So many people were waiting to join the march on Chalmers Avenue, outside Huston-Tillotson's gates, that the organizers had to wait for the street to clear before they could start for the Capitol, 1.5 miles away.
Volunteers handed out water bottles, snacks, hand sanitizer and sunscreen. Some protestors stopped for shade or water in the 96-degree heat. Truck drivers on I-35 periodically honked their horns to show their support.
A group of black men on horses joined the march, riding through the streets and eventually through a path cleared by protestors in front of the Capitol. One wore a "Black Lives Matter" t-shirt, another one emblazoned with the American flag.
Corey, who declined to give his last name, and his horse Snowball were part of the group, which took a break in the shade at the Shell station on East Seventh Street at I-35. "We all got together and came out here to support," he said.
While the Capitol gates were closed and police guarded the grounds, protestors gathered in the street out front before peacefully dispersing.
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."