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'We absolutely have an obligation to respond': Austin City Council issues call to action over police violence
(Mary Elizabeth Potts)

Protesters gathered in front of City Hall Sunday to demonstrate against police violence.

Austin City Council members said they are committed to systemic reforms following four days of protests at which there was police violence against demonstrators, vandalism and looting. Two people—a 20-year-old black man and a 16-year-old—are currently hospitalized after they were shot with bean bag rounds over the weekend.


"I am angry and I am hurt and I am sad, and you should be too," Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said, in tears, during an emotional call to action at a virtual work session earlier today. "It didn't start with George Floyd. It didn't start with Mike Ramos. I could name names all day, and that's a damn shame y'all."

She called for police reform and a review of the city's budget, which will be developed in the coming months. "We absolutely have an obligation to respond, and my hope is that we will and do so in a way that is substantive and meaningful," she said

Council will formally discuss the protests again at a Thursday meeting, where the Austin Police Department will brief members on the weekend's events and the use of force against protestors.

But in opening statements on Tuesday, members started to consider what reforms might be on the table.

As is the case in most cities, the Austin Police Department is the single largest general fund expense. In the fiscal year 2019-20 budget, it accounted for 40% of the $1.1 billion fund. Local activist groups, includingGrassroots Leadership and Communities of Color United, are calling for defunding APD.


"When we're talking about systemic change, we're talking about all the systems," Harper-Madison said. "It's not just one system."

Mayor Steve Adler said at the work session that he hopes the protests, like the pandemic, serve as an opportunity to make Austin a better place. "I really do believe that this is an important watershed moment," he said.

Other council members acknowledged the limits of their authority. "We work on this all the time here," Council Member Greg Casar said in response to Harper-Madison's comments. "But it's so clear that we haven't done enough, and what you're speaking to is that we're not even close."

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said his perspective has changed since the weekend and that he is committed to supporting his colleagues of color in pushing for change, despite the roadblocks. "These systems are not designed to go quickly," he added.

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