(Roschetzky Photography/Shutterstock)

"We have been listening and learning," reads a message on the Cedar Park Police Department's Facebook page.

It would be easy for Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale, whose community is more than 80% white, to look at the unrest happening in larger metro areas like Austin and decide it's not his problem.


The large protests and, in some cases, violent rioting during the past week over police brutality, touched off by the killing of George Floyd by four white Minneapolis officers, have been largely confined to diverse metropolitan population centers.

Austin, where some demonstrators were hospitalized after weekend clashes with police, is no exception.

But Van Arsdale and other city officials and police chiefs in Austin's overwhelmingly white and affluent suburbs see signs that the Black Lives Matter movement and its attendant demands for change are reaching into these communities—most of which have never before had to openly grapple with the issue of police brutality.

In Georgetown on Wednesday, Police Chief Wayne Nero greeted a crowd of about 200 mostly white residents carrying signs in front of the courthouse supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

In Lakeway, more than 90% of residents are white, while nearly 30% of the police officers are people of color. Local residents staged a peaceful demonstration outside the police department on Saturday and another one in the city on Tuesday night, said city spokesperson Jarrod Wise.

In Leander, residents are asking police how they can protect citizens from racial violence, opening conversations about the department's policies on body cameras, complaints and racial profiling, said Assistant Police Chief Billy Fletcher.

Police in Bee Cave are helping a group of teens from Lake Travis High School stage a Black Lives Matter rally in front of City Hall on June 13.

"We have been listening and learning," reads a message on the Cedar Park Police Department's Facebook page.

Bee Cave Police Chief Gary Miller said while he disagrees with violence, he believes most protesters are trying to peacefully find a way to express their anger, and rightfully so.

"I don't know any officer who believes the actions by any of the four officers in Minneapolis [are] anything other than criminal," he said.

Asked if the suburbs have a responsibility to engage in the conversation about race and police, Van Arsdale and Fletcher had the same answer: "Absolutely."

"Dr. King said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' This includes our suburbs," said Van Arsdale, a white former Republican Texas state lawmaker. "We need to speak clearly and with one voice: This is not 1862. This is not 1962. We don't want any of that part of that America again."

Suburban police say they are prepared for outside agitators disrupting their mostly quiet communities.

Miller, for example, has extra officers near the Galleria in the evenings to protect against potential looters.

West Lake Hills Police Chief Scott Gerdes said his department hadn't gotten any specific threats, but he has put extra officers on call.

"I certainly can't predict where these things may go," Gerdes said Tuesday, as chatter about suburban protests ramped up on social media.

The violence didn't come. Instead, there is conversation—with the potential for action.

Leander business owner Gus Gordon on Monday organized a meeting between local police and black business and civic leaders, which he saw as a good "first step" toward sowing support and empathy in a community that may not fully understand the recent anger on the streets. He's planning a more public and social community event later in the month, he said.

"For a lot of people in these majority white or affluent communities, this is not an issue that directly affects them, so it can be overlooked and seem exaggerated," said Gordon, who is black, and who owns Cappelliera's Barber Salon. "This is a national issue. Even if it doesn't directly touch Leander, Georgetown, Cedar Park, we should still have the support of people that are for justice—for all people."
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