(Austonia staff)

The Saturday protest began at Austin police headquarters.

Two major protests organized in response to police violence in Austin and around the country shut down I-35 twice and led to looting, fires and injuries this weekend. The Austin Police Department responded in several instances with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets.


Thousands of protestors gathered on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to demonstrate over the killings of, primarily, Mike Ramos, who was fatally shot by an Austin Police Department officer on April 24 in Southeast Austin, and George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis Police Department officer last week.

The first protest, held on Saturday, was organized by the Mike Ramos Brigade. Its members have not identified themselves, but in a call to action posted on social media they listed their demands, including the firing of APD Chief Brian Manley and the officers involved in Ramos' death.

mike ramos apd protest

Protesters shut down I-35 on Saturday.

(Austonia staff)

APD officers, some of whom were outfitted in riot gear, used rubber bullets and pepper spray against protestors. The day ended with reports of fires and looting along Sixth Street. At least fourteen people were arrested over the course of the day, with charges including robbery, assault on a peace officer and obstructing a highway, according to APD.

A protester sets fire to a flag near I-35 Saturday afternoon. (Austonia staff)

In response to the protest in Austin—as well as others in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and other Texas cities—Gov. Greg Abbott activated the National Guard on Saturday and later declared a state of disaster.

As has happened in other U.S. cities that have seen protests turn destructive, some local activists speculated that the Saturday protest was organized or attended by people intending to incite violence.

A second protest, organized in collaboration with the Austin Justice Coalition and other community groups, was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Sunday. Shortly before, AJC Executive Director Chas Moore announced in a Facebook live post that the event was officially canceled.

"We are supposed to be out demonstrating, peacefully protesting the need for safety and for freedom and liberation for black people," Moore said. "And when I look at what's going on in Austin, when I look at the mess that happened last night, I look at white people burning stuff up in the name of Black Lives Matter and there's little to no black lives at these events."

mike ramos apd protest

Protestors marched along Cesar Chavez Sunday afternoon in a peaceful demonstration.

(Mary Elizabeth Potts)

Nonetheless, hundreds—and then thousands—of protestors showed up in front of the Capitol Sunday, as planned.

The police form a line on Cesar Chavez Sunday afternoon, stopping demonstrators marching from City Hall.

Police then allow protestors to turn north on San Antonio toward Republic Square

From the Capitol, protestors marched to City Hall and back, peacefully, before some continued onto I-35. APD officers used tear gas to force the crowds off the highway and arrested at least five more attendees. The department also reported looting, including at the Capital Plaza Target, on I-35 near Hwy. 290. Late in the day Michael Ramos' mother, Brenda, spoke at a press conference outside her apartment complex.

"Why is Officer [Christopher] Taylor still drawing a paycheck from us, the citizens of Austin?" she asked, pulling down her mask so she could speak. "Why are we paying his salary when he murdered my son over a month ago and he murdered someone else's son over 10 months ago? Why isn't he in jail?"

In a custodial death report filed with Attorney General Ken Paxton's office—as required by state law—APD said the officers involved in Ramos' death were responding to a narcotics call during which Ramos "became non-compliant and verbally confrontational." Taylor, "fearing the male subject intended to use [his car] as a deadly weapon," then shot Ramos with his patrol rifle.

Taylor was one of three officers involved in the fatal shooting of another black man, 46-year-old Mauris Nishanga DeSilva, last July.

On Friday evening—before Austin's planned protests had occurred but after days of unrest in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta and other cities—Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore announced she had decided to present the Ramos case to a special grand jury. "I reviewed the case today with my Civil Rights Director, and we believe the investigation has progressed to the point that we can properly make the announcement," she said in a statement.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement that same evening, in which he said: "I am committed to doing what it takes to make this stop." He also gave a series of interviews Sunday, in which he pointed to the reforms underway at APD, including the decriminalization of smaller crimes and improved oversight.

APD and the Texas Rangers are conducting an internal investigation into Ramos' death, which is being overseen by the city's office of police oversight. Police Monitor Farah Muscadin will review all documents and participate in all interviews, a city spokesperson wrote in an email.

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