‘This is nothing new’: Austinites protest after deaths of Michael Ramos, George Floyd

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Photo Credit: Jamie Hwang | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: All sources gave permission to use their full names in this article.

Thousands of people marched through downtown Austin on Sunday to protest police killings after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Michael Ramos in Austin.

The Austin protest coincided with demonstrations across the country and in Texas over the death of Floyd, who was killed Monday under Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Ramos was shot and killed in late April by an Austin police officer, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“This is nothing new,” said Chanel Davis, 25, who attended the Sunday protest. “I think stories like Mike Ramos and George Floyd are really the last straw for people. … People are angry, and people are tired.”

Although a formal demonstration at the Texas Capitol was canceled by organizers shortly before it was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., crowds still gathered on Congress Avenue Sunday afternoon. Members of the Austin Justice Coalition said they canceled the event to protect protesters from violence, adding that the safety of Black lives is their main concern, according to a statement on Facebook.

As the crowd grew, officers with the Texas Department of Public Safety formed a barricade to prevent protesters from entering Capitol grounds, blocking off surrounding streets. 

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Sunday ahead of the Austin protest and in response to several others across the state. Meanwhile, several Texas cities, including Dallas and San Antonio, have imposed curfews to prevent rioting.

Davis said she joined the protesters to be a presence for those who were unable to attend themselves.

“I’m just trying to find a way to mobilize and do what I can to make a change because it’s clear that all the voting that I’ve done, all the talking that I’ve done, all the education that I have had still hasn’t produced action,” Davis said.

Protesters marched from the south steps of the Capitol down Congress Avenue toward Austin City Hall. The group chanted phrases such as “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter” as they made their way through the downtown area. Many raised signs in support of the Black community, saying “No justice, no peace” or “I have had enough.”

When the group tried to continue down E. Cesar Chavez Street, they were initially met with resistance from Austin police officers. The protesters later traveled back to the Capitol, then down 11th Street to the I-35 highway, which demonstrators had temporarily blocked the day before.

Police officers established barricades and used tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds to drive protesters off the highway. At least one protester was arrested Sunday, and around a dozen protesters were arrested Saturday, according to a tweet from the Austin Police Department.

“I wasn’t trying to make a political statement, I was just trying to be heard and seen,” said Dabrelle Dickson, a radio-television-film senior who attended the protest. “I’m angry because I’m the oldest, and I have four brothers. And my four brothers could end up a hashtag. I’m trying to set an example for the rest of my family.”

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Ramos, 42, was unarmed when he was shot by officer Christopher Taylor on April 24, according to the American-Statesman. On May 29, Margaret Moore, Travis County District Attorney, announced Taylor’s trial will be presented to a special grand jury on an undetermined date.

Around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Brenda Ramos, the mother of Michael Ramos, spoke in front of protesters and called on APD to fire and arrest Taylor.

“Now I’m in this heartbroken club,” Brenda Ramos said. “It’s a club of mothers of Black Americans who have been murdered by police.”

The former Minneapolis police officer who was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was fired from the department and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

For demonstrators like Elon Simmons, 19, the choice to protest was not just in response to the deaths of Floyd and Michael. She said those events were merely the tipping point.

“It’s about everything,” said Simmons, a student at the University of North Texas, as she held a sign that said simply “Am I next?” “I’m going to a school, a predominantly white school, being called horribly racist names. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Stephen Wagner contributed to this report.