Students must demand police accountability

Doug Snyder

In June of 2015, APD officer Bryan Richter dragged elementary school teacher Breaion King out of her car and slammed her onto the floor. Richter was white, and King was black. Patrick Spradlin, Richter’s also-white partner, said to King during the assault, “Why are so many people afraid of black people? … — violent tendencies … That’s why a lot of the white people are afraid of them, and I don’t blame them.” King was later charged with resisting arrest.

You may have heard about this incident when the video was released in 2016. What you may not know was what happened afterwards.

Neither officer faced any real punishment (Richter underwent “counseling and additional training”). In fact, then-chief Art Acevedo was unable to take substantive disciplinary action as he wasn’t shown the video until a year after the incident, and Austin’s current police contract contains a statute of limitations preventing disciplinary action after 180 days. The contract is littered with failures like this one, and current police accountability is pathetic. 

Incidents like these occur all too often across the nation, and evidence continues to mount of significant racial bias in policing. Institutional racism continues to pervade all levels of government and society, and we have done little to address it. However, Austin City Council now has an opportunity to make a set of substantive changes that would prevent officers involved in violent incidents like these from escaping oversight and punishment.

Currently, the City of Austin and the police union are undergoing a contract re-negotiation process. Community organizations, led by the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC), have come together to propose eight resolutions they believe would increase accountability and prevent racist acts from going unaddressed. So far, little action has been taken, and efforts to enact the resolutions have had little success. The Austin Justice Coalition’s resolutions are entirely fair, and are corroborated by the Obama Administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. They call for a repeal of the 180 day rule and the consideration of past misconduct in future disciplinary action or promotions, an end to the sealing of misconduct records and a better system for reporting complaints against officers. They also call for an empowered Civilian Review Panel to be able to ask questions and subpoena witnesses and compels all recommendations made by disciplinary boards to be made public. These resolutions are not needlessly invasive, nor do they execrate the police. 

Unfortunately, the City of Austin’s current contract proposal contains only two of the recommendations.

When Breaion King was assaulted and racially belittled, nothing was done. Now, we have the opportunity to create clear lines of police oversight, and the City of Austin has failed to fight hard enough. That’s why student leaders must call upon City Council to reject the current contract proposal, and demand the City of Austin adopt the AJC and community leaders’ resolutions. 

Institutional racism extends far beyond our police force, but this contract has presented us with the chance to make a difference. Incidents like these, which will happen again, must not be sealed and forgotten. Therefore, the UT community must demand a better contract for the sake of student safety. 

We can lobby City Council both in person and over the phone to pressure them into voting down the current contract. We can pass resolutions in student organizations supporting police accountability. We can inundate our representatives with calls for oversight or even attend community meetings, such as those held by the AJC. What matters most of all, however, is that we elevate student voices and make it clear that we demand comprehensive reform. 

With this negotiation, we have a rare opportunity to make Austin more equitable, address institutional racism and enhance accountability. Students must be at the forefront of this effort.

Snyder is a management information systems and government junior.