Austin City Council members on Thursday unanimously passed five items in response to police violence and systemic racism.
The items, which are co-sponsored by all 11 council members, include reallocating funds from the police department to other public health services and demilitarizing the police. These come after Brian Manley, chief of Austin Police Department, said APD will no longer use “less lethal” weapons against crowds after several people were injured during demonstrations spurred by the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Michael Ramos in Austin.
More than 300 community members signed up to speak at the virtual meeting, which lasted from about 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Austinites participating in the meeting demanded defunding APD’s roughly $440 million budget by at least $100 million and called for Manley’s resignation. Several council members have already asked Manley to resign.
“Citizens all have a fundamental right to speak their minds, and they sure shouldn’t be harmed while doing so,” said Leslie Pool, District 7 council member. “We’ve long assigned responsibilities to our law enforcement officers that really should have been assigned to others. Every single person in our city needs to feel safe.”
Greg Casar, District 4 council member, authored a resolution to ban APD’s use of tear gas, deadly force and other “policing tactics” and reduce the use of militarized equipment.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the council is not calling all police officers racist or calling to defund or abolish the police, but the system of justice and public safety is biased and does not work for everyone and the budgets should be redirected to other services. Adler said reform is needed now because Black lives matter.
“Protesting in support of social justice should not put an Austinite in the hospital,” Adler said. “Institutional racism has made COVID-19 a burden carried disproportionately by our Black and Latinx neighbors. It is not fair or right or just that Black and brown people are both more likely to be essential and ordered back to work while also being more likely to die of the disease after generations of unequal access to health care resources.”
Council member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, wrote a resolution to limit the police department’s budget and reallocate funds for hiring additional officers to public safety and public health strategies. The resolution also asks the city to find positions within APD that could be moved to other departments, such as Austin Public Health.
Harper-Madison also wrote a resolution calling to reduce the look-back period in rental applications against prospective tenants with criminal histories.
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who represents District 2, wrote a resolution establishing a goal of zero racial disparity in arrests and motor vehicle stops and zero police killing by 2023.
Jimmy Flannigan, District 6 council member, authored a resolution renaming the Judicial Committee to the Public Safety Committee, which would be run by city council members and have the power to oversee policing.
Alison Alter, District 10 council member, said the first step in reforming policing in Austin is acknowledging a problem that goes deeper than the symptoms seen today.
“We are reimagining how these services are delivered and shifting responsibilities to the professionals who are best suited to carry them out,” Alter said. “Today does not signify the end of our work. We will not be judged by what we do today but by what comes after.”