Austin’s Vote to “Reimagine” Policing Prompts Threats From State Officials

Source: The Intercept

Ahead of the Austin City Council’s budget meeting in mid-August, Kathy Mitchell, a longtime community organizer and grassroots lobbyist, “basically spent the week in a deep and broad anxiety,” she said. “I was just anxious for seven days.”

There was much at stake when the council members, mayor, and city manager met via Zoom on August 12 for a 14-hour hearing that included hundreds of city residents waiting for their minute to speak. For years, community groups had been agitating for change at the Austin Police Department. Those calls grew louder in late April after Austin police killed a man named Mike Ramos, and louder still in May, when the city, like so many others across the country, erupted in protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. The protests in Austin were at times met with violence from police; at least two people suffered life-threatening injuries after officers fired so-called less lethal munitions at their heads.

Mitchell, who had been working with city leaders to pass a block of police reforms, was optimistic but still uncertain as the budget session drew near. “Oh, man. I have a habit of never counting my votes until the day that people actually vote,” she said. In the end, the 10-member council voted unanimously to cut, “decouple,” and redistribute roughly $150 million of the APD’s $434 million budget. “There’s no question that this is a big moment in Austin,” Mitchell said.

Indeed, Mitchell and others say that what happened in Austin is a big moment for the rest of the country too, potentially providing a road map for other municipalities that have pledged to cut police funding or dismantle their departments in the wake of Floyd’s killing, but that have so far had more limited success.

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