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Mayor Cites 'Deeper Conversations' In Austin About Race After Bombings Expose Divisions

Andrea Garcia for KUT
Austin Mayor Steve Adler addresses a town hall meeting about the serial bombings at the Greater Mount Zion Church in East Austin on March 15.

The investigation continues into the serial bombings this month that killed two people and seriously injured four others in Austin. The bomber, Mark Conditt, detonated a bomb and killed himself as police were closing in on him in Round Rock on Wednesday. 

KUT's Jennifer Stayton talks with Austin Mayor Steve Adler about the issues the case has raised and how the city can move forward.



Mayor Adler: In Austin we still live with the legacy of that 1928 land plan. We just celebrated – well, not celebrated, but just recognized its 90th anniversary. So, we live in a community where health outcomes are still determined by ZIP code, where life expectancy is different on the east side of a town than on the west side of the town. It is perfectly understandable that communities of color will see in this event and be sensitized to aspects of this that other communities might not be. Certainly, the possibility that this was a hate crime or that it was being targeted to communities of color became immediately something that was high-profile. But the fact that it was happening to people of color in their neighborhoods on the east side of town certainly gave rise to that concern.

Jennifer Stayton: I want to ask a little bit about interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. When the bombing suspect died, and we were beginning to hear about about him and about that case. Chief Manley said that the bomber was deeply challenged and had a lot of personal issues. Later on, the chief tweeted about the suspect, "His conduct was terroristic, regardless of the specific ideology we look for to meet the legal definition for prosecution." I'm just interested, you know, as we're going through a search for a permanent police chief, how would you assess his statements about this?

Mayor Adler: I think I think Chief Manley did a really good job on this. There were over 500 federal agents on the ground. There were multiple federal agencies. There was the state. There were multiple cities that were sending resources and manpower. The logistical management, leadership challenge associated with this was extreme. Not only the number of people in agencies, but also what we were dealing with and the pressure associated with that and the need to come up to a quick resolution. I think he did a really, really good job. He did do two things that he has said that he would do differently. When there was a description of that first incident, his staff described it or someone on his the staff described it in a way that was inappropriate, given what we knew at the time and just created confusion and hardship and pain. And the second was when the chief was trying to explain to the public what it was that he had heard on the tape. Was it hate-directed was it politically directed? Why these people? And the chief said that he was trying to explain what was on that tape and what was on that tape or none of those things. Well, if it's none of those things, then what was on that tape? And what he said was that [it was] somebody who is incredibly challenged, which may also be true, but it is also not descriptive of what was happening and it made him sound sympathetic in the wrong place. So, I think that he's indicated that, if he could speak differently or have his department speak differently in those two instances, they would. But my overall takeaway from this concerning him was that he was a calm, open, direct voice in the community, and people who listened to him felt like he was telling them the truth and he was; that he was telling them what they needed to know, and he was.

Jennifer Stayton: Where does Austin go now? What do we do now with this as part of our history and our experience?

Mayor Adler: Well, I think it's important to remember that Austin is one of the safest big cities in the country. Property crimes in our city are at a 20-year low. We were a safe city before this happened. We're a safe city now, after this happened. If anything, I think that this community will remember this as a time when we really did pull together, when we did become the eyes and ears of law enforcement. We did have each other's back. We did pull together and calm each other and did everything we could to make sure that law enforcement would have all of the resources at all different levels.

Jennifer Stayton: What about some of the other issues that have come up in the course of this entire case? I'm thinking specifically of concerns and criticisms from people of color, from communities of color about how their communities have been treated – not just in this specific instance, but over time? Those have really come back to the forefront. What is our work there?

Mayor Adler: We have a lot of work there, and this incident happened, in that context, in the middle of a much deeper conversation that this community was already having. If you take a look at what we have really focused on – certainly with this new 10-1 council over the last four years – the issues of equity and access have been pushed to the front much more than any time I can ever remember. We're doing a lot more with the Spirit of East Austin effort to redirect priorities. We have him empaneled and seen the work now the Mayor's Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities – where there are 256 specific recommendations and 60 have already been implemented and 90 are in the process of being implemented. We have institutional racism in this city. We have systems that foster the continuance of inequities that are inbred. You know, we are not responsible for what happened 90 years ago, but we are responsible for dealing with the vestiges of that. It is important that this last incident that we have be looked at with that view and that filter, because it is part of that conversation we were already having.

Jennifer Stayton: Austin Mayor Steve Adler, we thank you so much for your time and for our monthly discussion. I look forward to next time.

Mayor Adler: Thank you for bringing me back.

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