Hundreds Converge On Austin Police Headquarters And I-35 To Protest Killings

Hundreds of people protesting the police killings of George Floyd and Mike Ramos demonstrated outside Austin Police headquarters and on I-35 on Saturday, temporarily blocking all lanes of traffic.

In response to the protests in Austin and across the state, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was activating the National Guard.

"Texans have every right to exercise their first amendment rights, but violence and looting will not be tolerated," the governor said in a statement. 

There were reports of looting on Sixth Street later in the evening, and a mattress and car were lit on fire under I-35. APD said it had made "approximately a dozen arrests."

 

Police stand guard in front of a burning mattress under I-35, waiting for firefighters to arrive at the scene.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Christian Wilson arrived at the protest outside police headquarters around 4 p.m. He said he saw the activity downtown on Facebook and just couldn't sit at home; he had to do something.

He joined the crowd of hundreds as they chanted "No justice! No peace!" and anti-police slogans while roughly a dozen Travis County sheriff's deputies, DPS troopers and APD officers stood guard.

 

Police try to disperse protesters on an entrance ramp to I-35.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Law enforcement intermittently pepper-sprayed protesters and fired volleys of beanbag shells from shotguns that were trained on demonstrators.

Wilson said he was pepper-sprayed while helping a counterdemonstrator who'd been surrounded. He said the man was dressed in what looked like military fatigues and was holding an American flag.

"He has a right to be out here with that flag, just like we have a right to be out here to protest," Wilson said, as officers perched on the upper deck of I-35 began firing down upon the crowd. "But let people protest. Don't attack them, you know?"

PHOTOS: Demonstrators Clash With Austin Police And State Troopers In Downtown Protest

Throughout the afternoon and the evening, protesters lobbed water bottles, rocks and other objects at police during a demonstration that lumbered from the front of police headquarters to the west side of I-35 around to the east and then back to APD, forcing the closure of the highway.

"This [police killings] has been happening for years. It's just the fact that everybody has a cellphone to view it with a camera,” Jomar Simmons said near APD headquarters. “Thank god people got cellphones so they can see what’s going on. It’s well overdue.”

In the early evening, beanbags littered the corner of Eighth Street and the southbound frontage road, along with gallons of spilled milk used to ease the burn from pepper spray.

Wilson said he was going to be there all night, that he hated to see all this violence – "all of this fighting over the color of our skin," he said.

A protester is helped by others after being sprayed in the face by police.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

In a pair of tweets, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said his police force would "continue providing a safe space for the community to express emotions," but that "violence and destruction of property will not be tolerated."

Protesters shut down I-35 a couple of times during the day.

“This is the most impactful protest I've ever seen in this city. I've come and protested for everything. We're speaking up,” Jalisa Styles said earlier in the day while walking on the interstate. “We're having a voice. This is amazing. Like seeing all these allies. It's just - it's awesome.”

Reporting from the highway, KUT's Claire McInerny was hit by pepper spray. She said police told people if they tried to cross a metal barrier, officers would shoot.   

It was the second day of demonstrations in Austin to protest racism and police violence after Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed Monday by a police officer in Minneapolis. Protesters also were demanding justice for Ramos, a 42-year-old black and Hispanic man who was killed by an Austin police officer last month.

People across the country have taken to the streets in anger and anguish over the deaths of Floyd; Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased, shot and killed while on a jog in Georgia; and Breonna Taylor, who was killed when police raided her Louisville, Ky., home.

Protesters walk past graffiti on the side of Austin Police headquarters.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Clashes erupted across the country Friday night between activists and law enforcement, and at least two people were dead by Saturday morning. NPR reported one man in a crowd in Detroit was shot and killed, and a contract security officer died from a gunshot in Oakland, Calif.

Abbott said Saturday he had sent state resources to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin to maintain public safety. In an email, he said he and DPS officials had spoken with mayors, as well as law enforcement officials in those cities.

DPS has sent more than 1,500 officers to assist local police departments. The governor's office says more resources will be provided as needed.

“Texas and America mourn the senseless loss of George Floyd and the actions that led to his death are reprehensible and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible,” Abbott said. “As Texans exercise their 1st Amendment rights, it is imperative that order is maintained and private property is protected.”

A rally at the state Capitol and march to City Hall was planned for Sunday.  

This story has been updated.