Thousands gathered at Huston-Tillotson University in East Austin on Sunday to rally against police violence against black people and systemic racism. It was at least the 10th day of protests in Austin over the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, the latest in many police killings of unarmed black people nationwide. Protesters are also demanding justice in the killing of Mike Ramos, a Hispanic and black man, by Austin police April 24.
“Black Austin, we got to stay in the collective,” Huston-Tillotson President Colette Pierce Burnette told the crowd. “Be a protester, don’t be a looter. Use your voice to amplify your cause, not someone else’s. Choose your own form of activism, don’t be a pawn and let someone choose for you and use you as a distraction.”
“Be part of the movement, not just this moment,” she said.
Organizers said the day was about highlighting "black voices, black stories and black solutions."
Ramos’ mother, Brenda Ramos, also spoke to the crowd, describing the pain of losing her only child to police violence.
“What keeps me going every day is my commitment to myself and my son Mike that no more moms and dads and children go through this torture that I live under while we wait for answers and only hear lies. I continue to wait to see if [Austin Police] Chief [Brian] Manley is going to continue to trash my son to the world. I am waiting to see if Chief Manley doubles down on his lies, justifying the murder of my son.”
Beyond police violence, speakers also demanded economic justice for black people and access to the same opportunities as whites.
The event’s organizer, Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore, called for systemic change in policing, pointing to the $400 million budget for the Austin Police Department.
“I’m going to fight until I can’t fight no more. To make sure we put band-aids on this because I don’t want another brother and sister in Austin to become a hashtag,” Moore said. “But it’s not lost on me that we cannot fix this. We have to literally uproot this evil system and think of other ways to do public safety.”
Moore asked white people in the crowd to share their power to make Austin a more equal place.
“What are you willing to relinquish — what are you willing to let go to really mean that Black Lives Matter?” Moore said. “I appreciate your marching — and I know it’s hot out; I appreciate your sweat. But if you ain’t willing to let power go, then don’t come talking to me afterward about ‘such a great speech.'”
“We know the problem is racism, which is a white people’s problem, and we know it’s white supremacy — something y’all created — and we know the system operates on that," he said. "We have to deal with that."
Speakers called out Mayor Steve Adler, who was in the crowd, saying if he doesn't move to defund the police, he is part of the problem. On Monday, the Austin Justice Coalition sent an open letter to City Manager Spencer Cronk, Adler and the rest of City Council, calling on them to decrease the police budget and invest that money in "alternatives to policing" that really keep the city – especially communities of color – safe.
Council members are expected to vote on changes to police policy at their meeting Thursday.
The crowd marched from Huston-Tillotson through downtown Austin to the Texas Capitol. It was seemingly the largest and most peaceful demonstration over the past week.
As she marched down Seventh Street toward downtown, protester Courtney Williams held a sign that said, “For my family, for Christopher, I stand." The message was a reference to her cousin in New Orleans, whom she said was shot twice in the back of the head– though police ruled it a suicide and refused to investigate it as a murder.
“I stand here to fight the injustice treatment of his case, because I stand for all of us. This has to be stopped,” Williams said.
Courtney Williams says she’s protesting for her cousin who was murdered in New Orleans. She’s says police declined to investigate. pic.twitter.com/dYZZYbGr10
— Nadia Hamdan (@nadzhamz) June 7, 2020
Kyra Bauer held a sign that said “My mom is white and my skin still scares them.”
“I’d like to just see some equality,” Bauer said. “I’d like to see some people held accountable, and I’d also like to see my fellow people of color not have to live every day in fear.”
“We are making history,” says protestor Kyra Bauer. pic.twitter.com/rdUFJeqZrr
— Nadia Hamdan (@nadzhamz) June 7, 2020