Advocates push for "freedom policies" before Thursday council meeting

Karen Reyes recalls a time last year when she thought she'd never see her mother again.

“My mom was pulled over and it was a really, really scary time for her and myself as well as other people who were undocumented,” said Reyes who is a teacher.“As a teacher I saw a lot of the trust between our communities and the police kind of break down when we were having a lot of ICE raids last year."

She is one of many who believe arrests for minor offenses can lead to the deportation pipeline.  She also thinks the City of Austin should adopt two resolutions, coined “freedom policies,” authored by council member Greg Casar.

“There are members of our community that are being arrested even though they pose no threat to anyone and they should just simply be getting a ticket,” said Casar.

Resolution 73 would make Austin police eliminate low-level arrests that officers have a choice to either ticket or take you to jail for. Examples of this are driving with an invalid license, or having a small amount of marijuana on you.

Resolution 74 directs the city to make policies that advocates say protect immigrant families and their rights under SB-4.

“We're asking the police department to convene community members to not just make these changes, but to start making more, because you don't have to be a data scientist to see how harsh the racial disparities are and arrests in this community,” said Casar.

“What we're talking about are low level offenses that the state legislature back in 2007 said, police can give tickets for this,” said Chris Harris with Grassroots Leadership.

Casar cited numbers from APD, saying African-American and Hispanic people are arrested for low level offenses more often than their white counterparts.
The Austin Police Association responded with a statement that reads in part quote: 

"We were disappointed by the racial overtones of the press conference. We witnessed accusations of racist police practices and accusations that we work with ICE to deport immigrants. These accusations are not true. It is important to have complete transparency and reliability in the data and analysis of the arrest and use of the issuance of citations, as authorized by the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures Article 14.06 (c) (d). As the President of the Austin Police Association, I am respectfully asking City Manager Cronk to hire an independent statistician to review the Departments data and provide a professional analysis. 

Our department is by far the most professional and transparent in the State of Texas. We stand behind our officers who make tough, life altering decisions every day.” 

-Austin Police Association

Mayor Steve Adler supports both resolutions. 

“It is clear, there are racial and ethnic disparities in our community. They exist in all parts of our community. If we are to be our better selves, then we have to confront these disparities head on,” said Adler.

City council is expected to take up the items on Thursday.