AUSTIN, Texas - 12 white chairs sat outside of the Austin Police Department headquarters, an open invitation for city council to have a front-row seat to protests happening everyday downtown.
Demonstrations have sparked following the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. Protestors are also advocating for justice in Mike Ramo’s case. Ramos was killed in an officer-involved shooting in April.
“George Floyd, his death should not be in vain. Those before George Floyd cracked the door open but he cracked it wide open for genuine, honest, and constructive dialogue for change,” said retired APD Sergeant Felicia Williams-Dennis. “We stand in solidarity with you as you seek positive change in the criminal justice system.”
Williams-Dennis stood with the Austin Police Retired Officers Association condemning the actions of the Minneapolis police officers who killed Floyd. APROA joined the Austin Police Association in speaking out against police brutality and calling on Austin city council to join them on the front lines of the protests, to see what is happening first hand during demonstrations.
Protests tensions vary hour to hour, while at times peaceful, law enforcement can be seen using less-lethal force, “tear gas, bean bags, and rubber bullets” to disperse crowds. Last weekend's protests seriously injured two people. While on the other side of the line, the officer’s received minor injuries.
On two nights, law enforcement responded to looting and vandalism during overnight demonstrations. Retired Senior Austin Police Officer, Dennis Ferris described how difficult it was to watch his son being confronted by protestors on live television. Ferris said the council condones this behavior by not speaking up.
“You chose to remain silent or condemn officers while my son had rocks, bottles, and hateful words hurled at him. Less than 10 feet from where I stand,” said Ferris. “The truth is no parent should have to fear whether their child will come home, the police or the community.”
The Austin Justice Coalition is calling on the council to defund the police department, requesting funds be reallocated to invest in health, housing, and pandemic assistance. APROA President, George Vanderhule said the department is already short-staffed.
“They have steadily refused to fill the over 160 Vacancies that we have,” said Vanderhule. “Now they want to add more vacancies. Where do you think those vacancies occur? On patrol. What happens when you cut patrol dramatically? The citizens suffer.”
Williams-Dennis said in order to move towards progressive change, leaders need to work collectively. It needs to start with open dialogue and providing a safe space for officers of color to communicate with the community.
“Do you see me, I was born black. I can’t take this off at the end of the day. I have the same concerns for my safety and that of my family every day just like you. Just like everybody,” said Williams-Dennis. “The city and other leaders should not blanket characterize all officers by the actions of a few.”
In response to a request for comment, Mayor Steve Adler’s office responded that the mayor anticipates being in the Council meeting until close to midnight listening to speakers from all over the community.
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