AUSTIN, Texas - With Election Day just around the corner, four Austin City Council members are asking for clarification on the police chief’s plans to respond to possible protests.
“There’s intelligence out there that is telling us that there will be protests, anywhere from small type peaceful marches to the possibility of violent protests,” said Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday.
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and council members Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar, and Natasha Harper-Madison collectively penned a letter to police Chief Brian Manley asking for three specific answers.
First, they would like to hear what tactics will be used to deal with peaceful protesters.
They explain that the serious injuries of peaceful protesters in May are unacceptable, writing in part, "...We request updates on how, under your leadership, APD will maintain an environment where free speech and assembly are not only tolerated but welcomed, without injury either to the public or our own public servants…"
“The council needs to understand that those first few days was much different than anything our chief, or the officers at the department, have ever dealt with and we made mistakes and we're going to own those mistakes,” Casaday said.
Casaday said officers learned a lot from the mistakes made in the first few days of those protests and changed tactics in the weeks of protests that followed, but he also points out, in the beginning, protests were not entirely peaceful.
“We were out there having to deal with bottles and Molotov cocktails being thrown and it’s just disrespectful some of the things they said in the letter,” said Casaday.
The letter also questions whether the police will treat right-wing militant groups like the Boogaloo Bois and Proud Boys less forcefully than peaceful protesters. A federal report detailed how APD officers stopped a leader of the Boogaloo Bois for traffic violations. He and other passengers were heavily armed but were released. One was later arrested for a shooting in Minneapolis.
Part of the letter from council members reads, "...This set of facts has caused much public concern because we have seen many cases where Austinites have been detained, questioned, or arrested for far less...."
“Unless they used that gun in a crime, or they're a felon in possession of a firearm, there's no reason to arrest that person. Now, if they would've been coming at people, I do know of some situations where people with those groups pointed a gun at a police officer downtown, and a citizen, and he was arrested,” Casaday said.
Lastly, councilmembers said the police need to rebuild trust with the community at First Amendment events.
Councilmembers asked for a response from the chief before November 3.
The Austin Police Department said Manley will respond next week when he returns to the office. They also explained an assistant chief held a briefing more than two weeks ago outlining plans to keep the community safe during the election season.