Council unveils resolutions aimed at dismantling systemic racism

Photo by Charles Spirtos

By Nina Hernandez Austin Monitor

On Monday morning, City Council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Delia Garza, Greg Casar and Jimmy Flannigan, along with Mayor Steve Adler, held a press conference to discuss a group of resolutions aimed at reforming the Austin Police Department and dismantling systemic racism in the community. The resolutions will appear at Council’s Thursday meeting.

Harper-Madison opened the conversation. “We didn’t create these problems we have, but there’s no reason we have to pass them along,” she said.

She cautioned the community that the resolutions are just the beginning of the work that needs to be done to address structural racism in the city. “They only represent the first steps down a really long road of difficult policy work,” she said, “but we’re not going to fix this alone.”

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza introduced Item 50, which sets a series of goals for eliminating racial disparity in the following metrics: zero racial disparities in traffic stops (and tickets resulting from those stops), zero use-of-force incidents and zero officer-involved deaths. The city manager will return to Council by Oct. 15 with a progress report and a set of interim recommendations.

“How much racial disparity in policing should we be comfortable with?” Garza asked rhetorically. “My answer is, and I know yours is, zero.”

Flannigan’s Item 93 declares an emergency that would allow for the creation of a Public Safety Committee, which would advise Council on policing issues, criminal justice, emergency medical services, fire services, emergency management, and code compliance. It’s the current Judicial Committee with an expanded purview.

Casar introduced Item 95, which puts an end to the use of tear gas and impact (also known as “less lethal”) munitions, use of deadly force against people who are fleeing, and chokeholds. The item also limits the use of “military-grade equipment,” facial recognition software and no-knock warrants.

The resolution also calls for the postponement of the police department’s planned July cadet class until “the majority of the community members assigned to the ongoing training review process … agree that their work has been fairly considered and appropriately incorporated into the curriculum.”

“We know there is so much more work to do, but immediate action is what we’ve heard the community call for,” Casar said. “We know those bans are critical, but are only as good as the accountability we put in place and only as good as our vision for how we make things better.

“As we divert major funding away from simply policing our problems, we need to continue to work on how it is we build new structures,” he continued, “putting funding into actually addressing the core issues in our community.”

Harper-Madison’s Item 96 instructs the city manager to bring forward a baseline budget that includes no additional sworn police staff positions; eliminates positions the department can’t reasonably fill this fiscal year, reallocating those funds for public safety and public health strategies; explores options for reallocating positions and roles currently assigned to APD that could be managed by other departments; and explores options for reallocating positions that could be managed by other outside partner entities.

The resolution also calls for a budget that includes no funding for militarized equipment but does include funding for a process to rewrite APD’s General Orders using national best practices, and funds an audit of all disciplinary records held by APD.

Flannigan said he hoped Council would pass all of these proposals unanimously to show the community it is unified in the fight. He said he suspects the changes will take several months to work through city bureaucracy.

“While this work will be hard, frustrating, and compromises will be inevitable, today we are unified that this work will be done,” he said.

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