AUSTIN — “The City’s top job is public safety, and they are failing. Yesterday’s tragic murder is the most recent example.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was blunt in his remarks on Twitter over the weekend after a homeless man with a violent criminal history killed a restaurant employee Friday morning in south Austin. Abbott condemned the Austin City Council for their controversial decisions regarding the city’s homeless population that have led to an alarming public safety risk.
“I’m not attacking homelessness. I’m criticizing the lawlessness promoted by the City of Austin,” Abbott tweeted. “The City of Austin must ensure its homeless policy doesn’t endanger the lives of innocent people—and the lives of the homeless.”
The story began back in June when the Austin City Council made it legal for vagrants to camp, sit, and lie down in public spaces across the city. Almost overnight, Austinites saw their streets, sidewalks, and highways littered with campsites, trash, and tent cities.
The council’s decision sparked a wildfire of public contention, prompting a slew of law enforcement and elected officials to speak out against it, and over 55,000 citizens signed a petition calling for the law’s reversal. Citizens also packed townhalls over the summer, testifying to the harmful consequences of the law and angry that registered sex offenders were among those now allowed to sleep directly next to apartments and elementary schools.
After four months of public outcry, safety risk, and council inaction—and a public warning from Abbott over the citizens’ safety—the council finally met in October and changed their law, but they chose to reverse only parts of it.
In November, Abbott took action and sent the state to begin protecting the community, instructing state officials to clean up encampments under highways and to direct homeless individuals to nonprofits for immediate help. Abbott also established a state campground near downtown where homeless people could receive assistance.
Now, after all of that and the latest tragic event, Council Member Delia Garza responded defiantly to Abbott’s tweet about the homeless murderer.
“Events today were tragic. But the governor suggesting that ATX Council has the authority to change laws on violent attacks/homicide is more of his scapegoating and a distraction from his poor leadership and the failure to fund the mental health and housing resources Texans need,” tweeted Garza, who is now running for county attorney.
Her post immediately received a storm of backlash.
“What is really tragic @DGarzaforD2 is the fact that your policies are enabling these drug addicts to attack innocent people,” one citizen tweeted. “You placing blame on @GregAbbott_TX is shameful and disgusting. Electing you for County Attorney would be an epic mistake.”
“Lots of people who love Austin predicated that the ATX Council restricting police authority in dealing with homeless people who break the law would result in tragedy,” another replied. “Now it has and it is YOUR fault. Shame on you.”
“The fact [that] Austin is turning into California is a problem. I left California because of stuff like this and in just a few years Austin has changed into the place I left,” one citizen said. “You don’t want Austin to go down this rabbit hole it just gets worse from here.”
Should the city council not take further action to reverse its harmful policies, many fear the violent events of this weekend could become the new normal in Texas’ capital city.