AUSTIN — After violent protests, cries for defunding the police, and now calls for removing the police chief, the looming question continues in Texas’ capital city: what will happen to local law enforcement?
The Austin City Council had an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the local police’s response to recent protests downtown, where violence broke out and numerous citizens were sent to the hospital with severe injuries.
The protests were sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis police on Memorial Day, an unjust killing that police departments across the nation, including Austin, have condemned.
Yet protests in Austin last weekend saw violence break out from agitators infiltrating the gatherings, as has been seen in many protests across the nation. Among the violence, Molotov cocktails, rocks, and bricks were thrown at police; businesses were looted; and a car was set ablaze downtown.
“We’re seeing a movement right now where either antifa groups or alt-groups are intermixing in with what are planned, peaceful protests and demonstrations for the purpose of violent or criminal activities or vandalism,” Police Chief Brian Manley told the city council on Friday. “So, the actions the officers were taking were geared toward those individuals. However, we realize what happened.”
What happened, and what the Austin Police Department is facing criticism for, is the use of “less-lethal” bean bag rounds at the protests, which officers fired into crowds, injuring several people. Police Chief Brian Manley said that not only were there “horrific” outcomes the department had never seen before, but they are already updating policy regarding bean bag rounds and reviewing cases from last weekend.
Chief Manley also described the department’s plan prior to the protests, given what they had seen at other protests across the country: killings and the burning of a police station in Minneapolis, for example.
However, when there were not infiltrators at the Austin gatherings, such as more recent protests downtown earlier this week, there was peace, and police actually stood in support and marched with those gathered to protest police brutality.
But in the aftermath of the past week, groups such as the Austin Democratic Socialists of America are now protesting the city council to “dramatically reduce” funding for the police department. During a council meeting on Thursday, numerous citizens that testified—as well as four city council members—expressed their disapproval of Chief Manley and called for him to resign. Council member Greg Casar, a self-proclaimed socialist and member of the DSA, was the most vocal in telling Manley, who was present at the virtual meeting, that he should leave his post.
The city council does not have the authority to fire Manley, as that decision belongs only to the city manager. However, the city manager can only demote him to his previous rank, according to the state civil service code.
The council is set to meet again next week as they consider reforms and actions pertaining to the police department.