The Austin City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve two “Freedom City” policies, which target racial disparities in arrests and citations issued by the Austin Police Department.
After failing to become a sanctuary city, the "Freedom City" resolutions were introduced in an effort to make the community safer for immigrants and people of color.
Resolution 74 would require officers to issue citations instead of arrests for nonviolent class C misdemeanors, such as possession of marijuana, driving while license invalid and city ordinance violations.
Resolution 75 requires police to inform an individual that they have the right to deny a request for their immigration papers. This resolution is a direct response to Senate Bill 4, adopted by the Texas Legislature last session, which forbids local entities from adopting policies that prohibit officers from inquiring about someone’s immigration status.
More than one hundred people came to speak in support of the two resolutions, while two members of APD testified against Resolution 74.
“(The two resolutions) help us direct our police resources to more serious public safety issues than low-level offenses,” said City Council member Greg Casar in a press conference Tuesday. “They make sure more members of our community, especially immigrant members of our community, know their rights."
Under state law, police have the discretion to issue a citation or to arrest someone for a nonviolent class C misdemeanor. Resolution 74 removes that discretion and requires police officers to issue citations instead of making arrests.
According to 2017 APD data, around 75 percent of people discretionarily arrested in Austin for driving with an invalid license were Latinx and black, although they make up just 45 percent of the city’s population. Black residents also comprise 32 percent of low-level marijuana possession arrests, yet less than 8 percent of Austin’s population.
In an interview with KVUE, Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, said while he believes APD should examine issuing citations instead of jail time, Casar is using misleading data about misdemeanor arrests to stir up hatred against police officers.
“We believe the numbers have been skewed intentionally by Greg Casar to make the officers of the Austin Police Department look like a bunch of racists, which is absolutely a bunch of b.s.,” Casaday said.
Before the vote, dozens of members from criminal justice and immigrant advocacy groups such as the Texas Advocates for Justice, Grassroots Leadership and United We Dream rallied outside Austin City Hall in support for the two resolutions.
Chantel Pridgon, an activist with Texas Advocates for Justice, said she was arrested for driving with an invalid license three times, which caused her to lose her job as a teacher.
“I’m here to end discretionary arrests so that people like myself and others will not have to go through the hardships of having to deal with costs, fees, court dates (and) jail that keep people of color oppressed,” Pridgon said.
Chris Harris, an activist with Grassroots Leadership, said Resolution 75 is vital for protecting immigrants affected by Senate Bill 4.
“(SB 4) makes criminals out of us, by making who we are against the law,” Harris said. “I (support this resolution because I) want to end the use of our local law enforcement as a tool for the deportation pipeline.”