Art Acevedo, chief of the Austin Police Department, was met with praise and protest Sunday night as he received an award for his efforts to make the city more peaceful.
The Institute for Interfaith Dialogue, a national nonprofit organization established after 9/11 to promote peace, hosted their Annual Friendship and Dialogue Dinner Sunday night. Along with audience and expert panelist discussions on peace, the event featured a ceremony to give Acevedo the organization’s annual Peace Award.
Güner Arslan, co-founder of the organization, said Acevedo was chosen for the award because of his efforts to promote unity in the Austin area.
“He reached out to our community, the Muslim, the Turkish community,” Arslan said. “His doors are always open whenever we need something. We have had a few scares in the past few years where we thought we needed police protection and just a phone call to him or an email to him was enough to get his attention.”
Outside the Hilton hotel in downtown Austin, protestors from the Peaceful Streets Project, an Austin-based grassroots organization that promotes police accountability, picketed in protest of Acevedo receiving the award. Several members of Peaceful Streets also attended the dinner in protest.
Antonio Buehler, founder of the project, said its members wanted to send a message to Acevedo.
“We’re just being present, letting him know that we plan to hold him accountable,” Buehler said.
Peaceful Streets Project member Kit O’Connell said roughy 25 people came out to protest the event. He said their criticisms include Acevedo’s “quickness” in defending animal and human deaths caused by Austin police officers in recent years, the recently enacted “Public Order Initiative,” which has led to the ticketing and arrest of hundreds of homeless people throughout the city and Austin police infiltration of the Occupy movement earlier this year.
“Acevedo turns a blind eye to police violence and police brutality and now he is being given a peace award,” O’Connell said.
Acevedo said his efforts over the past five years have led to greater public trust in the police department, promoting peace in the process.
“I believe in transparency, and I believe in engagement,” Acevedo said. “I really feel that a leader that is known to the community builds trust.”
Arslan said, overall, he thought the protesters made a notable impact on the event, but in a positive way.
“That’s one of the goals of the institute, to bring together people that generally don’t come together,” Arslan said. “We got them talking.”