Demonstrators filled the base of the Austin Police Department’s headquarters Tuesday, demanding changes to America’s justice system.
On Monday, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, in August. The shooting led to a series of protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, where the event occurred.
Before Tuesday night’s protest in Austin, a group of students protested on campus around noon at the Martin Luther King Jr. statue as part of a demonstration hosted by the Black Student Alliance.
The crowd for the city protest gathered on Eighth Street for a chance to hear speakers before marching to the Capitol. Edward Reyes, president of the Dove Springs Neighborhood Association, said he still remembers when an Austin police officer fatally shot teenager Daniel Rocha in 2005.
“I remember getting off my couch and saying, ‘I’ve had enough,’ saying that I had to do something about it,” Reyes said. “I had to be a part of something bigger. I was tired of sitting back and just hearing the news and hearing who’s next.”
Reyes, who recently ran for a seat on the Austin City Council, said police were made out to be the enemy in his years growing up in Southeast Austin; whereas, in reality, citizens and police should come together.
“We grew up in the neighborhood, and our parents used to tell us the police were the ones we need to be afraid of,” Reyes said. “Now, I’ve met a lot of nice police officers — I know a lot of them. They need to come together with us and we need to work solutions.”
According to Reyes, part of the problem is that so few young people who make mistakes are given the opportunity to reform their ways and become part of society.
“These men need this opportunity,” Reyes said. “These young men and women need these opportunities because they are just like you and me. We change; we make mistakes, and nobody is perfect.”
Sherwynn Patton, program executive director of Life Anew, a restorative justice organization, said everyone must focus on stopping the violence.
“Is it reasonable to ask that, if a young man is shot in the streets, that we at least sit down and have a discussion about stopping the violence in our streets where black men, and Latino men and white men are being shot like dogs behind something — oh Lord — that is not real?” Patton said.
Patton said violence will be reduced when communities come together with a plan.
“We are talking about casting a vision for our community because Austin has its own Michael Browns,” Patton said. “We have our share of what we call unjust murders — so what we’re talking about today is a plan for our communities, a plan for our families and a plan for our schools.”
Demonstrator Terry Jackson said police must be held accountable for their actions.
“I’m out here because the police have been killing off too many people, and they have not been disciplined for it, and we want actions now,” Jackson said. “I want the police to make us feel safe instead of threatened by them because I feel like they are supposed to be here to serve and protect.”
During the protest, APD Chief Art Acevedo tweeted a picture of the protesters and complimented them for handling the demonstration peacefully.