By Ed Dalton
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday combined make for the most combative demonstrations in Austin’s history. Thousands gathered in the streets, shutting down the city and combating police brutality in the memory of Mike Ramos and George Floyd and in support of the uprisings in the Twin Cities as well as those across the United States.
Liberalism and its bankrupt embrace of the police has run most of the large demonstrations in Austin for decades, however Friday’s assembly broke this long-maintained ‘peace.’ The working people of Austin began assembling spontaneously outside of Police Headquarters, and as the crowd grew so did its anger at the police. At first, this anger came only in the form of harsh words for the racist department, however it escalated into physical confrontation when the police began making arbitrary arrests and firing rubber bullets into the crowd. Police apologists provoked the initial arrests by pointing out nonviolent, but verbally confrontational demonstrators for arrest, which ultimately only increased the aggressiveness of the protest.
Saturday’s demonstration was called for by the community organization Mike Ramos Brigade, which formed the night of the police murder of unarmed Black-Latino man Mike Ramos last month, when community members responded with immediate protests; they have been fighting for justice ever since. Before the demonstration could officially begin, officers began detaining and throwing people to the ground, at least one Black man was taken in handcuffs into the Headquarters for sitting on a monument to the police, and a Black woman who would later speak was injured by APD, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind what side the police are on.
Thousands assembled to hear speeches provided by members of Mike Ramos Brigade, Palestine Solidarity Committee and others in attendance. All who spoke essentially denounced the police as the enemy of the people, and especially of Black people. They argued that the issue is not ‘a few bad cops’ but the very nature of policing in the US, where the police serve the owning class to protect private property and enforce class relations through oppression and unjust laws against the working class. Thousands cheered in support.
After the speeches, according to witnesses on the ground, militant demonstrators burned a US flag hanging from a light pole, this received cheers and applause from most in the crowd. As speeches concluded, the majority of protesters began moving to shut down Interstate Highway 35, both a historical symbol of racism and segregation in the city as well as a direct route from Austin to Minneapolis. The highway was taken while the police in riot gear continued to protected their Headquarters. Only a small line of riot police attempted to block the hundreds of marchers on I-35 and they were promptly surrounded. Once clearly outnumbered, they began firing rubber bullets and pepper spray into the crowd, demonstrators forced them to retreat and let the march pass by lobbing plastic water bottles and other projectiles in their direction.
As the procession moved down the highway, blocking traffic in both directions, a trail of political graffiti was left in its wake with everything from “no justice, no peace” to “fuck 12” as well as revolutionary messages present. This would continue throughout the day’s events, as the people used the walls to voice their opinions unfiltered, the demonstration itself providing a voice to the people, which the ruling class owned media so often denies them.
The demonstrators decided to exit the highway and continue their march downtown without a permit. APD interventions were met with fierce resistance throughout the majority of the day, and brief skirmishes resulted when police tried to intervene.
At one point an armored SUV belonging to the reactionary, far-right InfoWars was confronted, resulting in objects being hurled at it and its windows fractured and damaged. The reactionaries attempted to feign common ground with the demonstration, and the people in the streets answered clearly that they were not welcome.
The demonstration arrived at City Hall where police vehicles were damaged, then went north to the Texas State Capitol Building, where the Department of Public Safety (DPS) attempted arrests and in one case ended up being physically confronted by angry protesters. DPS troopers on the street again attempted to halt the much larger crowd, but were forced to retreat as one trooper appeared to be bleeding from the head. At all turns the crowd was defensive and maintained combative energy.
While the multi-racial crowd was expressing their justified anger against the police, there was also a great deal of people assisting the demonstration with water, food, and medical aid. One protester told Tribune of the People, “There was not a time I felt thirsty without someone there offering me a water bottle.” The medics especially helped sustain the crowd as the police often unleashed unprovoked violence causing a defensive response. The medics maintained the health and morale of the demonstrators at great risk to themselves, and in the face of great difficulty.
The interstate would be shut down two additional times on Saturday, and again on Sunday several more times. The city has claimed that the use of teargas, which the police initially denied until proven otherwise, was justified to keep the highway open for emergency vehicles. Protesters and supporters who work for the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services have viewed this claim with suspicion, knowing full well that this particular stretch of I-35 is often backed up, prone to wrecks and construction; emergency vehicles have several alternate routes which they often rely on in non-uprising situations. Saturday’s protest would carry on throughout the night until early the next morning.
Sunday’s demonstration was originally organized by the reformist police collaborators Austin Justice Coalition (AJC), whose leader, Chas Moore, preaches non-violence when not being arrested for assault against his former co-workers. Moore and AJC receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and fellowships as a public relations puppet for APD to console the Black community and talk them down from responding to the police violence appropriately. Moore and others in his well-paid organization, denounced the mass demonstration the day before and feared a repeat of the clashes between the people and APD, announcing that they were cancelling their march. He even instructed the hundreds who gathered at his planned event not to march, saying, “if you have any sense you won’t march.” Moore’s instructions aligned only with the interests of the police and the ruling class, and the people saw through it. He was confronted by Black protesters who denounced his role in the community and issued support for the march taking place; he had tried to claim that the marching had be “hijacked” by white people, however this gambit did not work out because it was never true.
Mike Ramos Brigade then made the call to march anyway without AJC, who were left with only a few dozen supporters at the Capitol. The march quickly accumulated people reaching the thousands. It would come together and break apart at various junctures, confrontations caused initially by the police continued, and the highway was taken again.
APD and DPS responded with hatred and aggression for the people at every opportunity, and the people responded in kind with both defense and offense, to allow them to move and maintain the demonstration in large groups. The police and other state agents were outnumbered throughout the whole weekend.
APD has become notably more aggressive in its handling of protests under Chief Brian Manley. Police fired rubber bullets into the crowd during the weekend injuring Brad Levi Ayala, a 16-year-old Chicano worker. The same “non-lethal” rounds fired from APD guns also critically injured Justin Howell, a 20-year-old Black political science major at Texas State University, who was hospitalized with life threatening injury, including brain damage. In both cases the police aimed for the head. Tribune of the People can confirm that APD was firing into the crowd indiscriminately while at the same time targeting individuals who were not even engaged in any conflict with them or anyone else, including possibly forcing a pregnant Black woman to miscarry when she was hit in the stomach. The fact that it was Black and brown youth who were targeted and injured is a further indictment of APD’s racism.
When Howell was being carried by volunteer medics, the police continued firing the plastic bullets without regard for the injured or the medics trying to save their lives, striking one woman in the hand causing injury. There were multiple reports of demonstrators being struck with plastic bullets in the head resulting in profuse bleeding.
The weekend uprising may have been inspired by the people of Minneapolis and their fight for George Floyd, but understanding the catalyst is not enough to attain a deeper comprehension of the underlying contradictions. All major cities in the US have risen. Black people have been the victims of a war waged on them by America since its founding. Several dozen people smashed and raided stores, many burned out police cars, and even the raging fires do not scare the powers that be half as much as the militant, combative and clear multi-racial unity seen across the country. This unity exists among mainly working people, those who share a common enemy, and an increasingly common goal, one that can only be accomplished with the total liberation of Black people.
The mainstream media, the police, and their collaborators have tried to steer the narrative in their own class interests, but the people have spoken, they demand justice and will take things into their own hands to get it. The US has been shaken and the reactionaries trembled. No one will be able to dictate the terms of rebellion, over 400 years of oppression and spilt blood demand nothing less—America has a blood debt to Black people, and through working class revolutionary unity across racial lines, they are going to collect on it, sooner or later. The people will have their justice, but only if they continue daring to fight for it.