By Mike Talavera
On June 19, protesters in Austin marked the historic date of the emancipation of slaves in Texas with anti-imperialist defiance by pulling down the United States and Texas flags from the poles in front of Austin Police Headquarters and burning them on the street. In place of the symbols of imperialism and racism, the Transgender rights flag was raised in front of APD HQ to represent the struggles of oppressed people.
Austin police retaliated quickly and violently to the perceived desecration of imperialist symbols by chasing down and brutally arresting one protester, which the rest of the crowd did not take lying down. The small group of police were rapidly surrounded, their backs pinned to the fence of a nearby parking garage, and were eventually forced to retreat as protesters pushed and shoved them. In the mugshot posted later of the young person arrested, a bandage can be seen on his forehead showing the damage done when police threw him down.
The clash happened during the course of a long day of protest, which began as a march celebrating the Juneteenth holiday organized by groups B.O.R.N. Again and the Mike Ramos Brigade, who provided leadership on the ground. “We’re out here celebrating Juneteenth, because we know the fight isn’t over!” one activist said before the march started. “We know the fight against slavery isn’t over! The fight against racism isn’t over! The fight against this oppressive system isn’t over!”
Juneteenth commemorates the postponed announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas in 1865, nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s order had gone into effect. This delay of ending slavery in Texas fits within the state’s racist history, the origin of which can be traced to US slaveholders in the region resisting the Mexican state’s abolition of slavery in 1836. The burning of the Texas flag honored those freed from slavery on Juneteenth as well as the Indigenous people who resisted the imperialist expansion into Texas by US settlers and the military.
Multiple videos have been posted of the imperialist flags being taken down and set on fire, contradicting the account of police officer Bino Cadenas who falsely claimed on Twitter that a fellow officer (who was supposedly a veteran) did not allow the flags to be burned. The social media posts of Austin police have been ridiculed by online commenters since recent protests began, especially a post featuring apparently forged ‘Thank You’ cards.
The vehement response to the flag burning on Juneteenth reveals the frustration of a besieged and demoralized police department, which is currently under investigation for improper use of pepper spray and chokeholds on protesters. The local police union is calling on some officers to stop working protests because of the feeble restrictions imposed on their ability to use force, which has necessitated other forces like the National Guard to be called in to assist. While monitoring the Juneteenth march, two soldiers deceptively attempted to engage in “friendly” conversation with protesters but were rejected.
“[The National Guard] know that today is Juneteenth and if they [crack down] on this march it’s going to look extra racist,” one speaker said over a megaphone in front of the Capitol. “That’s why they’re playing nice today. But let it be known that [the state troopers] still have riot gear ready to go. We see through that bullshit!”
Another activist emphasized, “You have to fight for Black Lives in order to get rid of capitalism. You can’t do one or the other – you have to do both!”
After chanting the names of those murdered by Texas law enforcement like Sandra Bland and Javier Ambler, the protest departed the capitol and flowed back into the streets of downtown Austin, at one point agitating outside of a trendy café where the crowd inspired three women who were dining to pay their bill and hop over the patio fence to join the march.
Before the march began, one activist called on attendees to join the call for dropping all charges against those arrested during the protests across the country, highlighting Austin’s Targeted Three, a trio of young community activists (one of whom is a black mother) who are facing felony charges after a May 31 protest at a local Target store.
“This could mean that a young black mom goes to prison for years and misses out on the growth of her child,” the speaker said. “That’s why [the Targeted Three] need financial, moral, and political support from the people.”
Revolutionaries present also tied Juneteenth to the Day of Heroism, which is observed around the world on the same day (June 19) in honor of the Peruvian revolutionaries who fought to the death as prisoners of war against the genocidal plans of the Peruvian state in 1986. This brave act of resistance to mass incarceration and state repression resonates with the fight for Black Lives in the US, where Black people are disproportionately targeted by police and imprisoned by the state.
The defiant energy of the Juneteenth march combats efforts by Austin City Council and APD to quell the anger of the masses through petty reforms and empty promises. The demands of the Mike Ramos Brigade, to arrest and prosecute the officers who murdered Mike Ramos in April, to fire police chief Brian Manley, and to end the Riverside Togetherness Project (a Homeland Security-funded gentrifying effort), are more pressing than ever, and the US and Texas flags are not the only ones feeling the heat.
The Tribune expresses solidarity with the young person who was arrested on Juneteenth and all those who continue to put their bodies on the line in the fight for Black Lives. We also encourage our readers to support the legal funds for him, the Targeted Three, and all other protesters who the state is targeting at the following link: https://gogetfunding.com/help-austin-georgefloyd-protesters-facing-state-repression/