Austin: Police Raid Offices of Immigrant Workers Non-Profit with Guns Drawn

By David Martinez

On November 10, officers with the Austin Police Department (APD) broke into the office of the Workers Defense Project (WDP), a liberal non-profit which provides legal services for mostly immigrant workers, drawing their guns as they conducted a raid to steal private security camera footage. Employees on the premises were forced to escort officers through the building, as APD broke into locked rooms and confiscated a device containing two weeks’ worth of security footage. WDP released a statement on Wednesday detailing APD’s actions during the raid and highlighting the police’s inept handling of a subpoena request.

According to an official complaint submitted by WDP to the city-run Office of Police Oversight, four APD cars arrived at WDP offices to execute a search warrant obtained under false pretenses. APD was seeking two hours of footage with regards to an alleged assault that occurred at a food truck in the non-profit’s parking lot on October 10. To obtain a warrant, the police lied to a judge that they had properly served a subpoena to WDP, although APD had failed to do this in the weeks following the alleged assault.

On the day of the raid, WDP offices were closed to the public for renovations, but two employees inside reported that around 2:45PM police began banging on windows, failing to identify themselves. One officer used the loudspeaker on his squad car in the parking lot to announce unintelligible statements. Other officers hopped a fence in the rear part of the building in what appeared to be an attempt to surround the building.

Soon, an attorney representing the non-profit arrived to discuss the situation with the police while the employees remained inside. The commanding officer refused to accept the attorney’s request for them to deliver the subpoena to her, and grew increasingly angry. Meanwhile, other officers spying into the building saw employees removing bathroom fixtures and claimed that they were removing evidence.

This spurred police to break open the front door using a crowbar, entering and ordering the employees inside to unlock doors to other rooms. According to WDP’s complaint, “Two other officers drew and raised their firearms and performed dramatic sweep [sic] of the office’s other rooms, presumably looking for non-existent threats.” Officers took photos of various rooms unrelated to the warrant, and demanded to be let into the legal department’s offices. When employees refused, the officers broke down this door as well.

The officers confiscated the entire DVR containing two weeks of security footage, which likely does not even contain the two hours of footage the police originally sought, as it is automatically wiped after a certain period. The theft of the DVR left WDP without a working security system.

APD’s Intimidation is Standard Protocol

The immediate motive is not clear why Austin Police took such a militarized approach towards the non-profit, but the raid is in line with APD’s brutal interactions with the community. The police will escalate situations and treat the people as threats based on their own whims and class prejudices, and throw out the ruling class’s own legal protocols as it suits them.

The raid comes early in the tenure of the new police chief, Joseph Chacon. Chacon, a 20-year veteran of the department, was acting as the interim police chief until being officially hired following the city’s performative search for other candidates.

Workers Defense Project is a liberal non-governmental organization (NGO) which provides legal assistance to workers, mainly immigrants. One of their focuses is to recover stolen wages for construction workers, who are often undocumented immigrants. Despite this worthwhile service, WDP is not a fighting working class organization and is no threat to the capitalist State (it receives substantial city, federal, and private bourgeois funding), but the police’s hostility towards the organization reveals contention among the ruling class and their various apparatuses.

Notably, the former Executive Director of WDP is Jose Garza, the current Travis County District Attorney. Garza rode into office last year on the backs of the May Uprisings against police brutality, peddling fantasies of police and prison reform. Yet, as the top prosecutor in the county, aka the ‘top cop’, he ensures the backwards justice system continues to operate smoothly, now serving as its poster boy to give it the appearance of ‘progressive change.’

WDP filed official complaints with the Office of Police Oversight (OPO), a toothless city government agency that provides an illusion of accountability for the city’s police force. In September, the OPO itself reported that APD ignored almost all of the oversight board’s use-of-force complaints that were registered from the May Uprisings in Austin. APD maimed and severely injured at least 20 protesters who were treated at Dell Medical Center, including delivering permanent brain damage to 20-year-old Justin Howell and 16-year-old Brad Ayala.

Whether APD is attacking anti-racist protesters or threatening liberal NGOs, their barbarity should not be understood as the actions of a rogue police force. Their disdain for the people is inherent to the job and a part of their primary function to serve the capitalist ruling class. This is why they will never truly be ‘held accountable’ or reformed under this imperialist system.

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