As Mayor Steve Adler started Thursday’s City Council meeting, two dozen protesters silently got up from their seats, took a knee and held up a banner that read “End Austin Police Brutality.”
The Austin Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership and several other advocacy groups assembled in the Council chamber to protest the Austin Police Association’s contract with the city, which was entering its final hours of negotiations at the time.
Chris Harris, Grassroots Leadership data analyst and campaigns coordinator, said he saw the recent debate about the meaning of the “Take A Knee” protest as an opening to discuss the contract.
“We saw that using that approach as a means to draw attention to the police union contract really (makes) it clear it’s about police brutality and racial inequality,” Harris said.
As the union representing Austin police officers, the APA renegotiates its contract with the city every few years. For several months, APA and the city have been debating increased wages for police officers along with new oversight measures.
Advocacy groups have been pushing to end the “180-day rule,” which states that officers cannot be disciplined for actions that violate city policy 180 days after the incident occurred. They have also been fighting to reduce the 48-hour period officers have to make a statement after an incident involving the use of force. During that time, officers have access to police cruiser dashboard camera footage.
Harris said these policies make police oversight more difficult. The 180-day rule allows officers to avoid punishment for violating law enforcement policies, and the 48-hour time limit to submit a statement gives officers a chance to “get their stories straight” — a luxury average citizens do not receive, Harris said.
“It helps create a culture of secrecy and impunity, not just in Austin but across the country,” Harris said.
Following the silent demonstration in the Council chamber, the protesters filed outside for a short press conference where several spoke, including Monique Nobles-Kelly, aunt of Landon Nobles, who was shot and killed by an Austin police officer in May.
“I’m here today to pray that the City Council will find it in its heart to vote no to the police union contract,” Nobles-Kelly said. “We’re tired of the violence done by the police department.”
According to an article from KXAN in May, the Austin Police Department said that Nobles fired a gun at the police officers who were chasing after him. In response, the two officers fired back, and Nobles was killed.
Biology sophomore Jason Cohen said he feels protesting is necessary to keep elected officials accountable.
“As a minority, I feel it’s my duty to protest police brutality and stand in solidarity with other oppressed minorities,” Cohen said.
APA president Ken Casaday told the Austin American-Statesman in August that APA was committed to ensuring that the contract would maintain their position as one of the most transparent police departments in the country.
Casaday was unavailable Thursday for comment due to ongoing contract negotiations.
Harris said the new contract’s lack of critical oversight measures will only maintain the status quo rather than offering the city the chance to reduce police brutality in Austin.
“We are at the point now where we don’t think a contract can be reached with the union that’s going to give us as a community the right amount of accountability, transparency and oversight that a city requires of its police force,” Harris said.
Once the contract is finalized, both APA’s members and the Council must vote to approve it. There is currently no set date for the Council’s vote.