The protests against police brutality, which have gripped the nation as a result of the police murder of George Floyd, reached the capital of Texas on Saturday as thousands of mostly young and outraged Austin residents of all colors flooded one of the city’s most vital arteries, taking over I-35 just where it overlooks Austin Police Department (APD) headquarters and blocking traffic until police were able to get them off.
The demonstrators would later march down Congress Avenue, just a few blocks from the Texas State legislature as they circled around on their way back to APD headquarters, chanting different slogans like “Whose streets? Our Streets” and “FTP. Fuck the police,” among others slogans. Meanwhile, an entirely different atmosphere prevailed in and around the gentrified areas of downtown Austin where the also young but professional classes who work in tech companies like Google were enjoying a late brunch in recently re-opened outdoor cafes.
The contrast was also evident just before crossing into downtown as people paddled rented canoes and kayak up and down the Colorado River, indulging in the first outings after many weeks of lockdown. The bright, sunny day seemed a perfect opportunity for life to get back to normal. But just down the street, it was clear that something had radically changed for one segment of the population and that the kind of “normal” was no longer going to be acceptable.
A wall of indifference
The scene outside Austin Police department headquarters had the contours of an earlier, yet recent time in American history. A stoic line of Texas police formed a barricade with their shields, while behind them precinct staff and more policemen looked on nervously as the crowds of Black, Latino, and White protestors swelled.
Directly in front of the police building, on the I-35 overpass, were at least 15 armed police officers lined up along the ledge of the freeway with a birds-eye view of the situation unfolding below. Most of the arriving protestors did not seem to notice them until later. But as the mass of people gathered to voice their repudiation over the continued abuses of an out-of-control police state, a small group of young ladies was directly challenging the position of the shield-carrying Rangers in front of APD headquarters.
Climbing the small brick wall that lines the steps of the entrance, the girls tried to assert a symbolic act of defiance by standing directly in front of the officers and, by virtue of the architectural design, literally over them. Eventually, the girls were pushed off the ledge, sparking an outcry by the protesters below. As the young women climbed up on the wall again, one African American man shouted “We are recording” and dared the policemen to “touch her” while pointing his cell-phone at them.
A police precinct staff member tried to warn protesters over a bullhorn to not lose control, calling for the crowd to “peep” their people as tensions began to rise steadily. A few feet away, some protestors began taking notice of the officers watching from the overpass, and attention would quickly be diverted away from the APD building to them and considerably escalate the potential for violence.
The right side of history
One of the protesters started passionately addressing his fellow demonstrators and the policemen on the overpass, warning that the police were “getting ready” to come down hard on the people and exhorted them to come together against the police state. The dark-haired man in black shouted up at the officers, asking them when they had last been in court and declared that they would no longer be allowed to “police or govern” the people.
The rousing speech would move the attention of the masses away from the APD building and over to the policemen on the overpass. Soon enough, hundreds of them would start climbing up the ramp to confront the officers with their signs and effectively block their view. Predictably, this action drew a reaction from the cops who began firing their “non-lethal” weapons at point-blank range, causing a dangerous stampede of people down the steep incline back onto the street below.
Protesters would respond in kind by throwing rocks and water bottles to the policemen, who then began shooting into the trees, hundreds of feet away where people were taking cover. Many demonstrators were hit, and at least one in the stomach from a distance of more than 100 feet. The confrontation would persist for the next several minutes, but protestors were not deterred and continued to climb back to the top.
The determination of the protesters was clear and their anger at the murder of another black man at the hands of police was not to be taken lightly. Despite the vocal presence of one detractor, calling out for the protesters to be arrested because most of them “weren’t even black” – though many were -, the broader implications of these actions at this precise moment in history point to a significant shift in the mindset of many Americans regarding the proper role of the police in this nation and regardless of the immediate implications or uncomfortable consequences, we cannot dispute that the protestors are on the right side of history.
Feature photo | An Austin Police officer sprays pepper spray at protesters, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Austin, Texas. Ricardo B. Brazziell | AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.