We Have an Issue: “People Really, Really Are Done With the Murders of Black People at the Hands of Police”
In this week’s issue, we look at the impact of police use of force at protests – and if any changes are going to come from it
Longtime staff photographer Jana Birchum shot this week's cover, an image of a protester at the Texas State Capitol on Sunday, at what was meant to be the site of a march and rally led by the Austin Justice Coalition to denounce police violence against Black people. Organizers canceled the march at the last minute out of concern for the safety of participants, but protesters arrived anyway. They came largely armed with signs, bullhorns, and bone-deep rage. Law enforcement armed themselves differently.
Throughout these days of protest, police have deployed tear gas, smoke, and beanbag bullets – "less lethal impact munitions" – at close range. One of those so-called "less lethal" rounds was used against a 20-year-old Texas State University student named Justin Howell, currently in critical condition. He was identified by Texas A&M's The Battalion, where Justin's brother Joshua is an editor; I urge you to read his op-ed, a powerful remonstration of Austin police's use of force.
Jana described her own experience on the ground, covering the demonstrations:
"The feeling I get from the protests is that people really, really are done with the murders of Black people at the hands of the police, and with abusive policing in general. Policing has changed in the last few years of my coverage of protests. I've been trampled by horses (Republican Convention, Philadelphia), cornered on streets in violent protest (Zapatista March, Mexico City), and arrested (ACT-Up demos at international AIDS Conference in San Francisco), but I've never been sprayed with pepper spray before. And I was sprayed by pepper spray twice in two days. So, police tactics have changed. I also had a beanbag rifle pointed at me for a significant period of time. Enough to get off several frames. That's also new to me in Austin."
You can find more images from the protests – pictures of political resistance, and anguish, and heavily armed law enforcement – by Jana and our other staff photographers, John Anderson and David Brendan Hall, accompanying our cover features and at austinchronicle.com/photos.