The Austin Chronicle

We Have an Issue: What’s Next, and How Fast Can We Get There?

In this week's issue, the rallying cry to defund police catches on, and Republicans try to quash vote by mail for good

By Kimberley Jones, June 12, 2020, Columns

Unless you've been living under a rock – or a white hood – you've seen the footage. Peaceful protesters gassed, clubbed, shoved, shot at, and arrested. By greeting last week's protests decrying police brutality against Black people with more brutality, police here and all around the country have made the protesters' point for them.

Police must have gotten the memo that the optics were real bad, because more recent protests have been markedly less violent. Startlingly – exhilaratingly – the message is getting through. The Black Lives Matter movement has ignited a long-overdue conversation not just about racist policing, but about what we value as humans, and what we prioritize as taxpaying citizens. The rallying cry to "defund police" might reflexively scare some people (probably the same people who saw something warmongering in "Black Lives Matter"); would it help to think of it in the more benign bureaucratic-speak of "shifting resources"?

Our police departments are overfunded, but police are also overtasked, expected to respond to calls that they are not qualified for, by training or by temperament. So, the argument goes, move the money. Move it to mental health professionals, social workers, drug treatment and prevention programs, homeless services, affordable housing initiatives, properly paid teachers. Prioritize a strong social safety net, equal opportunity, and a culture of respect for all humans.

So how exactly does that happen, and how quickly? In this week's issue, our News staff takes a look at how elected officials, APD leadership, social justice advocates, and a galvanized citizenry are tackling the issue.

And elsewhere in the issue, Michael King tracks the latest on Texas Republican leaders' efforts to prevent vote by mail. Anyone with a brain knows VBM reduces risk of exposure to COVID-19 to basically nil. They want you to have to vote in person, because they think fewer people will show up to vote then, and fewer people voting is good for them. (Trump said it himself on Fox & Friends: If we expanded vote by mail, "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again.") Some people will argue that voting doesn't matter, that our electoral system is busted. To that I counter: If voting wasn't still such a meaningful tool of democracy, why would the GOP be trying so hard to suppress it?

Online This Week

RIP James "Slim" Hand: "Combining real Texas toughness and teary-eyed vulnerability, James Hand existed as authentic a country singer as they come." Kevin Curtin eulogizes the Austin troubadour, who died June 8 of heart complications.

Barracuda Shuts Down: With no revenue due to COVID-19, the Red River mainstay has gone out of business.

Movie Movers: Luxury cinema micro-chain iPic reopens its Austin location Thursday, making it the second indoor movie theatre to return to operations in the city; plus, Evo takes over the Sky Cinema space in Dripping Springs.

Bridging the Food Gap: Irielle Wesley profiles nonprofit Austin Shift Meal, which provides meals to the unemployed or furloughed members of the hospitality and service industry.

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