DOJ Plays Peacemaker
Public meeting to address slate of officer-involved shootings
By Brandon Watson,
4:14PM, Tue. Sep. 24, 2013
In the wake of a string of Austin Police Department officer-involved shootings, it would be an understatement to say that there is tension in the community. If the history of previous town halls holds true, expect tomorrow's forum with the Department of Justice's Community Relations Service to offer plenty of fireworks.
The Texas Civil Rights Project began planning the forum in the aftermath of Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr. death after an altercation with Detective Charles Kleinert. Although Kleinert characterized the shooting as an accident, many in the community were not convinced. Last week, Jackson's mother and stepfather, Billie and Larry Mercer, filed a suit alleging that Jackson was a victim of racial profiling.
That lingering questions about the shooting prompted City Manager Marc Ott to make a formal request that the Department of Justice review the APD's "tactics and practices." That request was ultimately denied. In September 3 letter, the DOJ's Special Litigation Section chief Jonathan Smith explained that a previous DOJ review had already given the APD the necessary oversight mechanisms.
Still, in a memo sent to City Council commenting on the denial, Ott noted that his staff would continue work with the DOJ's Community Relations Service, the departmental arm dealing with "community conflict and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin." He noted also that the CRS was planning on hosting a community forum in Austin.
The forum, now also drawing the sponsorship of the Austin NAACP, will be a chance for the community to air concerns in a mediated environment. Speaking to the Statesman, TCRP director Jim Harrington said that the event will be focused on the need for better City Council oversight of the APD.
Community Relations Services Forum, Wednesday, 6-9pm. St. James Missionary Baptist Church, 3417 E. Martin Luther King.