Dear Editor, A shout-out to the Austin Police Department: Last July, a new era began with our "rock star" police chief and his mostly positive changes to the department, like the long-awaited disciplinary matrix, tighter use-of-force policies, a dedication to open government, and improved community relations. But reform can't erase a brutal legacy. Over the past 14 years, 15 people of color have died from police bullets, 50,000-volt relentless Taser shocks or outright beatings, some coupled with chemical sprays, flashlights, batons, and one in 1998 who was then hog-tied and perhaps fed antifreeze (APD claimed he digested it to commit suicide – while he was on his way to meet a date!) for the crime of jaywalking in a predominantly white neighborhood. No apology or admission of wrongdoing was ever offered to the family of Rodney Wickware or to the other families (until recently), and we've seen no grand jury indictments, no criminal charges and only two firings. More than 40 officers’ actions in these cases still remain in question, at least in the community's mind. It's almost June, and in four out of the past five Junes, an APD officer shot or Tasered to death persons of color, all unarmed at the time of the shooting except in the case of a mentally disturbed woman with a knife. Let's see if this June, heading into the final month of the chief's first year, we can make it all the way through without seriously harming anyone, especially people not posing deadly threats. Also, last year APD put out a press release on Juneteenth insinuating falsely that the tragic death of David Morales was due to race disputes, making national headlines. So chief, what can we do this year to ensure APD doesn't defile the spirit of Juneteenth again? I hope we can do more than just keep our fingers crossed.
Debbie Russell ACLU-TX Central Texas Chapter president