The Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: Beside the Point

Klan or No Klan, It's Getting Ugly Down at City Hall

By Wells Dunbar, November 11, 2005, News

The rallying cry of eternal vigilance against tyranny was once "Never again!" This week, to paraphrase Mayor Will Wynn and the City Council, it's "Please don't come down here."

Last week's council meeting opened on the steps of City Hall, with the mayor designating Saturday, Nov. 5, an official day of tolerance. That Saturday, as you certainly know, a dozen sons and daughters of the Confederacy's short bus took the plaza stage as the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, standing in solidarity with the Texas Republican Party and legions of Baptist preachers in support of Proposition 2, the state constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage and civil unions. Texas voters approved the amendment on Tuesday.

So Thursday's presser was a welcome, if somewhat rhetorical, action, with the entirety of the council dissing the KKK, and most – but not all – voicing their opposition to Prop. 2. Brewster McCracken took the mic with zeal. "Next Tuesday, Texans have the chance to decide if they're on the side of freedom, or they're on the side of the Ku Klux Klan. I'm on the side of freedom," said McCracken.

There was no word if Danny Thomas – the only council member in support of Prop. 2, and, last we checked, council's only African-American member – is secretly allied with the White Knights, but conventional wisdom is doubtful; that morning, a bristling Thomas complained, "I thought this press conference was about the Klan using our plaza." Despite Thomas' dissent, there was a unifying message to Austinites of all hues: Don't come. Noting that the Klan thrives, in state Rep. Senfronia Thompson's words, by "fanning the hellfire flames of bigotry," in the end council's warning didn't deter thousands of citizens from rallying Downtown anyway.

"Don't come" might also be the official council slogan for the remainder of the month. As the holiday season looms, council meetings grow scarcer and more workmanlike and wonkish. The biggest story, the citizen review of the Daniel Rocha shooting, occurred separately from council proceedings last week (on Halloween), although each member or a representative attended. A week later, on Monday, the Austin Police Association filed a grievance with the city manager's office, alleging that information was leaked illegally from the Citizen Review Panel. Officially, the APA isn't talking, but we venture a guess that the grievance concerns Rocha family attorney Bobby Taylor's release of Officer Julie Schroeder's and Sgt. Don Doyle's videotaped re-enactments of their fatal struggle with Rocha. In some form, that argument may end on council's crowded plate.

On other fronts, with a gang of zoning cases delayed (including the Spring Lofts point tower), and meetings canceled today (Thursday) and Turkey Day, Nov. 17's meeting should be stuffed like a, well, Thanksgiving fowl. Also in the seasonal spirit, the 17th is the second hearing of proposed public order ordinances criminalizing panhandling, solicitation, sleeping outdoors, and sitting on the sidewalk, with council action scheduled Dec. 15. Don't get caught napping.

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