Here's a fact: The city of Austin has taken action to right-size its police department and decrease its participation in state-sponsored violence without encountering much local backlash. Yes, Texas' Republican leaders and self-interested police guilds have had loud public conniptions, and have now passed laws that may or may not pass judicial muster, and shrieked about Backing the Blue, and tried to manufacture dissent by creating a portrait of a city in chaos, which Austin simply is not.
But Austinites have had a year now to themselves demand the restoration of the policing status quo ante, and they haven't done it. Last November, Republican candidates did well in districts drawn to elect Republicans in an election with a Republican president topping the ticket. Only one, Mackenzie Kelly, actually got elected, by 750 votes in a December run-off in Council District 6, with 9% turnout. Nearly 600 of those votes came from one neighborhood, which incumbent Jimmy Flannigan had alienated on a zoning case that had nothing to do with policing.
Up until this week, it seemed clear that it would take the Legislature's force majeure to make Austin re-fund its police. But on Wednesday, Save Austin Now, the GOP-led campaigners behind recriminalizing public homelessness, launched a new petition drive to get a pro-police citizen initiative on the November ballot this year, alongside whatever proposals to amend the Texas Constitution that make it out of session alive. Since SAN, in its mind, beat the brakes off those pansies on Council and especially Steve Adler on May 1, they're going to fuck around and find out what Austin really thinks of the cops.
We can call this drive SAN 2.0, which is also the "benchmark" staffing ratio (2.0 officers per 1,000 Austinites) that the ordinance would purport to etch into stone, so that the force will always grow and the union ranks and coffers swell and consume more and more of your money, no matter the facts on the ground. (There's no evidence at all that it leads to lower crime.) The "nonpartisan" initiative will also include provisions for more police training and gestures to diversity (with bigger paychecks for "good cops") that might appeal to Democratic women, without whom no local election is won, even in the rinky-dink low-turnout post-session amendment cycle. (The last one, in 2019, had 13.7% turnout and two citizen initiatives, designed to screw with Austin FC and the Convention Center, neither of which passed.)
The posse of straight white Republicans and their one Latina friend tried Wednesday to sound like adults who just want us all to be safe, but of course the bullying jumped out. Witness, for example, U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, recently humiliated in his attempt to replace Liz Cheney as an important member of Congress: "Mayor Adler likes to talk about 'reimagining.' 'Reimagining' is just another word for having dangerous streets in Austin in the name of wokeness."
"Wokeness" is a tip-off that these remarks are for cosseted white people who think the views and ideas and wishes of the hundreds of thousands of Austinites who don't look like Chip Roy are just meaningless bullshit. Yes, (some types of) crimes in Austin are up (a little bit), as in other cities. There's a reason for that: We've just gone through a year of unprecedented national trauma, economic devastation, more than 50,000 Texans dead, and rioters trying to overturn the 2020 election, all brought to you by Republicans, not antifa, not BLM protesters, and certainly not Steve Adler. We also had the Austin police force's violent response to peaceful protests a year ago this week, which is the main reason why Council actually went through with de-policing measures instead of just talking about it like other cities.
But what about Prop B? Wasn't that a sign of local backlash? By yoking its campaign against the homeless to its pro-cop agenda, SAN is kinda telling on itself. They were all butthurt when Council included the words "criminal penalties" on the ballot, because they didn't want people to think that all Prop B did was re-empower Austin police to bust some bums' heads. But that's all it really did.
When Austinites voted on Prop B, months later than SAN had planned, voters had seen with their own eyes what looked like an explosion of homelessness. As you know because you read the Chronicle, this was not really true. It was true that the city has struggled to get people into stable housing as fast as everyone would like. It still is true, and SAN has done nothing to change that, nor has the red regime of this Great State, because they don't care; they just want to make City Hall look bad, because they're bullies and assholes. Mission accomplished.
I guess it's possible that by November, there will be enough crime and chaos in Austin's streets to create similar dynamics for SAN 2.0. We sure will hear about every crime in Austin between now and then, though! And crimes might actually be worse because dumbly entitled wannabe warriors on our police force aren't going to work very hard to prevent or solve them! Let's not be naive about that fact.
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