Every City in America has a Mike Brown

“Every city in America has a Mike Brown,” Snehal Shingavi with the People’s Task Force spoke to an estimated 1,000 gathered outside the Austin Police Department’s Headquarters. Hundreds congregated with the 22-hours advance notice following the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson of Mike Brown’s murder in Saint Louis County. Calling for justice at the local level, Shingavi’s group is pressing for justice for Larry Jackson, Jr., who was shot by Austin Police Detective Kleinert July 2013. Jackson is one in a list of unarmed black and Hispanic men killed by APD.

Austin appears ready for justice. Cheers emerged from a call for action from Life Anew’s Program Director Sherwynn Patton: “We’ve got to change what in the world isn’t right.  If crime hurts, then justice should heal. When we look at justice we look at people to be healed from the crime and criminalization of people who actually were victims of violent crime.” Life Anew’s most visible success has been working to reduce the criminalization of offenses surrounding Austin’s notorious 12th and Chicon corner. Since Life Anew came on the scene, there has been a 77% reduction in the open air drug market. APD reached out to Life Anew to assist with this corner; through mediation and weekly meetings offenders voluntarily work with Life Anew to remove crimes from a criminal record, which in turn reduces barriers to employment and housing.

APD was present in full force at the rally-turned-march. “We’re out on the streets to keep you safe,” remarked Chief Art Acevedo, whose officers on motorcycles rapidly closed down intersections facilitating the civil disobedience for hundreds of marchers travelling down Red River, 6th Street and Congress Avenue to the State Capitol. Protestors made their demands for racial justice known as they chanted calls such as, “Hands up. Don’t shoot!”, “No justice, no Peace”, “and “How many more? No more.”

Acevedo, as a Board Member of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, supports reducing criminalization of minor offenses. “A lot of folks are in from the new criminalization of childhood and they should be treated as adolescents within the criminal justice system.” The same behaviors which used to have been deemed part of adolescence-petty theft, minor trespassing-now puts children in the school-prison pipeline, as 76% of black and Hispanic young men are in the criminal justice system. With the MCCPA, “[US] Attorney General Holder talked about wanting to work on a reduction [in penalties]” Acevedo stated.

Numerous community groups are working to advance restorative justice, a process which aids to reconcile offenders through meetings with victims and the community. According to Patton and Young People For Fellow Nick Sheffield Austin can employ this technique in its plan to address injustices working in family, community and school settings, but, whether leadership will want to use this technique broadly is unknown. Sheffield remarked on the demonstrations Tuesday night, “It was a powerful event and it includes a call to action,” speaking on a future plan for the Austin community and subsequent activism for Larry Jackson, Jr.

 

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