Austin city leaders and residents criticize police officers' use of force during demonstrations against brutality

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Police look on demonstrators gathered outside Austin Police headquarters for another night of protest against police violence towards people of color on Thursday. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

After nearly a week of protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Austin City Council convened Thursday to address the much-criticized tactics Austin police have deployed against protesters in recent days.

Hundreds of residents called in to the virtual meeting, many demanding that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley be fired and the police department’s budget be reallocated to benefit black and brown communities. Others recounted firsthand how officers tear-gassed, pepper sprayed and shot at them with rubber bullets and bean bag rounds, even as they were protesting peacefully.

Manley said bean bag munition will no longer be used in crowd contexts but that it is still appropriate in “many other circumstances.” Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said his office is reviewing police conduct in the last few days and continuing a review of law enforcement policy that began in December.

As the meeting continued Thursday evening, people gathered at police headquarters for another demonstration, this one focused on Austin police officers inflicting injuries on previous protesters.

While rubber bullets and bean bag rounds have been touted as “less lethal” by law enforcement, Austin officers injured protesters with them during the demonstrations against police brutality. Justin Howell, a 20-year-old black man, was critically injured after police shot him in the back of the head while aiming for another protester. Police also shot 16-year-old Brad Levi Ayala in the forehead with a bean bag round.

The meeting opened with a moment of silence for Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who was killed after a white police officer kneeled on his neck long past the point when he lost consciousness, and Michael Ramos, an unarmed black man who was killed by Austin police in April. Council members conveyed dismay and outrage at the Austin police department’s handling of the demonstrations.

“I was an early supporter of Chief Manley, but have become incredibly disappointed in what feels like complete disregard for the reform efforts this council has consistently tried to implement,” Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said.