Social justice groups take a knee at Austin City Council meeting

Protestors hold a banner and #TakeAKnee during the invocation at Austin City Council meeting. on Oct. 19, 2017. Organizers want changes to police policy. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Protestors hold a banner and #TakeAKnee during the invocation at Austin City Council meeting. on Oct. 19, 2017. Organizers want changes to police policy. (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Thursday morning, a couple dozen people gathered at Austin CIty Hall to protest police brutality.

Members of the Austin Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership took a knee as Austin City Council members listened to the invocation before the meeting. Several people in the crowd held a large sign with “End Austin Police Brutality” written in large letters.

Thursday is expected to be the last day for the city and the Austin Police Association to hammer out a contract before it goes to council. However, the social justice groups want council members to vote down the contract because they believe more power needs to be in the hands of civilians and more accountability is needed when it comes to cases involving officers’ use of force.

The major sticking points still to tackle are pay and benefit increases and what’s known as the “180-day rule.” Right now, the Austin Police Department has 180 days to investigate and discipline an officer for violating policy

The city has a Citizen Review Panel and a Police Monitor’s Office. Both entities are charged with overseeing the Austin Police Department policies and review certain cases.

Chris Harris from Grassroots Leadership says recommendations from the panel have been ignored.

“What we have today is faux oversight, in name only,” said Harris. Grassroots Leadership and the Austin Justice Coalition want the city to place more power in the hands of civilians. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition released a report that no civilian recommendations for police policy in Austin have ever become reality.

“The activists have done a good job of paying people to come in here and spread malicious untruths,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association.

He says Austin has more public oversight than most cities in the state with a citizen review panel and a police monitor’s office that has access to internal investigations.

“The big disappointment is to still hear people talking about how we’re the least transparent, when we actually believe we’re the most transparent,” said Casaday.

Harris and others want the ability for action, not just access.

“We think that civilian oversight, along with the chiefs and the commanders, should be the ones ultimately determining discipline for officers in the city, for sure,” said Harris.

If the contract is not approved by the city council and the members of the police association, officers lose some pay and benefits and the police monitor loses access to police internal affairs files to make public.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this stoy indicated the national group Campaign Zero was in attendance at the city council meeting but they only hosted the forum later in the day.

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