This story began as an examination of whether some of the most influential activists at City Hall might be just a little extreme compared to the majority of the population; or maybe not, since voters keep supporting candidates and policies backed by such activists. The examples, however, quickly became too much for one story. So, today’s article begins an intermittent series.
As I collected material for this series over several months, I semi-joked with some close to me that I didn’t worry about getting scooped because any local mainstream media outlet would be, let’s say, reluctant to take on the subject. As the months passed, I began to realize that my joke was more of a reality than I originally thought.
Consider these three examples, all from Austin’s currently most famous and most quoted activist, Chas Moore, Founder and Executive Director of the Austin Justice Coalition.
- In May, Moore spoke at a Pflugerville Planning and Zoning Commission meeting regarding a Black-owned cigar bar he frequents. “If it was up to me it would only be Black people in there,” said Moore. I have not seen any coverage of that in local media.
- Moore has also been very open about favoring eventual abolishment of the police force, or all police forces. I only found one instance of the local mainstream media reporting this. Since the local media have been central to making Moore a major figure, and an authority on police reform, perhaps it would be appropriate to let their readers, listeners and viewers know that his ultimate goal is to abolish the police. For one thing, if someone believes in abolishing the police, then it might not bother them so much if the police force is seriously understaffed and morale has plummeted. In fact they would be making progress toward their ultimate goal.
- And in April, Moore made national news by saying that he does not support jail time even for murderers, even if someone murdered his own Grandmother. This was a leading figure in Austin making national news, but I have found no local mention of it.
My statements about the absence of local media coverage are based on my experience as an avid consumer of local news, and on very extensive online searches through Google, and on the individual websites of multiple local news outlets. If I have missed anything please let me know and I will issue a prompt correction, and post a link to the story.
Before moving forward, I want to note for the record that I agree that there needs to be ongoing police reform and accountability. As I have mentioned before, I was a Council leader, along with Jackie Goodman, in creating the first civilian oversight of police in the state of Texas. I also agree that too many people are in prison, although I cannot go so far as to favor abolishing police and prisons. And, I will never support people of one race being able to exclude people of other races from public venues.
Chas Moore, A Major Figure in Austin
As I noted earlier, this story began as an examination of the statements and views of several influential activists, but, for space and length purposes, I decided to focus this initial article just on Chas Moore. Moore is Austin’s most quoted activist when it comes to both policing and racial issues, probably the most quoted overall. Quotes from Moore appear in virtually every article about policing, race or social justice in Austin and on many, many TV reports as well. I think it’s safe to say that he is quoted more than any other activist on these topics, and maybe more than any other individual.
He has been arguably Austin’s most influential leader on policing, most notably on the 2020 decision to cut the police budget, including cutting 100 open positions and eliminating a year’s worth of cadet classes. Those moves led to the current shortage of cops and corresponding dramatic increases in police response times. Moore has also been a leader in establishing new training methods at the police academy.
Moore also appears regularly on panels of groups ranging from the League of Women Voters to the Nation of Islam. His influence was epitomized last October when (then) Mayor Steve Adler awarded Moore the key to the City and declared it Chas Moore Day in Austin. While that was the previous Council, Moore has also proven to be influential with the current crop of Council rookies. For instance all the new Council Members voted Moore’s way in February to reject a four-year contract with the Austin Police Association (APA), a contract that the City and APA had spent a year negotiating. Mayor Kirk Watson also voted against the negotiated contract. Only Alison Alter and Mackenzie Kelly supported it.
Most Council Members also followed Moore’s lead and opposed the Austin Police Department’s partnership with the DPS (Texas Department of Public Safety). While the DPS partnership was understandably controversial, the need for more policing was a direct result of the policies that Moore led the activist community in supporting, and convincing the Adler Councils to adopt.
And, just last week, Council Member Chito Vela followed Moore’s and the AJC’s lead in blocking Interim City Manager Jesus Garza’s attempt to transfer 37 civilian positions to the Austin Police Department (APD). Vela specifically cited the opposition of police reform activists as one of his rationales for blocking the personnel move by Garza. (Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Members Alison Alter, Leslie Pool and Mackenzie Kelly voted against Vela’s motion.)
To summarize, Moore is a powerful and important figure in local government and politics. He has gotten there through his own drive and commitment as well as with his media skills. Nonetheless it is a fact that the local media has helped him rise to prominence and power. Whether intentional or not, that help appears to include quoting him frequently, and selectively; while at other times, ignoring what he says.
Smoking Cigars in Pflugerville
Moore has also expanded his reach to Pflugerville politics and governance. On May 1, Moore attended a hearing regarding a Black-owned cigar bar that he frequents there. The cigar bar was seeking to expand into an adjoining space at a shopping center in a mixed use area near downtown and officially become a lounge. For that it needed a “specific use permit.” Pflugerville City staff noted that a specific use permit is required for a lounge within 200 feet of a residence. They recommended approval with some conditions, including that all amplified sound must be within the building, which evidently has been a problem.
Several neighbors who live near the cigar bar either opposed the permit, or expressed serious concerns. For instance one speaker was the owner of a nearby property that he and his wife rent as a short term rental. He said guests frequently call to complain about loud music from the cigar bar late at night.
Another resident who lives nearby said he could hear music inside his house three to four nights a week with the windows closed and the television on. A Commissioner asked when was the last time that happened, evidently thinking the problems had been fixed. He replied three or four days ago.
Another gentleman tried to explain, “I’m no stranger to bars. I’m no stranger to cigars. I’m no stranger to live music. I’m no stranger to going to clubs. But, this is pretty loud and it’s pretty loud on a consistent basis.” He said that when he tries to watch TV or stream on his computer he can’t turn up the sound loud enough to hear it over the music from the cigar bar. He added that he has “gone down to try to talk to folks and they haven’t been interested in anything I had to say.” He acknowledged that people at the cigar bar are “having fun,” and added, “I like to have fun too, but you’re in my backyard.”
Another speaker said her family’s windows rattle from the music at 1 or 2 in the morning, adding that she’d never had problems with the other bars nearby.
The first speaker in favor was Chas Moore who introduced himself, “I am a founder and Executive Director of an advocacy group in Austin called the Austin Justice Coalition.” He added, “I’m a pretty cool guy. I had my own day in the City and the key to the City. So I do some important stuff from time to time.” Moore said he drives to Pflugerville almost every day to enjoy cigars because, “as you know Black people (in Austin) have been priced out due to gentrification and things of this nature.” So he drives to Pflugerville “to enjoy cigars and just a place and a vibe with people who look like me.”
He then emphasized, “I think we just need to call this what it is, definitely a race issue.” Moore then noted that the two Black owners, “created this space for everybody,” and added, “If it was up to me it would only be Black people in there.”
Moore then denounced the man who had used the term “in my backyard.” Technically the speaker was probably wrong about the activity being in his backyard and used the term metaphorically. The cigar bar is only near his backyard. This, however, was not Moore’s complaint.
He said, “A person that does not look of Native American descent had the audacity to come up here and say ‘in my backyard.’ I think that’s pretty wild because anybody’s that a breathing, living American in this state, in this country, we are quite literally in the backyard of the indigenous folks that people that look like the person that said that comment came over and pillaged and raped and stole their land.”
The hearing then went on and the Planning and Zoning Commission eventually approved the permit.
(The Independent has not sought to give a thorough, in-depth report on this hearing, but for those interested the whole thing can be found here. Moore’s speech begins at 1 hour 21 minutes into the meeting/video.)
Then Mayor Steve Adler presenting Chas Moore with a Key To The City in October 2022. In screen shot at the top of the page Moore is speaking at the Pflugerville Zoning and Planning Commission meeting on May 1, with closed captioning provided by the City of Pflugerville.
Call me old fashioned, but to me Moore saying that he would limit a public establishment to Blacks Only seems like something that should be reported in the media. I mean Moore is a powerful, frequently quoted activist and many of his policy ideas have become official, ongoing policy in Austin. So when he says that if it were up to him he would exclude all other races from an establishment he frequents almost every day, that seems like something media perhaps should cover.
Among other things, denying entry to anyone but Black people, would be against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, both in statute and spirit. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a signature accomplishment of the Civil Rights Movement. So if a local leader on racial issues wants to go against that, isn’t that worth at least mentioning in the news?
Like I said, I think so, but evidently no one else in the Austin media world agrees. I have searched and searched, but have not been able to find a report on Moore’s remarks anywhere. I repeat, let me know if I’m wrong, I will issue a prompt correction.
I suppose it’s possible that no one in the Austin media, except me, saw a clip of Moore making these comments— not at the time or since May 1. After all probably no one is assigned to follow meetings of the Pflugerville Planning and Zoning Commission. But, I don’t do that either. I found a clip of Moore making those remarks while scrolling through Twitter (I mean X). There was also a clip on Reddit.
Given that the time I spend on social media is limited, and my knowledge about social media is also limited, the clip was likely posted other places as well. I know for a fact that many members of the local media follow Twitter/X and other social media. So it’s hard to believe that no member of the local media saw this clip.
Beyond wanting to have Black Only establishments, Moore also made up a new rule on the spot, that white people should not be able to use the expression “in my backyard” because whites in earlier centuries “raped and pillaged” and stole indigenous people’s land. I have to agree with Moore on the history here, but it’s difficult for me to understand why that should keep a white person today from using the expression “in my backyard.” I also don’t understand the source of Moore’s authority to make that rule.
Whoever does Pflugerville’s minutes seems to have the same policy, or instincts, when it comes to Moore that the Austin media has. The minutes provide cogent summaries of what most speakers said, but Moore’s remarks were summarized, “Chas Moore, Austin Justice Coalition. No complaints about the bar. I enjoy coming to Pflugerville to smoke cigars.”
(Ironically, just before press time Moore sent out a fundraising appeal to a multiracial mailing list, seeking contributions during “Black Philanthropy Month.” Moore evidently doesn’t favor the same restrictions on contributors that he prefers for cigar bars. In the fundraising message Moore wrote, “I hope this message finds you well and filled with the spirit of unity and justice.” He concludes the appeal with, “In the spirit of unity, justice and Black excellence, I ask you to consider making a donation to the Austin Justice Coalition during this impactful month.”)
Abolishing the Police
A similar Austin media phenomena seems to be taking place with Moore’s belief that police departments should eventually be abolished. Although Moore has by no means tried to keep this a secret, I could find only one mainstream media outlet that came close to reporting it. That was Melanie Torre of CBS Austin in June 2021. Torre didn’t mention abolition, but talked about Moore “imagining a world without police.”
Also, in November 2020 Honest Austin News reported on a rally where Moore, quoting a speaker at an earlier rally, said a world without police would be one “filled with mimosas and jazz and dancing.” Like the Austin Independent, however, Honest Austin is a small publication that I would not lump in with mainstream local media.
While statewide, rather than local, Texas Monthly managed to unearth Moore’s views on police abolition in a June 2020 story. The Monthly interviewed Moore and longtime police critic and police accountability advocate Scott Henson, who for the record is white. Evidently trying to help Moore, Henson told the Monthly reporter, “When people say ‘abolish the police,’ what they mean is scaling it back,” This of course is not what abolish means.
Moore then said, according to the Monthly: “I think this is interesting, because I’m one of the people that Scott doesn’t believe exists [laughs] (“laughs” included by Texas Monthly). I think we can get to a world where we don’t need police.”
More recently, at a February Council meeting on a proposed four-year City contract with the Austin Police Association, a pro-police speaker charged that Moore was for abolishing the police.
Moore, speaking shortly thereafter, devoted his speech to acknowledging that he is a police “abolitionist” and explaining why: “Yes, I am an abolitionist, right. I think that at some point we as humans can evolve into a world, a society, where we don’t rely on police, where we fully fund, and put resources into, alternatives to public safety, which includes housing, neighborhoods, things of this nature, right. And I just believe that if we do that, we’ll start to see the reasons why crime happens reduced, right? A lot of people commit crime because they are hungry or they don’t have the resources they need, and I just think if we invest in communities and people, the need for asking another human being to risk their lives to protect us just can go out the window.” (In the link above, Moore speaks at 12:42 PM)
In a report on that meeting, then American-Statesman reporter Luz Moreno-Lozano, now at KUT, quoted from Moore’s speech where he explained why he is an “abolitionist,” but managed to avoid saying anything about Moore being a police abolitionist. This was something of an amazing, yet subtle, journalistic feat. So let’s sort of diagram it here.
Moreno-Lozano reported it like this: “Chas Moore, executive director for the Austin Justice Coalition, also favored not approving a four-year contract, saying there were other ways to improve public safety in Austin, such as improving access to resources like housing and food.” It is true that Moore opposed the contract, although he used his time before the Council to explain his belief in abolishing police departments.
Then Moreno-Lozano quoted Moore: ‘“Fully funding alternatives of public safety,’ Moore said. ‘That is how we will see crime rates reduce. Often people commit crimes because they are hungry and don’t have the resources they need.”’
The first problem there is that Moore did not say in his speech the first two sentences that Moreno-Lozano put in quotation marks. Those sentences could plausibly serve as a summary of what Moore said in earlier sentences, but, if so they don’t belong in quotes. (Readers can look at the lengthy quote I included above or even watch the whole segment.)
Then Moreno-Lozano quotes part of a sentence that Moore actually said, and that I quoted above (our versions slightly differ, but not in a substantive way). “Often people commit crimes because they are hungry and don’t have the resources they need.” Moore did say this, but Moreno-Lozano chopped off the rest of the sentence, the part that tied up his point about why he favors police abolition: “and I just think if we invest in communities and people, the need for asking another human being to risk their lives to protect us just can go out the window.”
Moore wasn’t saying that the need for a four-year police contract would just “go out the window.” He was talking about the need for police at all going out the window.
Moreno-Lozano was at the time working for a daily paper. So perhaps she didn’t have time to review the video and make sure she got her quotes right, like I took the time to do. It was very clear, however, that Moore was speaking about why he believes in police abolition. Oddly, however, Moreno-Lozano found a way to make it seem like his remarks were directed at the police contract; and avoid mentioning that he believes in abolishing the police.
Readers may recall that the Independent published a two part article on how Moreno-Lozano left out huge portions of a hearing on the DPS partnership, pretending that the hearing was dominated by “faith leaders” concerned about transparency; and not reporting that anyone supported the agreement or called for more police. She reported it like that, even though 15 speakers at the hearing expressed support for the DPS partnership while six others simply asked for more police. Nine others opposed the partnership. Among those Moreno-Lozano failed to mention were a significant group of Asian American community leaders as well as representatives of small grocery stores who talked about theft and fear of violence among their employees.
Perhaps in both cases Moreno-Lozano just made some mistakes, but her mistakes sure seem to fall in the same ideological direction.
Later, at a July Human Rights Commission meeting Moore again volunteered that he is a police abolitionist. The City no longer has that video online, so I am unable to quote it directly. I do recall that he went on for almost eight minutes (more than double the allotted time) — including talking about Batman and Spiderman — before the Chair politely reminded him that he had gone over his time limit.
Another way that local media folks might stumble across the fact that Moore is an abolitionist would be to visit the Austin Justice Coalition’s website. For years the group’s homepage had a graphic reading, “Imagine a world without police.” Clicking on that would then open a video explanation of police abolition. In recent months, a visitor would have had to click a link on the homepage to get to a second page to open the video. On a look right before press time it seemed like the website was being redone and so I’m not sure if the video is still there.
Surely over the years, some members of the local press have visited AJC’s website and seen that video. Did that not arouse their curiosity (supposedly a trait of journalists)? And, did no other local journalists hear one of Moore’s frank explanations of why he is a police abolitionist?
Some might even say Moore has a noble, if utopian vision, although that adjective would certainly not apply to his statements in Pflugerville.
So why do I think it is important that local media report that Moore is a police abolitionist? First of all it’s a fact. Second, the local media have helped make Moore into a powerful figure. They have a responsibility to provide as complete a picture as possible to their readers, listeners and viewers. Some local citizens might feel differently about Moore if they knew he was for eliminating police rather than just reforming them.
Also, as I noted earlier, someone who believes in abolishing the police might consider it progress if the police force is dramatically understaffed and also losing officers due to bad morale.
Making National News, But Not Local
And, that’s not all folks. Moore’s position on abolition of police made national news; and the local media didn’t cover that either. On the national level Moore added that he is also for abolishing prisons; and he said it in a very clear and graphic way.
The vehicle for Moore’s national media breakthrough was the New York Post. Yes, I know they are a Murdoch publication and I know that they are sensational. Moore, by the way, certainly delivered on the sensational front. MaryAnn Martinez of the Post reported that Moore said,’“I believe that we can get to a world where we don’t have police and where we don’t have prisons.”’ The Post followed this quote with, “said the activist — whose grip on Austin officials is so strong, they declared Oct. 22 ‘Chas Moore Day’ last year.”
Elaborating on his no prisons stance, Moore said that if someone burglarized his house, the burglar should not have to do jail time. In Moore’s vision of the theoretical burglary, the burglar is female. He recommends, ‘“I would actually say instead of sending her to jail, let’s say she pays me back by cleaning my house for the next six weeks.”’
If the burglar were sent to prison, said Moore, ‘“We didn’t really fix anything. We punished this person in a way that’s not really helpful.”’
The imagined burglary proved to be a very mild example. According to the Post, Moore added (with the blank spaces in words below theirs):
‘“If someone went into my grandma’s house with a f—ing shotgun and blew her brains out, I’m going to be sad, I’m going to go through the whole f—ing array of human emotions, but at some point, if I’m able to really sit with that, there’s no level or retribution that’s going to make me feel any type of way.”
He continued, “What do I actually gain by having this person held accountable in a system like jail or prison?”’
Moore’s comments were later picked up by Fox News — of course also a Murdoch organ. Moore noted his mention on Fox in a tweet, which also served to confirm that he made the statements attributed to him by the Post: “Made Fox News for saying I’m an abolitionist and we don’t need prisons, even for murderers. People lost it!”
So Why Does the Local Media Give Moore a Pass
As we have seen, Chas Moore:
- Supports allowing Black businesses to ban people of other races, and also thinks white people should not be able to use the term “in my backyard;”
- Favors abolishing police:
- In his own formulation, would not want jail time even for someone who murdered his Grandmother.
To me these viewpoints are, in the order listed above:
- racist (Pflugerville speech);
- unrealistic, dangerous and blind to human history (abolishing the police); and
- extreme (no prisons even for murderers).
Even though I disagree with what I consider the extreme nature of Moore’s three stances above, and much else that he professes to believe, I think he has a right to say all that stuff; and I think elected officials should take what he says into account. But, I don’t think elected officials, or staff, or board and commission members should follow his lead in the unquestioning manner that many have.
And, I think that the local media should scrutinize him in addition to writing adoring profiles and contacting him repeatedly for quotes. No one should get a free pass, or an almost total lack of scrutiny, no matter how noble their stated goal and no matter who they claim to represent.
Yes, that’s what I think, but in today’s Austin I doubt that very many in the local media agree with me. Don’t be surprised if this is the only place you read about Moore being a self professed police abolitionist who thinks Blacks should be able to exclude other races from their businesses and wouldn’t want to incarcerate someone even if they killed his grandmother.
Of course this all begs the question of why members of local media would try to protect Moore and his image.
First, there is the possibility that it is all a big coincidence that the local mainstream media, with one exception, hasn’t reported that Moore is a police abolitionist or that none covered his Blacks Only comments in Pflugerville, or even noted that he made national news with his extreme stances. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it would be quite an amazing one.
It could also be that local reporters are just shorthanded and very busy and didn’t run across any of these things, which if true is sort of sad and telling. Also, if that is the case, they still find plenty of other opportunities to quote Moore.
To me it seems more plausible that many members of the media believe in Moore’s cause and worry that some of his statements could hurt that cause; although it would more likely damage Moore’s standing rather than anyone’s support for racial and social justice. Of course it is not the media’s job to filter the news to protect activists or causes.
There is still another possibility and this one could include not only the media, but the string of City Councils who have followed Moore’s lead and glorified him with a key to the City. Maybe they are worried about Moore angrily, and publicly, making up a new rule about something they say or do — like the one he made up on the spot in Pflugerville when someone used the expression “in my backyard.”
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