(Wednesday I posted a story about the Statesman’s coverage, or lack thereof, of the May 22 public hearing on the partnership between the Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety. I recommend reading that one before reading Part 2 below, but that is of course the reader’s choice. In Part 1 I used the same number of words as reporter Luz Moreno-Lozano in order to show that more information could be imparted in the 681 words that the Statesman evidently allocated. At the same time I argued that the Statesman should have devoted more space to such an important matter. So, in Part 2 we’ll explore some parts of the hearing that didn’t fit into Moreno-Lozano’s 681 words, or mine.)

Faith Leaders Said a Bit More Than the Statesman Let On

Since Moreno-Lozano’s article was built around the appeals from “faith leaders,” let’s start this second installment there. 

The only “faith leader” quoted by Moreno-Lozano was Reverend Daryl Horton. He was quoted saying: ‘“I don’t have to tell you that perception becomes reality when people look at their experiences and how they feel they’re being treated and see how actions are being taken in their area,’ Horton said. ‘So, I think to help communities feel safer… we just want to encourage a way to get a greater communication out to the public to allow them to understand the reason that DPS is present.’”  

As sermons often do, Horton’s remarks to Council left some room for individual interpretation. In my view, however, Moreno-Lozano did a fair enough job of summarizing and quoting his remarks. The only thing is that she chopped off his last sentence, probably for space. The whole sentence read, “We just want to encourage some kind of way to get a greater amount of communication out to the public to allow them to understand the reason that DPS is present [now begins the part of the sentence not included in the Statesman article] “is to curb the things that are taking place, not to harass or not to do other things.”   

That is not a huge difference and Moreno-Lozano, or her editors, had to cut somewhere. She completely left out, however, any mention of the comments of two other pastors — the only other “faith leaders” who spoke. For instance Pastor Abraham Perez followed Reverend Horton. Perez said he has been pastor for 28 years at Austin Reconciliation Church, on Cameron Road in the “middle of 290, 183 and I 35.” 

Perez said he wanted to “echo all the words that Reverend Daryl Horton said about the safety of our communities.” He then, however, ticked off a list of problems that the shortage of police has brought to his community, the “lack of policing, lack of patrolling, the 911 calls taking quite a bit longer to be responded (to). Also there’s a lot of crime going on in the community and not enough policing to deter that crime.” He asked that “the police hear our voices” and urged “unity” to “come up with solutions.”

Neither Horton nor Perez stated direct opposition or support regarding the APD-DPS partnership. Alan Ramirez, the speaker who followed Perez, explicitly stated his support for the partnership. Ramirez said he is the “former president of ALMA,” a group “that represents 50 churches in the Austin area.” He added that he and his family own four businesses in Austin. When he moved here in 1992, remembered Ramirez, “I could leave the keys in my car and nothing happens. Now we have to install security cameras in our different businesses and even having cameras we have people breaking in.”

He concluded, “We really need the presence of the DPS and the APD so that we can work together,” adding that criminals are seeking to “make money the wrong way.”

This was the end of speakers who could be considered “faith leaders.” Just from the quotes cited here, however, it is clear that these faith leaders had a broader message than Moreno-Lozano’s theme that they — and supposedly “many other residents” — simply called for “greater transparency and accountability” about the APD-DPS partnership. Readers had no chance, however, of learning that in the Austin American-Statesman.

Reverend Daryl Horton, left. Reverend Abraham Perez with Alan Ramirez on deck, right. All photos are screen shots from the City broadcast.

Asian American Delegation Makes Public Safety Appeal — Gets Black Out Coverage from Statesman

Moreno-Lozano wrote of the May 22 public hearing at the Council Public Safety Committee: “Some community members demanded the city end the (DPS) partnership completely.” That is accurate, but she did not report that a single person spoke in favor of the partnership. In reality, 15 speakers stated directly that they favored the partnership. Another six did not mention DPS specifically, but clearly stated that they favor more police presence. And, nine speakers opposed the partnership. 

One portion of the hearing that I believe deserves a bit more reporting was the series of Asian American speakers. For instance longtime community leader Gopal Guthikonda (pictured in a screen shot at top) led off that segment by telling the Council. “I want to highlight the issues that are faced by the Asian American community here in Austin. Literally, the community is living in fear and living very unsafe.” He then specifically listed the types of crimes that he said are concerning Asian Americans: “neighborhood break-ins, automobile break-ins, jugging incidents following and targeting Asian Americans.” Guthikonda then recalled, “We used to have the patrolling officers in the neighborhood. . . and they would attend the neighborhood meetings. We knew the officers. We had their phone numbers. We could call them. . .. We haven’t seen police officers in the neighborhood for many years. The only time I see police officers in our neighborhood is when there is an emergency. And that is causing a significant uneasiness among all the residents.”

The only time I see police officers in our neighborhood is when there is an emergency. And that is causing a significant uneasiness among all the residents.” Gopal Guthikonda

Shortly after Guthikonda spoke, Sumit Das Gupta related a story about the private conversations at a 2021 Town Hall type event he held in his backyard for Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Das Gupta related how as he went around greeting guests, he expressed to one young family his “concern about our increasing lack of safety,” also commenting to the family how “so few of us ever thought of owning guns.”

Das Gupta recalled, “This young woman smiled at me and said, ‘Uncle, that may be your perspective, but we in the Asian community who are of the younger age are beginning to take our security in our own hands and many of us have bought guns.”’

Das Gupta then appealed to the Council, “This is not the direction we should be taking, where we will be owning our own guns to fight for security.”

That’s all the Asian American speakers we are able to quote from today, but there were at least twice as many Asian American speakers as there were “faith leaders.” Yet, Moreno-Lozano and the Statesman devoted the whole article about the hearing to the “faith leaders,” and totally ignored the Asian American speakers.

Grocery and Convenience Store Reps Get Shut Out Too

Although I did not say his name, I related in Part 1 how Shane Walker of the Greater Austin Merchants Association (which represents gas stations and convenience stores) told the Council that many of their locations have “experienced threatening, frightening types of situations,” that stores “are struggling to retain their employees they have because they don’t feel safe,” and that shoplifters have told employees, ‘Call the police. They aren’t going to come anyway.’”

I had to cut for space from that article the comments of Craig Staley, one of the owners of Royal Blue Grocery — which has six locations in the downtown area. Staley told the Council, “I can tell you that the crime level going on in our stores over the past couple (of) years has just gone through the roof.” He added, “We’re having a hard time keeping our staffs safe and we’re at a point now where there’s a crime committed in one of our stores every day.” 

Since the hearing a female employee in one Royal Blue Grocery was knocked to the floor by a male shoplifter she was trying to stop from stealing.  The shoplifter fled the store with the goods, but was later arrested. 

It seems worth noting here that Royal Blue Grocery provides the kind of service that is essential in the type of high density city that most Council Members and their new urbanists allies maintain that they want to create, or greatly enhance. That is, a small grocery within walking distance of thousands of urban residents as well as people visiting the downtown area. 

Others Who Didn’t Make the Paper

Also not making Moreno-Lozano’s article, nor my first 681 words, was Matt Mackowiak co-chair of Save Austin Now, and also Chair of the Travis County Republican Party. Mackowiak referred to an earlier statement that 33 cadets had recently graduated from the City police academy. While that was a good thing, he said, the City is still going in the wrong direction because 108 officers have left the force since the beginning of the year. That means more than three times as many have left the force as have joined. 

The Independent asked APD statistician Kringen if Mackowiak’s statement was accurate. He replied it was “at one point in time,” but that the second number (the number of officers who have left this year) has since increased. (Mackowiak’s speech illustrates a point I have made before, that while Republicans around the state and country often wildly exaggerate, or just make things up, to make Democrats look bad, in Austin all they have to do is accurately report what the City Council is actually doing, or note the repercussions of Council’s actions.)

Mackowiak’s speech illustrates a point I have made before, that while Republicans around the state and country often wildly exaggerate, or just make things up, to make Democrats look bad, in Austin all they have to do is accurately report what the City Council is actually doing, or note the repercussions of Council’s actions.

Mackowiak’s Democratic co-leader of Save Austin Now, Cleo Petricek, also spoke. She said the “the APD-DPS partnership exists for one reason, the failure of this City Council to cast off the foolish policy direction it took several years ago. Those policies resulted in unacceptable levels of crime and an inability of APD to respond appropriately.” She said that violent crime “disproportionately affects Black and Brown” people, adding, “this is a fact that the opposition to DPS never wants to discuss. In fact, the opposition to DPS has no ideas except to complain about every other solution.” 

Petricek then took a swipe at unspecified Council Members, “The truth is, the weak members of our City Council prefer DPS, (because) DPS provides them an opportunity to complain and virtue signal and clamor away all while getting the law enforcement they all know we need.”

Guthikonda, Das Gupta, Mackowiak, Petricek and others were part of a 45-minute string of speakers who all supported the DPS partnership and/or called for more police. The first person to speak against the DPS partnership was Chris Harris of the Austin Justice Coalition. Harris said, “Bringing DPS to Austin was a bad decision and made it a very bad way, without input from the Council, without input from community. We really hope that they do not come back and that you do not bring them back.” In 2020 Harris was also a leader in convincing the previous Council to cut the police budget, including 100 vacancies and a year of cadet classes.

“Bringing DPS to Austin was a bad decision and made it a very bad way, withough input from the Council, without input from community.” Chris Harris

A few pro-DPS partnership speakers followed Harris, including Sandy Ramirez McNaul who concluded her remarks by saying, “Any one life that is saved because of this partnership is a success.” She added pointedly, “Safety for all is not racist.”

Amanda Rios, who pointed out that she is a teacher and resident of District 4 (Rundberg area and parts of northeast Austin), talked about an unspecified park “where children are free to roam” and their parents push them in swings that has transformed to “a park where children can no longer go play. . . it is overrun with drug dealers, with people who are prostituting. The children cannot walk to the library” and “cannot walk to the recreation center.” She added that she was talking about “low income neighborhoods where lack of opportunity persists and you add on to that (a lack of) public safety and you’re just squashing them even further.”

Shortly afterward, Susana Almanza led off a flurry of speakers opposed to the DPS partnership speakers — or as Moreno-Lozano put it, without noting that anyone spoke in favor of the partnership, “Some community members demanded the city end the (DPS) partnership completely.”

Almanza said, “This partnership was implemented without community or Council involvement and is anti-democratic. . . We want the racial profiling to stop and we want this partnership to stop.” Almanza was followed by several other representatives of PODER, the group she leads. All opposed the partnership.

Finishing off the hearing was Cynthia Simons who said she is a “policy analyst” for the Texas Center for Justice and Equity. “And I am here to tell you that this is a bad policy and it will be my recommendation to end the partnership,” said Simons. She also maintained, “The data shows that there’s more crime because those areas are oversaturated with police and because they are looking for tha, and that’s what they want to mimic so that they can uplift this narrative that there is more crime there.”

Council Questions Section of the Meeting

Neither Moreno-Lozano nor I found room to recount the Council question and answer session that preceded the public hearing. Perhaps I will delve more into that in the future. We will limit such coverage today to an exchange between Council Member Leslie Pool and Police Chief Joseph Chacon. The exchange came during a discussion of the need for more information from the County Attorney, District Attorney and DPS. Pool asked Chacon: “What about at the County Attorney level? Is there a hold-up there?

“I’m not sure what the hold-up is,” Chacon answered, “but they have indicated that there’s no timeline at this point on when they’re going to be able to provide it.”

“Do we know what that means,” asked Pool.

“I think that’s probably a good question for County Attorney Garza,” replied Chacon. The Chief then added, in a borderline comedic bit of understatement, “She provided obviously some data a couple of weeks ago [to the media] relating to what she was seeing in some of the demographics and so forth. We asked for more detailed data.“ 

Pool asked if the information was subject to the Texas Open Records Act. Both Chacon and his numbers man Jonathan Kringen said they would prefer to continue trying to get the information without resorting to that.

After talking briefly about how the Open Records Act works Pool concluded by saying, “It is a little bit disappointing and concerning, I think, to all of us here at the City that we are inhibited from providing some data assessment and analysis to the public, who are absolutely wanting it and deserving to receive it, but we seem to be running into some obstacles. I sure do hope that we are able to overcome that and get full accounting and transperancy on arrests from our partners with the County. Really, really soon. Really Soon.” (The Independent has sent inquires to the City as to whether any further data has been provided yet, but have not heard back yet. We will keep you posted.)


So clearly, much more occurred at this hearing than one could find out about in the only reporting the Austin American-Statesman did on it. Most troubling is that a clear pattern appears to emerge from what Moreno-Lozano and the Statesman left out. Whether intentional or not they left out any information that would work against, or mitigate, the theme that the partnership targets people of color; and they left out any information that showed any citizen support at all for the partnership. That surely made the story easier to write, but it did not reflect the reality of what occurred at the hearing nor the complexity of the public safety issues facing our City, or the complexity of the specific issue of the APD-DPS partnership. 

Don’t the citizens of Austin deserve a little fuller picture than the Statesman provided? Surely we can handle a little more complexity than the Statesman appears willing to provide? 


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