As we pulled into the Palmer Events Center in the late afternoon, I realized that the last time my wife and I had been here was when we were trying to find parking for Bernie Sanders’s rally in late February nearby. We hadn’t seen much of the city for months, and it was strange to revisit this location in a completely different political moment.
We gathered for a socially distant car caravan organized by Communities of Color United Austin, ICE Fuera de Austin/ICE Out of Austin, and other local groups. The purpose of the car caravan was to visit the home of Spencer Cronk, Austin’s city manager, and make a direct demand that the city of Austin commit at least $70 million of its $170 million CARES Act funds to direct assistance for poor and working-class families, particularly through housing and public health initiatives.
This action was conducted in English and Spanish and provided a way for people who were unwilling or unable to face arrest to nevertheless show up and demand that our city commit to Black lives by defunding its bloated police force and investing in healthcare and direct economic relief to poor and working-class Austin residents.
Like many U.S. cities, Austin spends more city funds on its police department than on any other public services it provides. The Austin Police department recently killed Mike Ramos in April and critically injured a Black protester during demonstrations over the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by other police departments. These actions and a long record of other abuses makes it evident that the out-sized funds they receive do not contribute to public safety.
Unlike most cities in the U.S., Austin operates its own public health department, which could stand to have its budget drastically increased. If we could take out line items for bean bags and tear gas, our city could continue to build its health department’s capacities and provide the direct housing aid that many people in our city desperately need.