Local NewsDowntown Austin Transitions from Riot Hot-Spot to Community Cleanup

After the weekend's protests and riots in response to George Floyd's death, community members spent time cleaning up the damage on Austin's 6th Street.
June 2, 2020
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Hours after Sunday’s violent protests in Austin that led to almost 30 arrests, the results were still evident on Monday around Austin’s 6th Street entertainment district. The area was marked by looted stores boarded up, broken windows being repaired, and workers removing graffiti.

Some of the protestors came back to the scene on Monday. But this time, there was no need to call the police.

Volunteers gather to help clean up 6th Street.

A group of about 40 people organized by singer David Rodriguez showed up to clean up some of the mess that was left behind from Sunday night and support the protests in a different way.

“If we can get together in our community and clean up, it’ll give people that need to speak a chance to speak without getting a finger pointed at them for what happened,” said Rodriguez.

Some people on the cleanup did not join Rodriguez and others in Sunday’s protest. One woman stayed away because she was afraid of the danger. But she and others showed up for the cleanup in the hope of showing support for the protest and their community. 

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The woman, who declined to give her name, said “We wanted to be here because we support the business community and Black Lives Matters.”

Tim, who came to the cleanup with her, expressed a similar reason for taking part in the cleanup.

“We just didn’t feel safe coming out to some of the protests,” he said. “We knew it could get out of hand. It’s a good message, but wasn’t my cup of tea.”

“We support the community and business owners,” he continued.  “I don’t want it to be misinterpreted that I’m saying that we’re supporting everything that’s going on. But black lives matter. Everybody needs a voice. Just unfortunately there’s some damage.”

Jeff, a friend of Rodriguez, also was not part of the protest but thought the cleanup was the right thing to do.

“I was in Boy Scouts and we would do this stuff all the time,” he said. “We spent a lot of time cleaning up the highways. This is just part of being a citizen in the community.” 

However, the efforts of those participating in the cleanup could not make up for the entirety of the damage from the protests. 

Rioters spray-painted the boards in an Austin business’ windows.

The 6th Street entertainment district looked like a mix between a war zone and a ghost town. The majority of the few people walking along the street were homeless. Close to Interstate 35, most of the businesses were boarded up. While some of the closings appeared to have been the result of economic damage from the COVID-19 lockdown, others were clearly the result of Sunday’s protests. 

One of Austin’s historic hotels, the Driskill, was in the process of being repaired after sustaining damage from the night before. A worker was removing graffiti, while plywood covered a broken window on 7th and outdoor planters had been removed — the plants had all been ripped out Sunday night. A spokeswoman for the Driskill declined to discuss what preparations it was making for future protests.

Much of the damage on 6th occurred just outside of downtown district, on the east side of I-35.

A Chevron gas station on the feeder became a parking lot for the protestors, with about 15 cars crammed in.

Rock, the owner of the family business, wasn’t at work when the protests took place, but watched the events over the station’s security cameras.

“Dozens of people surrounded the store,” he said. “Several windows were broken, but there was no looting.” His employee at the store was not injured, and he repaired the damage Monday 

morning. 

The aftermath of World Liquor and Tobacco’s looting.

A few doors down, the owners of World Liquor and Tobacco were not so lucky.

No one was in the store Monday afternoon, and it was almost completely boarded up. Many of the windows were broken. The floor inside was littered with broken glass, bottles, cups, and other trash, and the glass counter was also broken.

Across the street from World Liquor, several out of town visitors witnessed the assault on the store from the relative safety of their rental units.

“I just heard just massive amounts of noise and screaming,” said Mike Orosci, visiting from California. “I noticed the shattered front door of the liquor store and saw people going in and taking whatever merchandise they can, then running outside and scattering in all different directions.”

Mike estimated there were several hundred people in the crowded streets. He felt safe in his apartment, but had no desire to leave. 

“I didn’t come off the fourth floor,” he said. “I had absolutely no desire to leave. I did not want to be any part of that.”

James, visiting from Kansas, saw events unfold from the second floor.

“A group of about 60 to 80 people rushed into the liquor store,” he said. “When the police finally got here, they forced the people back out in the street.”

The men said it took the police about 30 minutes to restore order.

Although there were some reports of violence against the homeless in Austin on Sunday, one man sleeping under the I-35 bridge Sunday night said nobody bothered him. 

“I thought it was very crazy,” said Curtis. “I wasn’t scared, though. I’m 50 years old and don’t think they would do much to me.”

Despite the violence, Rodriguez still believes in the protests. But he does hope that the cleanup effort sends the message the protestors are trying to communicate in a way that more people will listen to. 

“If we can get things changed here, then maybe people in San Antonio and Houston and Dallas can do it too,” he said. “And then we can think about the rest of Texas and the other states.”

Kim, who also was sleeping under the bridge Sunday night during the protests, had a different perspective on the violence.

“I was so scared I was on my knees and praying,” she said. “I saw the tear gas and just zipped up my tent.”

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Bill Peacock

Bill Peacock

Bill Peacock is a writer and public policy consultant in Austin, TX. He has extensive experience in Texas government and policy on a variety of issues, including economic regulation, energy, taxes and budgets, property rights, and corporate welfare. His work has focused on identifying and reducing the harmful effects of regulations on the economy, businesses, and consumers.

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