Local NewsFree Speech, Fires, and Vandalism: Austin Roiled by a Weekend of Peaceful Protests Mixed with Rioting

Over the weekend, protests and riots spread across America over the death of George Floyd. Austin was one of a number of Texas cities that experienced the wave.
June 2, 2020
Texas’ capital city, like many cities across the country, became a site of protest over the weekend. The protests focused on the incident in Minneapolis in which a black man, George Floyd, was killed by a police officer on May 25 by asphyxiation after having his neck pressed on for over eight minutes by the officer’s knee.

This sparked protests all over the country, starting in Minneapolis.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Most states only have two degrees of murder, but Minnesota is one of the few which has a third-degree in which the prosecution does not have to prove intent or premeditation.

Austin’s protests began Friday and continued through Monday with the largest protests occurring on Saturday and Sunday.

On Saturday, the protest began at the Austin Police Department’s (APD) 8th Street headquarters downtown. It then spread across the city to city hall and the state capitol building.

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Much of the mass of people peacefully marched and chanted, but as the day went on some groups within the protest turned to vandalism. At the capitol, protesters sprayed graffiti on the building and destroyed a historic water fountain on the grounds.

The protest mass also moved east toward I35, which it then blocked by occupying the roadway.

APD dispatched to the scene to try and clear the interstate. Rocks and water bottles were thrown at officers from within the ranks of protesters.

Police fired bean bag rounds into the crowd, and pepper spray was also used.

Throughout the day, APD reported that “most of the demonstrations [were] peaceful,” but there were instances of “rocks, bricks, eggs, water bottles, and Molotov cocktails” being thrown at officers.

After the initial protest, and before sunset, events calmed down in the city.

When the sun went down, the protest continued and rioting, vandalism, and looting progressed.

A car was set on fire, APD confirmed, and businesses were looted across the city.

Various other fires were also set ablaze.

On Sunday, a joint protest between Black Lives Matter and the Austin Justice Coalition was canceled due to concerns of other, more violent groups hijacking the march. A march occurred anyway, however, and I-35 was occupied two separate times by protesters.

In a Monday virtual press conference, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said it is a department policy to prevent pedestrians from blocking the highway, “both for their safety and motorists.”

To clear the highway, this time, APD deployed CS gas — also known as “tear gas” — which drove the crowd off I-35.

In addition, more bean bag rounds were fired into the crowd. Contrary to claims by citizens and media, alike, Manley stated bean bag rounds, and not rubber bullets were used. APD has not yet confirmed to The Texan whether rubber bullets are used at all by the department.

Rubber bullets are rubber-encased slugs.

Beanbag rounds are less-lethal ammunition used for crowd or riot control by police. A beanbag round is a “small fabric pillow that is filled with No. 9 lead shot that weighs about 1.4 ounces.”

Its muzzle velocity is 200 feet per second (fps). Usually fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, the muzzle velocity of the beanbag is far lower than that of standard buckshot at 1,200 fps.

Two people were seriously hurt on Sunday from the beanbag rounds and one is in critical condition after being struck in the head. That individual was mistakenly struck, Manley said, after the person next to him threw a bottle at police and then hit his head on the ground as he fell.

Some of the protesters then took the man up to the line of police. Manley said what happened next is under review, but acknowledged that numerous reports state the group carrying the injured man was then fired upon with beanbag rounds again.

To the injured person’s family, on Monday, Manley said, “My heart is with you. I am praying for you. I’m praying for your child, and I hope that they have a complete and quick recovery.”

That night more rioting and looting commenced. One homeless man’s belongings were set ablaze. But later, locals purchased new belongings for him including a new tent and bed.

The next day, Monday, turned out to be different as a crowd congregated at the 8th Street headquarters again.

But instead of continued conflict, some APD officers stepped into the crowd, embraced and engaged in conversation with the protesters.

APD has maintained that most of the protesters were peaceful but some were there to agitate. 

Governor Abbott announced yesterday that federal prosecution would be advanced on anyone coming from outside of Texas to engage in looting and rioting. Manley stated that he supports such a move.

Cleanup efforts began on Monday after the weekend of protest and turmoil.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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