Austin community group analyzes possible Prop A effects on communities of color

Austin

(Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austinites head to the polls this November, one local community organization is working to raise awareness on Proposition A and possible impacts it could have on city funding.

Communities of Color United for Racial Justice will host a roundtable discussion this Saturday at 12 p.m. at the Texas Empowerment Gym. The roundtable will feature panelists from No Way to Prop A, 10,000 Fearless and Black Women in Business.

Political action committee Save Austin Now collected more than 25,600 signatures in July to solidify the proposition’s place on the November ballot.

If approved by voters, Prop. A would increase police staffing in Austin to a minimum of two officers per 1,000 people. It would also mandate doubling the required training for officers, increase minority hiring and require 35% of officer shifts be spent on community policing.

Prop. A is estimated to cost Austin between $271.5 million and $598.8 million over the next five years, according to Austin’s chief financial officer.

“Prop. A fixes this by requiring the city to hire and maintain more officers and to rapidly catch up to the number of officers we have lost or fired when city council defunded the police in 2019. We’re 320 officers short of where we were then, and we’re already seeing the impact,” SAN’s website reads.

Ashleigh Hamilton, community organizer for CCU, said this Saturday’s event will include a breakdown of the proposition and time for questions and community discussions. She added she felt it was important to analyze conversations around safety in Austin and critique the impacts Prop A has on communities of color.

“Protests against police brutality and police violence against protesters in the summer of 2020 have been followed by efforts at the state and local level to mandate and increase police funding,” she said. “This actual roundtable came about just for the simple fact of — we’re going to call it what it is — this is a direct backlash from all the efforts that we did over this summer with ‘Reimagining Public Safety’ and trying to reallocate and defund the police.”

Hamilton said CCU has continually worked with the Reimagining Public Safety taskforce to discuss the needs for additional resources outside of police staffing. She said areas in need of improvements include mental health counseling and training, increased access to parkland and green spaces in non-white communities and expanded community health resources.

Proponents of Prop A have argued reduced staffing levels at the Austin Police Department have coincided with a rise in crimes across the city. SAN co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek said in July that the city’s staffing levels continue to worsen without intervention.

From CCU’s perspective, Hamilton said intervention isn’t necessary via more officers.

“Don’t you want Austin to be safe again? Well, Austin is safe. Austin is actually one of the safest cities in the world,” she said. “So we have to kind of break down that narrative. Is it not safe for Black and brown folks, or are you saying you want it safer for white communities? And it’s very important to be clear in the message that we’re sending.”

Several organizations are in support of Prop A, including the Austin Police Association, the Texas Police Association and the Texas Municipal Police Association, highlighting the need for additional police officers.

Meanwhile, both Austin’s EMS Association and the Austin Firefighters Association are among several organizations who’ve announced their opposition to Prop A, noting the possible impacts to the city’s other public safety departments if approved.

“This isn’t a prop around whether you are for or against police. But it’s more about the services that are affected, right?” she said. “There’s a bigger picture here, and what it means to actually adding a budget to the police that is already extremely high and extensive.”

In a statement, SAN co-founders Matt Mackowiak and Cleo Petricek referred to claims of departmental budget cuts as a “scare tactic.”

“Prop A doesn’t require cuts to any programs. If programs are cut, it will be because council chose to cut them,” they said, later adding: “The city had no problem largely wasting $179M on failed homeless spending the past three years and they don’t claim to need to cut anything after proposing a $515M plan on homelessness the next three years just this week. These threatened ‘cuts’ are a scare tactic.”

Early voting runs through Oct. 29 and Election Day is Nov. 2. For more information on what’s on the November ballot, watch KXAN’s “Ballot Breakdown” town hall.

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