FRIDAY UPDATE: Encampment remains as of Friday morning.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — What looks like an encampment in east Austin’s Rosewood Park is actually a call for anarchy in protest of a recent police shooting.
Police say on Feb. 10, 21-year-old Jordan Walton crashed his Jeep into a home at Rogge Lane and Manor Road, then broke into a neighboring home. Police say Walton fired a gun when officers tried to enter that home. According to the Austin Police Department, one of its officers shot and killed Walton when the department says he used a child hostage as a human shield.
APD says it was all captured on a body camera, but that’s yet to be released.
An Austin-based activist group called 400+1 claims APD isn’t telling the whole story.
The group says Walton’s mother and father were communicating with police in the moments leading up to his death, telling them he had mental health issues.
Now, the group says it wants autonomy for the community where Walton was killed.
About a dozen members have set up and named their own community now centered around the pavilion in Rosewood Park. They’ve been camping there since Feb. 14, four days after Walton was killed.
Group members say they’ve also been hosting protests in the area and providing resources for those in the surrounding community who need water, food or other items.
In Rosewood Park, anti-police signs can be seen —and so can tents furnished with beds, small tables and chairs inside, a communal refrigerator and microwave, a large community garden and a generator that sits next to a portable shower and toilet.
“We came out here ready for a fight,” said 400+1 co-founder Njera Keith. “We came out here prepared to be told, ‘You need to leave.'”
Keith and her co-founder, Kristina Brown, who credit themselves with leading a revolution, call it a safe place for Black people in the community to come, where they won’t have to fear police.
“They can say, ‘My child is going to be okay here, because I know the cops will not shoot them here, because we know that 400+1 will stand up,'” Brown said.
City to shut down encampment on Thursday
Wednesday morning, however, City of Austin employees came and posted notices saying the group is violating several city ordinances and has until Thursday afternoon to leave.
A city spokesperson told KXAN the city has asked the group to leave the public park multiple times.
On Thursday, the city shared this statement: “We recognize and honor the right to peaceful protest but this group’s campsite is in violation of City ordinances and is preventing the public from using portions of Rosewood Park. The City has worked in consultation with community leaders, Council offices, the City’s Equity Office and multiple Departments to come to a mutually acceptable resolution with the protesters. So far an agreement hasn’t been reached but that work continues.”
“We’re not leaving,” Keith said as Brown agreed. “We’ve let it be known from the beginning.”
The pair says those staying at the park are willing to put their “bodies on the line to make that point clear”.
When KXAN reporter Jacqulyn Powell asked in an on-camera interview what might happen if police show up to enforce the city’s order to vacate Thursday, Keith said, “I think it would be unwise for us to say exactly what that would look like, as I’m sure the police will also watch this.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1 where Rosewood Park is located, said Thursday she hopes everyone involved “remains mature, reasonable and safe.”
“Every American is endowed the right to peaceably assemble, but no one has permission to seize public land, especially not parkland that our Black elders fought for and secured during a period of explicit community disinvestment,” she said in a statement. “While I understand the frustrations fueling a small group of activists in Rosewood Park, their tactics are a distraction from the progress achieved by other important collaborations driven by the larger community.”
Keith and Brown say their goal is to eventually take over control of an approximately 11-mile zone in east Austin, including the area of Rogge Lane where Walton was killed. They call that zone “Orisha Land”, and they say Rosewood Park, which they’ve renamed as “Jordan’s Place”, is the capital.
Their goal, Keith says, is “to continue to build power and to continue to ice the police out of this area of our community.”
“We’ve been organizing in Austin for six years now,” Keith later continued, saying protests and petitions aren’t enough anymore. “We’ve done that. Enough is enough, and now, the city is fired. City council, you’re fired. APD, you’re fired.”
The group also wants white people who’ve gentrified the area to pay reparations to the Black community there through donations to the 400+1 cause.