AUSTIN (KXAN) — One Austin City Council member is raising safety concerns about an encampment around City Hall.
For weeks, people experiencing homelessness have surrounded City Hall with their tents in protest of Austin voters reinstating the city’s camping ban.
Council Member Mackenzie Kelly tweeted that she was harassed as she walked out of City Hall on Monday. In the tweet, she said that she saw one man with a metal pipe and at least one knife, making her feel unsafe.
Kelly put out a call for people to contact her fellow council members about the situation.
Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon responded to her tweet, saying, “Council member Kelly, I encourage you to make a police report if you were threatened so @Austin_Police can follow up. I have officers keeping an eye at City Hall daily.”
Kelly told KXAN Monday’s incident was one of three times she’s been harassed by those camping outside City Hall. She says on Monday, police were there and witnessed what happened. However, she hasn’t filed a police report for any of the incidents.
“Honestly, I don’t want more work for the officers, and what’s going to happen? Some detective’s going to have to be assigned to the case and it’s not going to get prosecuted by the County Attorney’s office, ultimately.”
Camping isn’t allowed at City Hall or in city parks. It was illegal even before the citywide ban.
“I’ve been told by the City Manager’s office and APD that this is a protest and a free speech zone, and so, as such, they’re not moving these individuals right now,” Kelly said.
APD has given campers a move-out date of August 8th so there’s time to educate them. The department says as with other new ordinances, there must be a public education period.
“I’m frustrated, very frustrated that the city’s not moving faster to do something about the situation at City Hall, and despite my situation and things that happen to me and speaking to city staff and Chief Chacon, nothing’s been done,” Kelly said, adding that her office has heard gotten similar reports of threats outside City Hall from others. ” It’s beyond any reason at this point, to me. Common sense would say that this is a public health and safety risk, and it needs to be shut down.”
Campers’ security detail includes people monitoring area with machetes
On Monday, KXAN spoke with a woman experiencing homelessness at City Hall who explained that those camping outside of the building have formed their own “security detail.”
“We have a whole security team here,” Trisha English said, adding that she and others work shifts to make sure they’re securing the area 24 hours a day. She says when it’s her turn, she wears a bulletproof vest.
“I secure this camp to make sure everybody’s okay and make sure things do not get deescalated [sic] to the point where they have to call APD because APD is completely corrupted,” English said.
During the interview with English, a man with a machete came up, asking English if she wanted the KXAN News crew there. The man said to the news crew that he was part of the encampment’s security detail.
Those trading off shifts can often be seen wearing a vest, carrying one or more knives and using walkie talkies.
In a video shared with KXAN, English and others can be heard saying they’re ready to fight.
“You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna fight back. If I’ve got to kill a cop before they kill me, you know damn well I’m gonna kill a cop,” English can be heard saying in the video.
Another man said he already bought a bullet proof vest at an Army Surplus store and is prepared to buy more supplies there, like canisters of smoke, a gas mask and additional weapons.
“If it’s a war they want, it’s a war they’re gonna get,” English and the man say in the video.
“I don’t know, at this point, what it’s going to take for action to happen downtown there to clean this up, but I sure hope nobody gets injured in the process,” Kelly said. “I feel that the longer that they are here, the more bold they’re going to be.”
KXAN has reached out to APD, asking whether officers are aware of the group organizing its own detail. KXAN has also asked APD at what point it would consider that a threat to public safety and if that would result in officers clearing out the encampment ahead of the July deadline. The police department has not yet responded. KXAN will update this story if APD does respond.