Violent crime in Austin, Texas, has surged in recent weeks. Additionally, according to a post on Facebook by the police association, Austin police may be dealing with a surge in coronavirus cases. The association attributes the new coronavirus cases to a likely cause, saying, “We find it very concerning that we are starting to have officers test positive with Covid-19 at an alarming rate. What do most of them have in common? They’ve been working the protest/riots with people yelling, screaming and spitting in their faces.”
Austin began deteriorating in the summer of 2019, long before George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn., when Mayor Steve Adler and the city council changed ordinances to allow homeless camps all over the city. Tent cities sprouted under overpasses and on sidewalks throughout the city (but not at city hall, where camping has been banned since the Occupy protests). Those camps and tent cities have grown in size and street crime increased along with them. Austin’s first murder of 2020 was likely a result of the permissive homeless policy. Now protests, which often turn violent, tie up police resources every weekend.
America’s historic drop in violent crime across the past two decades is over. Austin was the scene of four violent incidents, including homicides and a violent protest, in just the past five days. Two of these could have become catastrophic in an instant.
On Wednesday, June 24, Austin police were called to a shooting near Airport Boulevard on the city’s east side. Officers arrived within two minutes of the call and found a man who had been shot, sitting in a car. He had called police.
The gunman was still at large and presumably armed. Witnesses pointed out to police where the gunman had gone to hide.
Police officers engaged him. Within two minutes, sources with knowledge of the incident tell PJM, an Austin police officer peacefully disarmed the man without any violence. The shooting victim died later.
Adrian Whitley, 43, was arrested and booked on homicide charges.
This shooting was unfortunately just the first of three during a weekend of violence in the city.
On Sunday shortly before 8 a.m. police responded to a call on Pecan Springs Road in east Austin. Three men had invaded the home of two other men to rob them. All three home invaders were armed with guns.
The robbers ordered the residents to lie on the ground, but one refused and fought back with a knife. The robbers reportedly shot both victims, but the one who fought back stabbed two of the home invaders several times, and they all fled. One of the robbers collapsed on the ground outside the house and was taken to a local hospital, where he died. Another suspect, Raul Luevano, dropped off the other stabbed robber at a hospital. Police tracked Luevano via video of his truck and arrested him later. He confessed to the crime and is charged with murder.
Austin’s third scene of violence of the past week was a drive-by shooting less than two minutes away from the site of the home invasion Sunday morning, at Rogge Lane and Manor Road. Sunday afternoon, one or possibly two men fired on a man standing near that street corner. The victim was taken to a hospital with serious, possibly life-threatening injuries.
No weekend passes in a major city without a large and often violent protest. A source tells PJM that Austin police had been expecting a large demonstration around police headquarters on Saturday. That demonstration did happen, but police were prepared. A similar demonstration the previous weekend ended with violence and members of the crowd removing the American and Texas flags and burning them on the ground. One man, a 20-year-old University of Texas student from Florida, was arrested.
During the demonstration this past Saturday, Austin police department leaders were on hand. Protesters blocked off Eighth Street outside police headquarters using unlawfully appropriated Lime scooters to create an illegal barricade in the street.
— Mike Marut (@MikeMarutKVUE) June 28, 2020
The crowd surrounded a man who was in his car, attempting to drive through. He lurched forward to either warn them or get them out of his way, but the crowd continued to surround him. According to reports, he reached into his glove compartment and pulled out a gun and waved it at the crowd.
The man pulled forward and got out of his car and allowed police to arrest him. The crowd quickly turned violent, and police dispersed them with pepper spray and arrested seven on misdemeanor charges.
We just saw @Austin_Police take this person into custody after they drove through the protest crowd. Nobody was hit or injured. APD then took some protesters into custody after using pepper spray to spread out the crowd. We did not see why they detained protesters. @KVUE pic.twitter.com/4Pp3umI9pV
— Mike Marut (@MikeMarutKVUE) June 28, 2020
Violent protests and crime have unfortunately become the norm in Austin and many major cities across the country in recent weeks. Mayors have largely abdicated their first responsibility to ensure public safety, defunded police, refused to back officers in the face of criticism, and refused to empower them to act against criminals.
But despite the unrest of recent weeks, the incident on June 24 and the protest on June 27 show some, perhaps small, reasons for hope. Witnesses to the homicide on June 24 pointed the gunman out to police, and police were able to take the armed suspect into custody without resistance.
Austin police also seem to be more empowered to disperse violent crowds and make arrests than in weeks prior. The credible threat of jail time may have a way of focusing minds.
Austin is among several cities that have voted to defund their police departments. Austin’s city council voted unanimously to defund its police on June 12, despite the fact that it is already about 200 officers short of full strength and crime is on the rise.