It’s Not Just Ferguson: Austin’s Problem With Police Brutality


Read more of our coverage related to recent events in Ferguson here.

While national attention is focused on the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, researchers and advocates in different cities across the country are pointing out the obvious—this problem is larger than one town.

RH Reality Check spoke with Lenzi Sheible, president of Fund Texas Women—a nonprofit that assists women with the costs of obtaining abortion care—about research she conducted into police killings in her home town of Austin, Texas, a place normally seen as politically and socially progressive.

Sheible collected data on all deaths of civilians at the hands of the Austin Police Department between 2002 and 2012, and discovered grossly disproportionate uses of lethal force against African Americans.

“I found 18 people who died as a result of encountering the Austin Police Department,” Sheible said. “Six of them were violent, probably dangerous, and two were suicidal. The other ten were not a danger to the lives of the police who shot them. What intrigued me was that, of those ten, six were Black, three were Hispanic, and one was white.”

If that sounds disproportionate, when you take into account the demographics of Travis County—which includes the city of Austin—Sheible’s research is even more damning.

According to the 2010 census, the population of Austin was 790,000. Just less than half of the city’s residents identified as Anglo, “non-Hispanic White”, while 35 percent identified as Hispanic/Latino. Only 7.7 percent of Austin residents identified as African American.

“Austin was not living up to its reputation,” said Sheible. “We have police violence that makes it feel more dangerous for people of color.”

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Sheible’s research traced the fate of a complaint lodged with the U.S. Department of Justice by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in June 2004, which cited disproportionate abuse of search powers and use of force against minorities by the Austin Police Department (APD).

In the twilight of the Bush Administration, the department made 165 recommendations to the APD for areas of improvement, but did not take any disciplinary actions.

The APD said it implemented most of these recommendations, but in 2012, in response to more deaths due to police violence, the NAACP and the Texas Civil Rights Projects called for the investigation to be reopened. The groups repeated calls for the department to withhold federal funding to the APD until necessary changes were made. The department declined their requests.

Among the victims of lethal police force identified by Sheible:

  • Daniel Rocha, 18 years old, tried to flee police. Did not have a weapon.
  • Byron Carter, 20 years old, sitting in a car. Did not have a weapon.
  • Kevin Brown, 25 years old, shot near a nightclub. Did not have a weapon.

“To me this means that a person of color, who is not violent, who is not posing a threat to the lives of the police, still is executed because merely the presence of people of color threatens the police so strongly that they feel that they need to kill them,” said Sheible. “There’s no other reason why nine out of ten people who were killed, who were not threatening, would be people of color, in a city with a very small proportion of African American people,” she said.

When asked why Fund Texas Women is taking a public stand on the issue of police brutality, Sheible said that reproductive justice encompasses many broader issues than safe access to legal abortion.

“I’m interested in police brutality here in Austin because it impacts the ability of people of color to raise children safely,” she said. “These victims I’ve listed—they were someone’s children. Some of them had children themselves. How can you raise a family in a place where people are being killed?”

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  • Arekushieru

    And, that last statement right there, explains why it’s so closely connected to all other reproductive justice issues, very concisely. If women are afraid of the world in which they may be bringing up their children, that’s yet another reason to exercise their choice to have an abortion.

    • Herstory

      Agreed, indeed, so troubling, that women feel this way, compounded by the fact that ultra-conservatives gut reproductive rights – essentially force women into providing more human capital for an abusive system to thrive off of. The time for all women to speak out loudly about these issues is as much NOW than ever, as loudly as possible, to make the issues be heard, addressed, resolved. Kindness, compassion, and Human Rights are said to be the highest forms of intelligence, then why are these not made the main initiative through out this land. What we have now, is just not working.

  • billfalls

    And there’s the issue of clinic violence. Anti-choice violence can happen anywhere, but local police response to the violence has a huge impact on its ability to intimidate patients and clinic staff.

    Just as there are localities whose police show little understanding of and empathy for persons of color, there are localities whose police show little understanding of and empathy for women seeking health care to which they are entitled.

  • Angela Monger

    Well unfortunately we have this gun mentality in Texas. Shoot anyone who looks at you funny.

  • http://www.facebook.com Kwende Idrissa Madu

    African Americans have to accept the fact that we are surrounded by enemies. Burying our heads in the sand and hoping the problem will go away helps no one. We all know even if we are afraid to say it that at some point it’s going to come down to armed revolution.

  • William Anton Walters

    I lived in Austin until 2008. There is definitely an issue with police brutality there. I remember seeing a video of a handcuffed, face down, unarmed, subdued Hispanic guy being beaten by the cops, where the jury got so rigged by police-beating enthusiasts (I know because one of the jury was a co-worker, who was so excited about the cop that she went out to dinner with him after the case, yes, she was completely unbiased in the case…) that the cop involved was found not guilty.

    The cops there, in general, suck. A speeding ticket will be filed with incredible alacrity, while an actual crime (in this case, my motorcycle being vandalized) takes 3 weeks to be filed, and the cops don’t even follow up with the suspects. I did the actual leg-work in that case, as I saw the individuals in question damage my motorcycle, and instead of being a vigilante, I noted their description and what they were carrying (a few items from Blockbuster), contacted the store to confirm they had made the purchases I saw there, and got the manager to take down the details for the police. The police didn’t follow up, and did jack shit about the damages to my vehicle. APD needs to be cleaned up from top to bottom.

  • Guest

    If you treat poilice with respect & obey their orders implicitly, you will NEVER get hurt. There are no exceptions. Look at ANY case of police prutality. Thet shot their mouth off, resisted arrest, or were disrespectful. Talk back, object to orders, you’re going to get arrested, abused, or worse. So dont!!!

    • Miriam Breslauer

      If you are deaf and unable to hear the police officer, then you are at high risk of getting attacked by police officers if you are stopped and don’t respond “properly”.

  • toobored54

    If you treat poilice with respect & obey their orders implicitly, you will NEVER get hurt. There are no exceptions. Look at ANY case of police brutality. They shot their mouth off, resisted arrest, or were disrespectful. Talk back, object to orders, you’re going to get arrested, abused, or worse. So dont!!!

    • William Anton Walters

      You missed the point of the story. It’s the inconsistent application of force to minorities that’s being discussed.

      Apply your statement to Cliven Bundy and his supporters and you’ll see what I mean.

      • toobored54

        My statement is universal and applies to ALL confrontations with police, be it black, blue, or bundy. Makes no difference. If you treat police with respect & obey their orders implicitly, you will NEVER get hurt. Its that simple.
        Police have a choice what force they use on any given situation and will determine that on their own. They are color blind here, because THEIR safety is their main priority. They will NEVER use force if my above “rules of engagement” are followed, because THEIR safety is not being compromised. Police don’t carry guns for YOUR protection, they carry them for THEIR protection.
        The Bundy incident was no different, The police’ own safety was their primary concern, They walked away from Bundy not because they were up against a bunch of white cowboys, but because they were up against a bunch of white cowboys with higher ground, sniper rifles, and a will to sacrifice their lives for their cause. Police would have been slaughtered otherwise, and they knew it. THEIR safety was the main priority, so they walked away. Those conditions did not exist in Ferguson, so OF COURSE it was handled differently.

        • Arekushieru

          Oh, please, you’re one of itinerants who would never believe anything to the contrary even if it came up and slapped you in the face. Also, the video shows Michael Brown PAYING for the items the police CLAIMED he stole. And, just to check, but I need citations for when a white male committed a crime that his prior history was brought up and manipulated and twisted to make the police response look ‘reasonable’ JUST like it was in the Michael Brown case. Oops? Also, some of the shots were fired either when Brown’s back was turned OR when he had his hands up. Hmm, I wonder what kind of danger someone like THAT could have been to an armed police officer? AW?

          • toobored54

            The press can manipulate anything they want, but it won’t change the facts of the shooting. Officer Wilson didn’t know a thing about the cigar incident so that has no bearing on the shooting at all, nor does your request for citations on white arrests and prior crime histories. Neither are required to justify Wilsons actions, and neither will be discussed during the trial. ALL witnesses on both sides say there was a struggle at the police car window PRIOR to the shooting. 3 autopsies confirm ALL shots were fired from the front, Officer Wilsons actions do not weaken my statement, they PROVE it. As the REAL truth unfolds in the trial (not the media truth, because there IS no media truth anymore), see if there was ANY show of disrespect or ANY threat to Officer Wilsons safety by Brown during the entire incident. Even after your brainwashing by the press, you know that there was. My statement still stands. “If you treat poilice with respect & obey their orders implicitly, you will NEVER get hurt”

          • Arekushieru

            Nope, ALL witnesses claim that there was no struggle prior to the shooting. Autopsies done by the coroner’s office and by an independent expert agreed that Michael Brown was shot six times and several bullets could have only been shot from behind or when he had his hands up. Must get your news from Faux News.

            That’s certainly not what the video claims. They claim the incident started because of that. OOPS? Also, I wasn’t saying that he DID know, myself. Because, whether or not he did was irrelevant to my POINT. What IS f&@*ing relevant is the FACT that no white person’s arrest involved use of prior non-criminal or criminal histories to put them in a bad light. The fact that the police even provided video of such a case when it involved a BLACK man, is proof ENOUGH that there is incredible bias within the establishment. If treating police with respect and obeying their orders implicitly is all that is required to not get hurt, THEY WOULD NOT PROVIDE VIDEOS to put solely black men in a bad light, UNLESS they were being treated differently.

            My brainwashing by the press? Sorry, but how can I be brainwashed into believing something that is totally OPPOSITE the prevailing narrative of the media? Ah, I see, you’re self-projecting. Typical.

          • toobored54

            Well this post will be around awhile. Ill summon you from mom’s basement when the trials over and well have a debriefing.

          • Arekushieru

            Self-project much? I am not the one LIVING in mom’s basement, I see, otherwise, your statements wouldn’t resemble someone who lived under a ROCK so much.

          • fiona64

            Oh, look. It’s the latest handle for 5×5 after its latest banning. Shouldn’t you be doing your homework, little boy?

          • toobored54

            “ALL witnesses claim that there was no struggle prior to the shootingThose are the blind wittnesses…”

            umm…..

            Multiple witnesses in riot-torn Ferguson, Mo., said that the unarmed black teen killed by a white cop attacked the officer in his patrol car before the teen was shot, according to a new report.

            “Police sources tell me more than a dozen witnesses have corroborated cop’s version of events in shooting,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch crime reporter Christine Byers tweeted, without elaborating. -NY Post

            “expert agreed that Michael Brown was shot six times and several bullets could have only been shot from behind”

            um….

            “Mr. Brown, 18, was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired into his front.” -NY Times

            Epic Fail Arek. Please have mercy on us…..

          • Arekushieru

            Were they white? Probably shills for the cops. Oops.

            Um EPIC fail on YOUR part. Four times in the right arm. Does not count for other bullets shot into his other arm, or anything else for that matter. Sorry, but just cause you WANT to believe something doesn’t make it true. Besides, biased news website much?

            Also, ““Police SOURCES tell me more than a DOZEN witnesses have corroborated cop’s version of events in shooting,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch crime reporter Christine Byers tweeted, WITHOUT ELABORATING (all emphases MINE).” Do you not read what you post. SOMEONE, somewhere reports that several witnesses, but probably only a minority, from the actual numbers of people present, corroborate the cop’s version of events, WITHOUT elaborating, based on unverified SOURCES WITHIN the police department, and you expect me to take that without a grain of salt? Seriously? How IGNORANT are you?

    • colleen2

      “If you treat poilice with respect & obey their orders implicitly, you will NEVER get hurt.”

      1. that this statement is complete bullshit can be proven by reading the nation’s newspapers on any day of the week.

      2. Do you really want to live in a country where kids can be murdered with impunity because they are verbally disrespectful to cops?
      3. Cliven Bundy and his tiny army of genuinely stupid Republican AIMED WEAPONS at federal law enforcement and broke all manner of laws repeatedly. The ONLY folks who have been arrested in that particular Republican cesspool are the folks who went on to murder several of our fellow citizens because they wanted to “start the revolution”.

      • toobored54

        Really? Im thinking the bullshit wagon is parked in your driveway Colleen. Show Me ONE newspaper article from “any day of the week” where a kid got “murdered with impunity” when they followed a police officers orders implicitly. Ill even give you a bye. Link me to an article where someone was verbally disrespectful to a cop and “murdered with impunity”. Since you say that happens any day of the week, you should be able to produce a pile of em in short order, or start adding more fodder to your bullshit wagon in your driveway.
        Oh, and specific names of individuals and articles supporting your “republican cesspool folks” involved in the Bundy incident that committed murders of fellow citizens afterwards, although based on your statement, you have piles of articles to back that up.
        The band of “genuinely stupid republicans” you refer to ended a standoff in a matter of days, with no injuries, and the fed ran off with their tail between their legs. If you want to avoid a country where “kids can be murdered with impunity” the Bundy standoff should be a good example of how that can be achieved. We’ll use Ferguson as a example of the WRONG way to achieve that end.

        • Arekushieru

          Seriously, do you live under a ROCK??? She shouldn’t HAVE to explain this shit to you. That you demand it from her just shows your privileged ASS even more. TBSVFS.

          • toobored54

            I didn’t ask her to “explain” it, I asked her to provide citations to her statements, and got crickets. I wouldn’t call you a dipshit without a citation to prove it, but thankfully, you provided me with one.

          • Arekushieru

            Which is the exact same as demanding she explain it. Considering all the privileged asses, like yourself, who come on here, demanding that people provide the evidence and EXPLAAAAIIIAAAAIIIN things to them, right now, then, when they do, change their goalposts, I’m surprised she hasn’t just given you the finger. Oops. Besides, it would behoove you to read up on a subject a bit more before sticking your ignorant nose in, in the first place. Who does that make the dipshit? Not me, nor her.

          • toobored54

            damn, you really are a dipshit!! How deep u gonna dig this hole lowlife??

          • expect_resistance

            Piss off!

    • expect_resistance

      No that’s total bull. I know from personal experience of being nice to cops and still getting harassed by them. I’ve engaged in peaceful protesting and had my first amendment rights stomped on. As a peaceful protester I was peppersprayed and tear gassed. Sorry but I have no respect for the police.

      • toobored54

        My money says you were pepper sprayed and teargassed AFTER you were told to disperse by the police. Thats the “Obey their orders implicitly” part you didn’t follow. Ive been in several riots and demonstrations and the gas ALWAYS comes after the bullhorn.

        • expect_resistance

          If you’re betting, you lose.

          • toobored54

            I get double for you lying. U screwed with em and got sprayed, idnt ya?? c’mon… FESS UP

          • Arekushieru

            Do you not understand the concept of Freedom of ASSEMBLY? Oh, but, of course, it only applies to rich, white dudes, for everyone else it’s a PRIVILEGE, yet you still say there’s no bias? WOW.

          • toobored54

            No Arek, it was only WRITTEN by “rich, white dudes”, but it applies to everyone. The part you’re interested in is “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances'” Those bastards HAD to put “peaceably” into that didn’t they? Ill bet even YOU know the difference between peaceably and un-peaceably. The police are just there to guide your judgement when it gets clouded in the heat of the moment, which seems to be your case on a regular basis if you think the constitution only applies to “rich, white dudes” Tear gas is color blind. “Rich white dudes” get gassed too.

          • Arekushieru

            Sorry, but rich, white dudes are often the ones that think they are the ONLY ones that the constitution does NOT apply to.

            Also are you confused? You, YOURSELF, said the protest was going PEACEABLY until the Officers told them to DISPERSE. Seriously, if you can’t remember what you, YOURSELF, say, then you shouldn’t be debating on an adult forum, little boy.

          • toobored54

            Don’t know who’s post u were reading blind melon, but it wasn’t mine. I made no reference whatsoever to the state of the Ferguson protest. You in the right blog, I don’t think you’re even on the same planet!! bye loser, I’m too busy to chase squirrels.

          • Arekushieru

            I never said you did. More evidence that you can’t read what you write? I think SO. I was referring to your PREVIOUS post about officers that responded with violence to a PEACEABLE protest that didn’t follow one of the officers directions to disperse, therefore did not show ‘proper RESPECT, (in YOUR words)’ to the officers. Seriously DO try to effing keep up. And I didn’t know you liked to chase things that are just like yourself, Squirrel Boy.

          • expect_resistance

            Nope!
            Are you a cop? You sound like one.

          • toobored54

            You don’t need to be a cop to respect them, do you?

          • expect_resistance

            Respect is earned not assumed.

          • toobored54

            I know what you’re saying, and agree, but you don’t get that luxury with police. You have to go first.

          • Arekushieru

            Nope. If you have to respect them first before they earn it, then you ARE saying that cops are authoritarian bigots. Oops.

          • fiona64

            It’s 5×5, baby …

  • expect_resistance

    Ferguson is the tip of the iceberg.

  • Davis

    A) Note, no Asians
    B) Note she does not define “non-violent” or give examples. The standard of legality of force isn’t “non-violence” or even “unarmed” it’s “under the circumstances”. There are plenty of scenarios where a cop could feel threatened by a man who isn’t acting violently.
    C) She doesn’t correct for the disproportionate amount of crime that blacks commit which would bring them into contact with police more often which increases the likelihood of a deadly encounter.

    Once again, if you don’t commit crime, you decrease, by orders of magnitude, what you have to worry about. Fix your community first, then complain.

  • debbierussell
  • debbierussell
  • debbierussell

    Curious-who was the white person shot 2002-2012? I don’t know of one. John Schaefer is the only white person I know of (the man who refused to put his gun away for police while standing on his own property), but that was 2013.

  • debbierussell

    Rocha’s “scuffle” was trying to get away from 2 officers trying to hurt him (both officers were much bigger than him, even Schroeder). Fleeing is not violent…at most you can get a “resisting arrest” for it. It doesn’t warrant or justify lethal force. The fact that this was the first ever officer to be fired for lethal force pretty much says APD was at fault.

    Carter and the driver didn’t know it was police–a witness said she never heard them ID themselves (came out in federal suit). All they knew was 2 guys in black were jumping in front of their cars pointing guns at them. Again, fleeing is NOT violent…plus, Carter was the PASSENGER – not the driver. He in no way had any means to cause harm to the officers, so why he was shot 4 times and the driver only once is beyond ludicrous. The fact that the officers put their bodies in front of a car that was already pulling out of a parking spot means they were putting themselves in danger/increasing the conflict — doing the exact opposite of what they are trained and legally held to do.

    Brown didn’t have a weapon when he was shot–and certainly didn’t have it when he was shot the 2nd time–“execution style” (Chief Acevedo called it this himself; not publicly, but said it to me directly). The gun was not in his hands (this was found to be the case by APD). There was no more “danger” therefore no justification for deadly force.

    • Marcus Wolf Knapp

      So fleeing from a cop is not violent. Agreed. But what is the officer to do? Ask mister Rocha to please stop running? And what were these two officers trying to do to Rocha? Hurting him by putting him into handcuffs to detain him and he was resisting? Probably not by the way you put it, you would probably tell me they were hurting him on purpose for no reason beyond the fact he was black.

      For Carter, he and the driver were fleeing police, hard for officers walking up to a car to identify themselves when there is a sound barrier from inside the car to outside. What is an officer to do when trying to confront someone suspected of break the law, leave them an open passageway? How in any way does that justify trying to drive over someone? No person in their right mind would attempt to drive over someone simply because they saw someone approaching them because they were dressed in black (because colors are super easy to see in the dark, so it wasn’t blue, red, green, purple, brown, etc).. I would hate to be jogging down that street when these 2 guys were “not casing cars” and to almost get run over. Also have you ever fired a gun? Try to hit a moving target? I can guarantee you they were aiming for the driver that tried to hit them and not the passenger. When something like that happens you try to subdue the driver, not the passenger. And shooting accurately at s moving car, that you believe to have hit your partner, in the heat of the moment under pressure, is not the easiest thing in the world. I have full confidence they did not “target” the passenger and sure as hell didn’t target him be cause he was black. I don’t know the ethnicity of the driver. Maybe his skin wasn’t dark enough and that’s why you seem to think Carter was “targeted” with 4 bullets to the drivers 1.

      As for Brown who didn’t have a weapon on him when he was shot. Thank you for stating something I already said. I redo the quote from the court document for you: “A search of Mr. Brown revealed that he was not armed at the time of the shooting; however, a .22 caliber pistol was discovered along the path Mr. Brown had taken to elude the officers approximately 25 feet from where Mr. Brown was shot”. Now I may be possibly wrong, but doubtfully that the “2nd time” Brown was shot was A. a significant amount of time between the first firing, and B. that it was “execution style”. It was stated in court documents that several shorts were fired in succession when Brown was making “a furtive movement on his right side where Sergeant Olsen believed Mr. Brown was secreting a handgun” and the bullet that killed Brown, aka your 2nd time of firing. Police are trained, when firing a gun, to fire until the threat is subdued. Sometimes that results in death. And its a sad part of the job. A bullet may hit a vital organ or strike the person in the head. But when confronted with someone, who flees from you, has already shown aggression, and you believe has a firearm as in Browns case it can easily be your live or his. Its a difficult and often times thankless job police have. And to think that you are arguing that an officer purposely “executed” Brown on the simple fact that he was black is ridiculous. and your proof of this execution is what? Hear-say? Quote “Chief Acevedo called it this himself; not publicly, but said it to me directly”. Okay well because you said he said this to you on the internet I must believe you. Not the court documents, not the fact that the Chief could have said so in Court, but because you said he told you privately. Wow. Compelling argument there, how could I possibly not believe something received to me from a stranger via the child’s game of telephone. Now when you have facts please come back an present them. Hell, have your close buddy Chief Acevedo come on here and admit it himself that it was an execution style shooting by one of his officers simply based on race, that he did’t want to tell the public, and let us all know how the 10 killings by police in Austin, TX over a 10 year period, being 60% black men when the population is only about 10% black makes us just as bad of a place as Ferguson.

      But that won’t happen will it. I have lived the past several years living in the 23. If you’re actually from Austin then you would know where that’s at. You know what I see? Good people. People of all colors living in a neighborhood, getting along, looking out for each other, fearing more the bad egg that pops up from time to time and not fearing the cops. The APD does a great job and Austin is way better off than any major city its size or bigger, and still better than a lot of smaller cities than itself. Since you know the Chief so well why don’t you for a ride along. See how difficult the job is for these brave men and women, take some police training classes, learn to use a fire arm and operate under pressure, and then after all that, you will realize that Austin is no where near as bleak as Ferguson is, that we are blessed to live in a great city with great police officers, and that racial profiling here doesn’t even come close to ticking on a scale when compared to other parts of the country. Get over yourself.

      P.S. A word of advise, if you don’t want to get shot by police (in Austin, Ferguson, or anywhere else) then just cooperate, be respectful, don’t fight back, and for gods sake don’t run from the cops you idiots. Here is a PSA from Chris Rock if you have any questions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR465HoCWFQ