Last year, Austin made history when the City Council approved a first-of-its-kind budget amendment that allocated $150,000 in funding to provide practical support, like childcare, transportation, and other logistical needs to people seeking abortions. And last week, local activists and advocates joined reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations to demand those city councilmembers not only continue the funding program for an additional year but that the funding is increased to $250,000 — by divesting funds from the Austin Police Department.
Austin City Budget
For those that are unfamiliar with the city budget, APD receives millions of dollars in funding every year — approximately 40 percent of the city’s budget. Local activists and groups feel this budget divestment — which would come from cutting funding to things like future hiring, cadet training, surveillance, and weapons — should go to more practical city resources such as the RISE fund, a community fund that helps low-income families in Austin with basic necessities; RISE was only awarded $12 million of the $70 million asked by the Austin Justice Coalition shortly following the murder of Mike Ramos at the hands of APD in April.
Source Austin Chronicle
Community Demands Reinvestments
Some councilmembers are also in favor of defunding the APD. On August 4th, Council Member Gregorio Casar posted to his Facebook that he’s proposing $93–$123 million in changes to the APD budget. He states:
“I’m committed to at least a $100M reduction to APD as we reduce over-policing and reinvest into community safety.”
We can make our city safer and more just by reinvesting tens of millions of these dollars into:
- New family violence shelters
- Permanent supportive housing and homeless services
- Mental health response teams
- Victim services
- Medics and ambulances for COVID response
- Violence prevention, including programs that prevent the violence surrounding sex work
- Gun violence intervention
- Substance use services, including detox and harm reduction strategies
- Food access
- Youth and parks programming
- Abortion access
- Austin Public Health Department to address the pandemic
Furthermore, the budget changes that I (and many of my colleagues) are suggesting will remove functions from APD and make them independent. For example, we can:
- Make Internal Affairs an independent department. No more APD investigating APD.
- Make Forensics independent. We cannot forget the DNA lab and rape kit failures.
- Make dispatch and other functions independent”
The demand comes in light of Austin City Council approving a mere $11 million cut to the APD’s budget, as well as COVID-19 complicating the barriers Austinites already experience when accessing abortion, like financial instability as a result of unemployment from business closures, or lack of childcare as a result of school closures. Austin’s longstanding history of racism and oppression continues to be upheld by APD as shown through the unjust violence against and extrajudicial killings of Black and brown people.
“Our city is on edge, our people are hurting, and black communities are crying out for health and safety in the midst of a pandemic,” the AJC said in a press release on June 3. “Now is the time to invest in a safe, liberated future for our city. We can’t afford to keep funding APD’s attacks on Black lives.”
The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity and Fund Texas Choice, local abortion funds that often serve Black women and people of color, advocated for the city budget amendment for abortion practical support last year, and during the hearing last month, they echoed the community demands to defund APD and emphasized that Austinites disproportionately affected by the impacts of COVID-19 are also the clients they serve — and who deserve the continued support the budget provides. And because the need for that support will only continue to grow, they’re calling for an additional $100,000 to be divested from the APD budget and reallocated to the practical support budget amendment instead.
Many who submitted testimony at the hearing July 30th also echoed past demands to fire APD Chief Brian Manley and emphasized the recent footage leaked of Mike Ramos’s murder at the hands of APD, and Texas’ history of police killings against Black Texans, shows many in our community are unsafe among the presence of police. Countless peaceful protestors in Austin have also been arrested since the murder of George Floyd spurred protests across the nation — despite our protected right to do so — and protestors continue to report that APD incites riots by violence through the disbursement of tear gas, a known abortifacient, and shooting “non-lethal”—but capable of causing serious injury—bullets. Most recently, the president of the Austin police officer’s union took to Twitter to criticize Garrett Foster, a protestor who was murdered last month at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Austin.
In April, Governor Greg Abbott and indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton crossed the line when they outright banned abortion access in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear it’s more and more up to our local officials to protect the health and safety of our community as state leaders continue to fail us. COVID-19 has only made abortion access more difficult for Austinites, and the need for practical support continues to grow.
Actions You Can Take
Please consider filling out this form to demand City Manager Spencer Cronk, Mayor Steve Adler, and Members of City Council agree to the demand of local advocates and groups and reallocate at least $100 million from the APD to community-based groups that will keep us safe instead.
Lastly, please consider sending an email to Austin City Council and asking them to continue funding practical support for people seeking abortions and easing restrictions on Texas abortion laws by filling out this secured form.