Austin, TX -- On June 14, 2018, following a long community-led campaign, the Austin City Council unanimously approved the Freedom City Policies, a community-based response to local entanglement with immigration enforcement and racial disparities in arrests by the Austin Police Department (APD). Ahead of the Policies’ one-year anniversary, community groups and residents reflect on their impact to ensure they are effectively enforced.
The Freedom City Policies emerged from a grassroots effort led by communities affected by racist policing practices and anti-immigrant policies including Senate Bill 4, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2017. The Racist Jailing Report, released by Grassroots Leadership in summer 2017, demonstrates that the Black community experiences significantly longer periods of confinement in jail and are jailed at much higher rates than the white population. Community groups including Grassroots Leadership, Workers Defense Project, United We Dream, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and other allies developed the Freedom City Policies hand-in-hand with community members, who urged council members to support these efforts.
Since implementation and as required by the Freedom City Policies, APD has issued two reports detailing their assistance and collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and one report regarding the use of discretionary arrests for low-level offenses. Based on these reports, the policies appear to have led to tangible improvements; in just three months of implementation, Class C misdemeanor arrests in Austin dropped by 63 percent. Racial inequities in arrests were lessened for both Black and Latinx people. Latinx people previously accounted for roughly 38% of discretionary arrests. New data from APD reports show they now account for 28%. Black people were arrested at lower rates than before, but are still significantly over-represented compared to their share of the population.
However, these reports offer a sobering reminder that racial inequities remain prominent in arrests, and arbitrary processes are followed when ICE requests assistance from the Austin Police Department. The Quarterly Cite and Release Report documents that Black people still composed 27% of APD arrests, which amounts to more than three times Austin’s Black population. The reports also reveal that APD is still not fully complying with the policy changes. Data shows that APD still made at least 60 discretionary arrests for reasons that are not permitted by the Freedom City Policies; in some cases, the reason for the arrest was not documented. In addition, APD continues to provide assistance at ICE’s request at a rate of almost 100 instances per month.
Alicia Torres, a member of ICE Out of Austin / ICE Fuera de Austin, said:
“The reports have confirmed what we as a community have experienced on a day-to-day basis—we are disproportionately arrested by police, and we see an alarming collaboration between APD and ICE. We are also seeing more creative arrests in the reports, such as “arresting to support another charge” and “additional issues.” As a community, we will continue to hold APD accountable and demand for APD’s full adherence to the Freedom City Policies.”
Emily Timm, Co-Executive Director of Workers Defense, said:
“A year out from the Freedom City Policies, we have seen that our communities have the power to profoundly reduce discretionary arrests and improve the treatment of immigrant families and people of color when they organize and engage with elected officials and law enforcement officials. Our community has fought hard to demand greater accountability and transparency around arrests and targeting of people of color and the immigrant community under racist policies like SB4. But the work is not over and we are demanding that APD do more to adhere to these new policies and take further steps to reduce the criminalization of communities of color.”
Julieta Garibay, Co-Founder and State Director of United We Dream Texas said:
“Although we have made great progress with the Austin Police Department, we are not in a place where we feel secure they are keeping communities of color safe. We will not accept any collaboration with ICE or federal immigration enforcement. This data is alarming and disheartening. We will continue to push APD to a place where they are sincere in their policies and are interacting with the immigrant community outside of the deportation pipeline.”
Anita Gupta, Staff Attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said:
“While we are pleased to see that the Freedom City Policies have already had a positive impact on the community by reducing the overall number of unnecessary arrests for low-level, misdemeanor offenses, there is still significant work to be done to ensure these policies are being applied equitably across our city. It is very troubling to see that the Austin Police Department continues its entanglement with ICE before first prioritizing the needs of the community they have sworn to serve and protect, and that department policy may allow officers to engage in racial profiling when needlessly contacting ICE.”
The Freedom City Policies consist of two resolution items; Item 73 directing the City Manager to implement changes in order to reduce discretionary arrests for citation-eligible offenses such as driving without a license and to reduce racial disparities in arrests as a whole. The second resolution, Item 74, directs the City Manager (and by extension the police department) to document each instance in which officers ask immigration status of individuals, and inform individuals of their constitutional right to refuse to answer questions about immigration status. The resolutions also require regular reporting of the arrests of citation-eligible offenses and collaboration between APD and ICE or other federal immigration officials.
Since the resolutions passed, community members and advocates continue to meet with APD on a monthly basis via a working group established by the resolutions to discuss new operating procedures to ensure adherence to the Freedom City Policies. The two reports show APD still has much to do in order to be in full compliance with the Freedom City Policies. We as community members and advocates are committed to continued participation and holding APD accountable.
Reports published by the Austin Police Department as required by the Freedom City Policies are available online here:
Released: May 1, 2019
Dates covered: January 1 – March, 2019
Released: May 3, 2019
Dates covered: January 1 – March, 2019
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