Worker’s Voice: Interview with Former JUST America

By Sarah Odell

The Tribune Support Committee in Austin, Texas recently interviewed Jay, a former member of the police collaborating organization JUST America. He explains why he left the group and discusses what he has learned from organizing against police brutality.

Jay recalls wanting to join the Austin Police Department (APD) in the past to address the problems he saw with policing on an individual basis. Eventually he became disillusioned with this approach and decided a more systemic change was necessary.

Upon learning about the murder of Mike Ramos by APD, as well as being inspired by the May Uprisings in response to the Minneapolis PD murder of George Floyd, Jay joined the protests taking place in the streets of Austin. Days into the protests, Jay and others he had met formed the group JUST America. Jay said that initially he and the members of JUST America wanted to have a dialogue with APD to talk with the “few good apples” in hopes of finding common ground.

That all changed when Jay was arrested by APD during a protest on June 27. He had confronted the police over an incident that took place earlier in the day, in which a fascist sympathizer named Logan Bucknam drove into the protesters and drew his gun on them. The police had given Bucknam cover in their police garage, separating him from the angry crowd and giving him a chance to make his escape.

For trying to hold the police accountable for these actions, Jay was arrested. “If it was a Black man in that car that drove through the middle of a blue lives matter protest with nothing but white protesters, they would have went about that situation a lot differently,” he said.

At the same protest where he was arrested, Eric Brown, one of the leaders of JUST America, was seen talking with the fascist Texas Nomads down the street. Concealing his identity among the anti-police protesters, Brown felt comfortable enough to remove his mask when talking with fascists. Brown and other JUST America members have also appeared on stage at an APD press conference, in which they stood alongside Chief Manley and other officers, praising the police for their meaningless reforms. This experience is what motivated Jay to leave JUST America.

“[APD] fooled us,” Jay said. “We fell into that trap of thinking that they were genuine about wanting to bring about change. They were out there crying with us, grown-ass men crying, talking about ‘trust me, we’re trying to do our part on this side. There’s only so much we can do. You guys need to go out and vote.’ They had me fooled.”