By Mike Talavera
A protest honoring Garrett Foster, organized by the Mike Ramos Brigade, marched from his memorial in downtown Austin to Interstate-35 on Saturday, shutting traffic down. The takeover of the highway was a win for the people and a loss for the police, who have made a point of defending the city’s main artery against protesters since the resurgence of the movement for Black Lives.
The victory on I-35 was even more impressive because of the level of adversity protesters were able to overcome to get there. In the days leading up to Saturday, rumors of an “antifa” attack on APD headquarters and the downtown area were spread by police, politicians and reactionary news outlets like Infowars.
Commentators cited reports from police as their main source, exposing a thinly veiled, coordinated attempt by the forces of reaction to make people afraid to turnout in the streets. Rightwingers organized counterprotests for Saturday, bringing in forces from outside the city, and notices were posted on apartment doors near downtown warning of violent protests.
APD had good reason to fear the outrage of the people last weekend following the revealed identity of Garrett’s killer, exposed as US Army Sergeant Daniel Perry, who had turned himself in to police after accelerating into a protest on July 25 and shooting Garrett to death. Police released him shortly after. Perry has previously tweeted violent threats against protesters and has a history of racist and unstable behavior.
APD and DPS continue to hunt down and jail protesters involved in the May Uprisings (including Austin’s Targeted Three) while they are content to let killers like Perry walk free. The police themselves regularly commit crimes against the people, like officer Nicholas Gebhart, who was identified last week as the one who shot protester Brad Levi Ayala in late May, causing him brain damage.
The police showed the same hatred for the people on Saturday, launching an attack on protesters who had gathered early on at Garrett’s memorial on 4th and Congress. Officers specifically targeted women who held banners naming Perry and Gebhart as enemies of the people and another that read “Frontline Everytime Fight 4 Garrett Fight 4 Brad.” Police used pepper spray, made over 40 arrests, and brutalized protesters, throwing one woman down so hard she suffered a concussion.
Officers kicked over candles at Garrett’s memorial as they provoked the crowd gathered there and threatened protesters point blank with less than lethal rounds, the same ones that seriously injured Ayala and Justin Howell during the May Uprisings.
As this assault on Saturday escalated with police deploying mounted officers against protesters, armed reactionaries across the street watched undisturbed. Police justified their attack on those gathered at the memorial based on the obstruction of the crosswalk, but their disregard for the Proud Boys and Three Percenters blocking the other sidewalk shows that their motivations were political.
Police have not only ignored fascists and reactionaries during protests, but they have allowed them to join in terrorizing the movement for Black Lives. That is why APD let Logan Bucknam, the son of a police chief, go free after he drove his vehicle into a June protest at APD headquarters and waved his gun around. By letting Bucknam go, they signaled to Perry and any other would-be reactionary terrorists that it was open season on protesters.
In defiance of the initial assault by police and the menace of the armed reactionaries, the protesters did not back down and proceeded to take the streets, shouting slogans like “One solution – revolution!” and “Fists up! Fight back!”
There was another protest happening at the same time around UT with the demand of defunding the police, but once news arrived of the police brutality happening downtown, the crowd became conflicted about whether to stay or go. One Tribune Support Committee member spoke to the crowd about how Garrett Foster was a hero, and that it was the duty of everyone there to be brave like he was in the face of police repression. Many in the crowd applauded and proceeded to move downtown to join the more confrontational march.
The make up of the protest once the two groups converged was diverse, and the lack of organization was evident, but militants at the front of the march demonstrated tenacity and were still able to lead the protest to take the highway.
“People who didn’t want to take the highway argued that we didn’t have enough people,” a spokesperson from the Mike Ramos Brigade said. “Some argued that militancy gets people hurt. Among these people were Infowars reporter, Savanah Hernandez, disguised as a regular protester.”
“Although we could’ve handled these arguments better, we know with certainty we made the right choice,” the spokesperson continued. “I-35 is the major shipping artery of the US. It is a symbol of Austin’s racial segregation. Even with the split in support, we proved many wrong by showing it was possible to take I-35.”
With better leadership and stronger unity, the possibilities of how the people can fight back will grow. The protest on Saturday proved that heroes like Garrett are worth honoring and causes like the movement for Black Lives are worth taking risks for.
Saturday also illustrated the number of fascists and reactionaries who can mobilize on short notice in major US cities. Greater organization is necessary not only for shutting down highways but for combating these threats to the movement.