By Ed Dalton
The May Uprisings smashed the myth of placid liberal Austin along with storefronts and the windshields of patrol vehicles. The idea of an easily policeable city went up in flames with US and Texas flags. Since the people of Austin stood up, a predictable wave of repression has followed from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) the state police.
In a city with a population that is only 8.1% Black, almost half of those arrested have been Black and in their 20’s. As the Austin Police Department (APD) initially took a propaganda retreat to portray their officers taking a knee and sharing snacks with protesters, DPS continued its hunt for activists; evidenced by the over-representation of Black youth, they clearly focused on prioritizing Austin’s diminishing Black population for arrest. APD would resume its campaign of terror and brutality on the streets once the temporary sugar rush from the free cookies they passed out failed to pacify the people or quell their resistance.
According the defense attorneys for many of those arrested, the arrests are a part of a political witch hunt. The ruling class media outlet The Texas Tribune reported that 14 people have been arrested in the DPS investigation since the May Uprisings, a number that is much higher when APD arrests are factored in as well. The first arrest in the witch hunt was a young Black mother who was grocery shopping with her baby in tow, dubbed one of Austin’s Targeted Three. The Three have a unique case since DPS attempted to claim the trio were “known members of Antifa;” solidarity actions have taken place around the world in their defense.
Austin attorney George Lobb told The Texas Tribune that, “DPS is using antifa as a modern day boogeyman to justify their existence and their unnecessarily aggressive tactics.” He continued, “The best way to manufacture a crisis is to create a response that is disproportionate to the perceived threat, perceived being the operative word.”
The Texas Tribune also reported DPS officers threatening to come back to one suspect’s grandmother’s home in the middle of the night with a “no-knock warrant,” highlighting their role as state-sanctioned terrorism against the people.
The arrest of several activists resulted in release on bond, only for the state to arrest them again only a few days later on charges stemming from the same event. This is an intimidation tactic that Austin protesters have come to know all too well. It is also common for the police to charge a suspect with as many offenses as possible so that they have a statistically-improved chance of one of the charges sticking. Austin juries are then convinced by prosecutors that it is ‘fair’ to determine that a suspect is not guilty of many of the charges, and meet in the middle with a conviction on at least one or more other charges. The state is hedging its bets, making sure that if a person is charged with ten fabricated offenses, at least one will land in a conviction.
After the second time she was arrested, one of the activists told The Texas Tribune that law enforcement officers in plain clothes interrogated her in a truck in her apartment’s parking lot and asked if she was involved in any socialist organizations before taking her to the jail, highlighting the political nature of the repeat arrests and interrogations and the fact that the state is particularly concerned with the capture and confinement of revolutionaries.
The majority of arrests in the DPS witch hunt are the result of the reactionary agency combing through thousands of hours of open source footage on websites like Youtube and Facebook. After social media personality and livestreamer Hiram Garcia was arrested at a protest the police quickly dropped the charges, setting him apart from the dozens arrested in Austin for protesting. According to Garcia himself in one of his livestreams, the police have commented on finding his footage useful.
The police have a voluntary and direct surveillance unit everywhere via social media livestreams, and street activism must adapt to this condition or continue suffering arrest. Savvy activists have begun carrying umbrellas, which help to obscure the views of the police and their civilian intelligence units. Proper masking is another useful tactic in the age of social media spies for the police; easily discardable clothing, which is abandoned or destroyed after a protest, is also preferred by some activists. Those better at concealing all parts of their bodies have the greatest chance at avoiding persecution and prosecution.
According to one longtime activist for Black lives, “it is important to not have social media pages, if the police have a partial image of a suspect, they will comb through social media sites and match pictures to make arrests” he told Tribune of the People, “it is better to just erase all your social media now, before you start protesting or continue to protest.”
As DPS responds with harsh retaliation for protesting in a desperate attack against the growing tide of resentment that has forced bourgeois city politicians to decrease a fraction of the police budget, activists have gotten smarter and better organized to defend those who have been or will be arrested. At one point, tables were manned on a nightly basis outside of the jail which passed out supplies and food to those released following the May Uprising. Teams of legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild monitor most protests. Organizations have formed to offer immediate support and bond protesters out of jail, no matter how many times they are arrested. Many of the lawyers representing protesters are working for free or for cost, out of a political consciousness for Black lives and those willing to fight for them. Additionally, a coalition has formed to pressure the city and the state to drop all charges against protesters for Black lives.
The most important side effect of the police witch hunt is the rising level of class consciousness among the people. Those who once dreamed of cooperation with the system and its police to change it are now awake to the fact that the Old State is in decay and it must be smashed. Those who once put their faith in elections to transform the city are now more than ever realizing that they can cast bricks and water bottles in the same manner.
No matter how many arrests the reactionary state makes, they are losing the fight, and the next uprising will be more aggressive than the last. The people clamor for revolution and revolutionaries are rising from the struggles to lead them. DPS’s fear of socialism speaks volumes that socialist revolution, and not ‘defunding’ the police, is the direction the movement for Black lives must take; it must make their nightmares a reality. Tribune of the People unapologetically stands with the protesters targeted for arrest by the state of Texas and the rest of the US, we encourage our readers to donate to bail funds and join support organizations. Tribune of the People is a revolutionary news service which believes in socialist revolution to end the system of capitalist imperialism in the US and the world. You can donate to our efforts here, and get involved with our Support Committees around the country by contacting Tribuneofthepeople@protonmail.com. If you or anyone you know has been arrested for fighting for revolution and Black lives, contact us and we will get to those who can provide the support you need.
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