Austin: New Joint Law Enforcement Operation Targets Working Class

Photo credit CBS Austin

By Oliver Powell and Mike Talavera

On December 18, US attorney Gregg Sofer announced that federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies would join forces to implement Operation Undaunted, a program aimed at reducing the rate of violent crime in Austin, purportedly in response to the city council voting to ‘defund’ the police this summer after protests following the May Uprisings. This doubling down on ‘violence’ in Austin comes after the federal government has been stepping up persecution against demonstrators who have taken to the streets this year with the slogan “No justice, no peace!”

In June, the Joint Task Force between the Austin Police Department and FBI arrested Austin’s Targeted Three, including a young Black mother, on trumped-up felony charges for “participation in a riot” and “burglary of a building.” It was the first time this year authorities labeled arrestees as “antifa,” a catch-all term intended to paint them as “extremists.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety also put six protesters behind bars this July after outsourcing their investigation of property damage during the May Uprising through the Texas Crime Stoppers website. Like Austin’s Targeted Three, these six were framed as ‘violent’ criminals with counts of participation in a riot, criminal trespass, and destruction of property.

In September, US attorney general William Barr suggested that any protester convicted of resisting police authority in any way could be charged with sedition, which can carry up to 20 years in prison.

Operation Undaunted is a continuation of this ruling class agenda, and its overarching goal is to strike fear into those who would dare to defy this system. The stated reason for the initiative: to crack down on violent crime, mainly in the form of gun violence and robbery, will be used to further criminalize protesters as well as the expropriation of stores, where many secured much needed supplies as the New Depression unfolded.

In his announcement, Sofer listed Austin’s 55% increase in homicide cases to justify the operation, but this rise is in line with a national trend. Cities that did not make police budget ‘cuts’ saw the same surge in murders, parallel with an upswing in poverty as millions were thrown into unemployment.

It would be difficult to argue that Austin’s ‘defunding’ of the police had much of an effect on violent crime as it changed very little. Only 5% of APD’s total budget was ‘cut,’ and most of the administrative items on the chopping block were not actually done away with but delegated to other city departments. The temporary pause in cadet trainings (for one of the largest per capita police departments in the country) will end as soon as Spring 2021 according to Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

In the same way that Adler ‘defunded’ the police to serve his own career, Governor Greg Abbot has proposed a state takeover of the Austin police to rally his voting base. The debate between Democrats and Republicans over Austin’s police budget and the rising violent crime rate acts as a smokescreen for the political repression of Black and working class people at the heart of Operation Undaunted.