Late Thursday evening, Austin City Council voted unanimously to pass two “Freedom City” ordinances intended to reduce racial disparities in discretionary arrests and to ensure police officers who ask about immigration status inform people of their right not to answer.
More than 100 people signed up to speak about the policies.
“This is an important first step for the city to take,” said Rebecca Sanchez of the local nonprofit group Grassroots Leadership, which works to end mass incarceration, in a statement on Thursday. “We’re committed to fighting for a city where we redefine safety for ourselves—and not through badges—and where we determine how our communities thrive.”
The first ordinance directs the city manager to reduce racial disparities in the Austin Police Department’s use of discretionary arrests in lieu of citations for certain non-violent misdemeanors.
The second requires city staff to vet and report requests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency also known as ICE, for APD resources. It also requires police officers to inform those individuals questioned about their immigration status that they have a right to remain silent.
Craig Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, spoke at the meeting, said he supports the ordinance but takes issue with claims made by District 4 Council Member Greg Casar that APD arrest data shows significant racial disparities.
Casar, who sponsored the two ordinances, said he stood by his interpretation of the data, which was provided by APD.
“I believe that everyone in this chamber wants the best for this community,” Casar said at the meeting. “Despite all of our hard work from everyone in this room … we’ve had real challenges in this city. We have immigrants who live in fear of government institutions. We have too many people in our jails and in our prisons. And we have real, undeniable racial disparities … Those are hard issues to talk about. But it’s our responsibility as elected officials and leaders of the city to take those issues on.”
Council members Delia Garza and Ellen Troxclair were not present for the vote.