The national conversation surrounding police brutality and racism continued last week when a black officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in North Austin.
In response to the shooting, local activists from Black Lives Matter, Austin Justice Coalition and Measure Austin spoke about their battle for justice at a press conference Thursday afternoon following a peaceful protest at City Hall. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said the police department aims to avoid taking a life in all circumstances and suggested a collaborative approach between law enforcement and community members to progress toward this goal.
“There’s a collective responsibility in this nation for the community and the police not to point fingers at each other, to scream at each other or to demonize each other,” Acevedo said. “There’s a collective responsibility to work with each other to make things better.”
According to police reports, David Joseph, the victim of the shooting, charged at Officer Geoffrey Freeman when Joseph was found standing naked in the 1200 block of Nature’s Bend.
As of now, Acevedo said there is a 30-day timeline to complete a thorough investigation of the incident, but the police department said they will be transparent about any delays in the process.
Acevedo said the investigation is expected to serve as a way to assess training protocols and examine policies and procedures such as how officers respond to resistance, as well as to determine if criminal charges are appropriate for Officer Freeman.
Following the shooting, five areas of the UT campus were graffitied with “Black Lives Matter.” Journalism senior Nia Wesley, who said she supports BLM, said she thinks the officer could have handled the situation differently.
“I don’t think someone should have ended up dead,” Wesley said. “Within the past five years, [police brutality] has been at the forefront of the media, but as an African-American woman, this has been happening to black people for decades and it’s just now getting a magnifying glass to it.”
Chas Moore, co-founder of Austin Justice Coalition, said he believes police training could be enhanced to serve the community better, and that public involvement will help combat these reoccurring issues.
“I think it takes a community effort by and large to challenge the status quo and the way things are now,” Moore said. “One very important element into changing these things is to have transparency between departments and the community.”
Acevedo said he supports activists, and believes their goal of improving the police system is mutual. In comparison to other cities highlighted in the media for officer-involved incidents, Acevedo said he believes Austin is a model city.
“We aren’t Ferguson; we’re not another American city,” Acevedo said. “We’re the city of Austin and we stand together to hold each other’s feet to the fire.”
While some activists asked for an independent investigation, Acevedo promised a complete and impartial internal investigation with a commitment to justice and the law. He said he believes an independent investigation from an outside law enforcement agency would be premature and asked the community to be patient.
In response to requests asking to release the dash cam video of the incident, Acevedo said his responsibility to the Joseph and Freeman families is his foremost responsibility and he does not have any intention of releasing the video.