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Texas city approves massive police budget cut; funds to be diverted to abortion access, other programs

The city of Austin, Texas, plans to cut its police department budget by one-third, or $150 million, after the city council unanimously approved the proposal to reallocate the funding to, among other priorities, abortion access programs, according to the Texas Tribune.

The Austin Police Department’s $434 million budget will be cut by a third, with $21.5 million of that cut going immediately to fund abortion access, violence prevention, and food access programs.

Over the course of the next year, $80 million more will be redistributed to fund forensics and victims’ services in other city departments. And $50 million will be reallocated to the “Reimagine Safety Fund” to pay for “alternative forms of public safety and community support.”

One suggested reimagining of public safety is the use of unarmed civilians for traffic enforcement functions.

Austin’s police defunding movement comes partially from the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis that sparked nationwide riots, but also from the officer-involved shooting in April of Mike Ramos, a black and hispanic man, in Austin.

Someone called 911 on Ramos, claiming he and a woman were doing drugs in a car in an apartment parking lot, and saying he had a gun that he was holding up and pointing at the woman. Police arrived on the scene and confronted him. He got out of the car, lifted up his shirt and his hands, and said he was unarmed.

While Ramos was standing outside the car with his hands up, an officer fired a less-lethal round at Ramos, who then gets back in the car after the shot. He tried to drive off, and Officer Christopher Taylor shot three times at the car, killing Ramos. No gun was found on Ramos or in the car.

Attorneys for the officers have said police felt Ramos might have intended to use the car as a weapon against them.

Critical Incident Briefing – April 24, 2020

Other major cities, such as Seattle and Minneapolis, are pushing for heavy cuts to police budgets. Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best retired from her position after 28 years with the department after her city council voted to cut spending so severely that as many as 100 officers could be cut from the force.

“This is not about money,” Best said, according to KING-TV. “And it certainly isn’t about demonstrators. Believe me, I have a lot thicker skin than that. It really is about the overarching lack of respect for the officers.”

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Lance Armstrong’s Texas bike shop ditches $300K contract with Austin police, allegedly because cops used bikes to control Black Lives Matter protests

A bicycle shop Lance Armstrong founded announced that it’s ditching a contract with the Austin, Texas, police department to provide bikes for officers, the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The website for Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop notes that the business is Armstrong’s “brainchild,” and a 2019 report said he’s co-owner.

What are the details?

The bike shop made an announcement last week on social media that it’s walking away from the $314,000 contract several years early amid “the current evaluation of community policing in Austin” and because “businesses can no longer be non-participants in the communities they serve. We chose what we think will do the most to suture these divides and place our community on the right side of history,” KXAN-TV reported.

The station said Austin police used bicycles to keep protestors in one area at Black Lives Matter protests downtown.

Image source: KXAN-TV video screenshot

More from KXAN:

According to a now-deleted Facebook post, that’s why the bike shop wanted to stop doing business with police. The post was written by an account with the same name as an Austin police officer whose name is on the contract with Mellow Johnny’s. It said shop employees didn’t like that the bikes were being used as a crowd management tool during the protests.

But Mellow Johnny’s statement didn’t include specific references to the recent protests, the station said.

“Our entire employee group was engaged in this dialogue, and we delved deep into our community to understand how we could best do our part to keep our customers safe and this city moving in the right direction,” the shop’s statement also said. “These are certainly trying times and we understand people will object to any decision made along these lines.”

The shop also noted that “we are not anti-police. We do believe our local police force will protect us from the very threats we are receiving right now.”

Anything else?

KXAN said Mellow Johnny’s three-year contract with police began in 2019 and stipulated that the department would spend more than $300,000 over five years to purchase bicycles from the shop; it included two renewal options. The city has spent about $52,000 so far, the station said.

“We wish this entire community peace and progress and togetherness at the conclusion of these trying times,” the shop’s statement added. “And we intend to be a part of the discourse, struggle, and growth for Austin, as we have since we opened our doors in 2008.”

Armstrong’s legendary status as arguably the greatest competitive cyclist ever was tarnished by a doping scandal, after which he was stripped of multiple Tour de France titles. As for Armstrong’s views on the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the hands of police in late May, he posted the following on Twitter:

(H/T: The Daily Wire)

Austin Black Lives Matter Intelwars Protesters Texas

Black motorist erupts at BLM protesters blocking highway, forces them to move: ‘Get the f**k out my way!’

A black motorist is going viral after erupting on Black Lives Matter protesters for blocking a highway in Austin, Texas.

Late Saturday night, far-left activists gathered on I-35 in the Texas capital city to protest. They refused to let cars pass, claiming, “this is our highway.”

Then an unidentified motorist got out of his truck and screamed at the protesters, telling them to let him through, so that he could go to work and provide for his family.

“Hey look, I understand the cause, I appreciate it — but I gotta go to work!” the man yelled. “I’m black — I gotta go to work! I got bills. I got kids. Get the f**k out my way!”

Video of the incident showed that the protesters obliged the man and allowed him to pass. However, they refused to let any other motorists through.

Blocking highways is a tactic frequently used by protesters.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Benjamin Jealous, former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said blocking highways is a tactic used by activists “who feel like they have no other way to get their community and the world to stop and take notice of what’s happened.”

It sends the broader public a message that “we will be inconvenienced if we allow our local government to continue to tolerate the killing of innocent civilians,” said Jealous, a visiting professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

“There’s a recognition of the use of placing one’s body in peril,” said Townsand Price-Spratlen, a professor at Ohio State University who studies grass-roots organizing. The practice echoes earlier protests, including the 1965 civil-rights march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., he said.

Unfortunately, demonstrations on highways — which almost always happen at night — sometimes have deadly consequences.

Just last month, a protester was struck and killed on a Seattle highway.

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Man shot dead at Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, suspect detained and cooperating with police

One person was shot dead on Saturday night during a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, Texas. The shooting happened at approximately 9:52 p.m. local time when a person in a car shot the victim on Congress Avenue.

“One adult male victim was located with a gunshot wound,” said senior Austin police officer Katrina Ratcliff. Medics performed CPR on the victim at the shooting scene. He was taken to the Dell Seton Medical Center with “critical, life-threatening injuries” and was “pronounced ‘deceased’ shortly” after arriving.

“Initial reports indicate the victim may have been carrying a rifle and approached suspect’s vehicle,” the police spokesperson said. “The suspect was in the vehicle and shot at the vehicle.”

Police are investigating the incident as a homicide. The suspected shooter has been detained and is cooperating with the police. The identities of the victim and suspect have not been released.

Videos from the scene show a car turn into an intersection where Black Lives Matter protesters were marching. The vehicle allegedly hit an orange barrier in the road and then came to a stop, according to witness Michael Capochiano.

“There were people around the car, yelling, and people sounding like they were frightened,” Capochiano told the Austin American-Statesman. The witness added that the protester with a rifle approached the car, and the driver pointed a gun outside the window of the vehicle. At least five shots were fired, and the driver sped off.

(CAUTION: Graphic video and language)

Police investigating after shooting at protest in Downtown Austin | KVUE

There was also a shooting at a protest in Colorado on Saturday evening. Protesters blocked traffic on Interstate 225 in Aurora for a demonstration demanding justice for Elijah McClain, who died last year after being arrested by Aurora police officers, who reportedly used a chokehold on the 23-year-old.

“People were running after a car ‘aggressively’ made its way toward protestors on I-225. I heard pops, which APD say came from a protestor, That protestor shot other protestors,” KCNC-TV reporter Dillon Thomas said. “I watched as a woman who fell off the interstate was rushed to the hospital.”

“While the protestors were walking on I-225, a vehicle decided to drive through the crowd,” the Aurora Police Department stated. “A protestor decided to fire off a weapon, striking at least 1 other protestor. They were transported to the hospital in stable condition.”

“Someone else showed up to the hospital with a graze wound,” the APD tweeted. “The vehicle was towed and we are investigating that incident. Any witnesses to the shooting are urged to call @CrimeStoppersCO.”

There was another shooting at a Breonna Taylor protest in Louisville, Ky. Three people were shot on Saturday after an armed protester accidentally discharged a firearm and shot fellow members of the militia group that were in Louisville.

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VIDEO: Park ranger shoved into lake while giving social distancing instructions to crowd that was illegally drinking, smoking

Cellphone video captured the moment a park ranger was shoved into a lake in Austin, Texas, while giving coronavirus social distancing instructions to a crowd that was illegally smoking and drinking near the water, the Statesman reported.

What are the details?

The ranger was standing on a dock along Lake Austin in Commons Ford Metropolitan Park around 5 p.m. Thursday speaking to a crowd illegally drinking and smoking there, the paper said, citing an arrest affidavit.

The ranger can be heard in the video telling the crowd to disperse and observe social distancing guidelines.

“Keep that six feet of distance with each other,” he said.

Replies from the crowd included “will do” and “I got you, man” — when all of a sudden an individual is seen stepping into the camera frame and shoving the ranger in the water. Both fall into the drink, but the culprit gets out first and is seen running away.

Content warning: Language:

Officers detained Brandon Hicks, 25, shortly after the incident — and several witnesses at the scene confirmed Hicks pushed the park ranger into the lake, Austin police Officer Justin Berry, who arrested Hicks, told the Statesman.

After the incident, Berry told the paper that parkgoers “actually came to the aid of the park ranger. Several people came up to the ranger and apologized for the guy’s behavior. That’s the Austin we know, and that’s the Austin we love.”

Police temporarily closed the park because of overcrowding after the incident, and people departed without any issues, Berry added to the Statesman.

What happened to Hicks?

Hicks was charged with attempted assault on a public servant — a state jail felony — and was booked into jail Friday on $7,500 bail, the paper said, adding that the charge is punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Watch the birdie!

Brandon HicksImage source: Austin Police Department

“Brandon’s intentional and reckless action could have caused the Ranger to strike his head on the dock as he was falling, and render himself unconscious in at least 3 feet of water where he could have drowned to death,” the affidavit added, according to KXAN-TV.

‘The park ranger was actually being really sweet’

The station added that park rangers are not law enforcement officers but do provide education about parks and recreation facilities, the paper said, citing the parks department.

The person who took the cellphone video of the incident, was glad the culprit got in trouble for pushing the park ranger into the lake, KXAN reported: “The park ranger was actually being really sweet and understanding before.”

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Texas diagnostic company will have 30,000 coronavirus home testing kits ready by Monday

A company in Austin, Texas, announced that it will have 30,000 coronavirus home testing kits available by Monday, a significant breakthrough in addressing the widespread shortage of testing in the U.S., according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Who’s responsible? The tests are from a company called Everlywell, a medical diagnostics company based in Austin that just last week put up $1 million of incentives to spur progress toward creating home testing solutions.

The company’s capacity to offer more tests could expand significantly in the coming weeks.

“We plan to eventually have testing and diagnosis capacity for a quarter of a million people weekly. However, this process will take several weeks and could take a few months,” an Everlywell statement said.

How do you get one? The tests will only be available in the United States. The first step is for patients to fill out a questionnaire on the Everlywell website, part of a screening process designed by the CDC.

The price of the test is currently $135, although Everlywell is reportedly working with the federal government toward a goal of offering the test at no cost. The company will reportedly make no profit on the tests.

“Given the momentum in Congress about providing free coronavirus testing for Americans, we want to do everything we can to make this test free,” Everlywell founder Julia Cheek told the Statesman.

How does it work? Patients collect their swab sample at home and then give it to a government-certified lab. They can then receive their results in two days through a telemedicine visit.

U.S. testing shortage: While President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence assured reporters Friday that the availability of tests is improving, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said although progress has been made, there is more that needs to be done and supply is not yet meeting demand.

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Texas man, who is a dead ringer for Will Ferrell, accused of luring his elderly father to the edge of a cliff and then pushing him off

A Texas man has been accused of luring his 78-year-old father to the edge of cliff to look at a rattlesnake before pushing him off, police said. The suspect also happens to be a dead ringer for actor and comedian Will Ferrell.

According to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, 49-year-old Gerald McCants left the home that he shares with his father at around 8:30 a.m. local time before returning just a few minutes later excitedly telling his father about a rattlesnake he found.

McCants then asked his father to come see the snake, and the two drove to a cliff half a mile from their home. As they approached the edge of the cliff, McCants allegedly pushed his elderly father on the right side causing him to fall off the cliff, roughly 40 feet straight down.

McCants’ father said that as he was falling down the bluff he could hear Gerald “laughing,” according to the affidavit.

When police and emergency medical services arrived on the scene, they found McCants’ father with deep cuts on his forehead and on the back of head and with many minor abrasions all over his body. He was taken to Dell Seton Medical Center for treatment of his injuries.

Gerald McCants was arrested and charged with injury to an elderly person, which is a third-degree felony, according to KXAN-TV. He is being held at Travis County Jail.

No motive has been declared thus far in the case.

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Austin cancels SXSW conference citing coronavirus fears

The City of Austin, Texas, has declared a local state of disaster and imposed guidelines that led to the cancelation of the South by Southwest conference and festival held annually in the city, citing concern over the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

What are the details?

“We have declared a local disaster and associated with that have issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest for this year,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced Friday.

The city explained in a press release that the decision was made “in response to increasing concerns of COVID-19 across the nation,” citing a number of factors including crowd density and “a significant number of travelers from areas currently experiencing person-to-person spread of COVID-19 domestically and internationally.”

South by Southwest was set to run from March 13-22. It draws in presenters, performers, and attendees from all over the globe.

SXSW organizers issued a subsequent statement saying they would “faithfully follow the City’s directions.”

“We are devastated to share this news with you,” the organizers wrote. “‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place. We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”

CNN reported that “several of the conference’s biggest names had already pulled out in the days leading up to the cancellation,” including Twitter, Facebook and Intel.

Anything else?

SXSW brings thousands of people to Austin each year and serves as a huge boost to local businesses. NBC News technology correspondent Jacob Ward reported that this year’s cancelation “represents about $350 million in lost revenue for the city of Austin.” He added, “this is an enormous act of civic responsibility.”

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Cops say Texas drunk driver hit a pedestrian, drove a half-mile with the ‘mangled corpse’ in his passenger seat, and then walked into a bar

A drunk driver was arrested in south Austin, Texas, over the weekend on allegations that he hit a pedestrian and drove at least a half-mile with the “mangled corpse” in his passenger seat before stopping at a beer garden.

Witnesses told officers they saw a 2014 white Ford Focus strike a pedestrian walking with a shopping cart near Slaughter Lane at around 10:30 p.m. Saturday before driving southbound on Menchaca Road, according to an arrest report obtained by the Statesman. The vehicle was allegedly being driven recklessly and at a high speed without any headlights on.

Upon impact, the body of the pedestrian, who police on Wednesday identified as 55-year-old Lee Martin Cagle, reportedly went up into the air and through the windshield. Officers responding to the incident found the Cagle’s body in the passenger seat of the vehicle about half a mile down the road — the head and some other body parts had been detached.

According to the arrest report, the driver, Paul Joseph Garcia, 24, then calmly exited the parked vehicle and walked up to a beer garden barefoot and “in a manner that caught the attention of the other patrons.”

Officers found Garcia with blood and other debris on him that matched “the blood and body tissue found coated in the interior of the vehicle,” and after performing sobriety tests, arrested him for driving while intoxicated. He had not been served any alcohol at the beer garden.

In the arrest report, investigators noted that debris and body parts were found lining the road for the half-mile from the beer garden back to where the accident had occurred. Near the site of the accident, the pedestrian’s shopping cart was found pushed “into a cluster of mailboxes with enough force to bend a two-inch diameter, galvanized steel post that supported mailboxes.”

Garcia was officially charged for intoxication manslaughter and accident involving injury and is being held at the Travis County Correctional Complex on $110,000 bond.

Here’s more about the incident from KXAN-TV: