Just as the COVID-19 pandemic circulated throughout the world so has the racism pandemic. African Americans and Latinx are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and we can say the same about racism. While COVID-19 has killed more than 100,000 people, racism has killed millions.
The murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis led to major protests in the United States and in numerous countries. Here in Austin, the murder of Floyd last week in Minneapolis and Austinite Latino Mike Ramos here in April, have become the outcry. These two murders lifted the voices from earth to the heavens. The root cause – racism. COVID-19 and racism have disproportionately taken lives, damaged health, and produced an historic economic decline for people of color.
Here locally, recommendations regarding the Austin Police Department’s treatment of people of color and past suggestions are resurfacing. The history is long and brutal. While the history of African Americans throughout the Jim Crow era is well known, the brutal history of lynching of Mexican-Americans in Texas – including at the hands of the famed Texas Rangers — is only newly coming to light. Another all-but-forgotten incident in Dallas deserves new attention. In July, 1973 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez was arrested for vandalizing a vending machine. While handcuffed, a Dallas policeman played Russian roulette with his gun at Santos’ head. The boy was killed instantly in the back seat of a squad car.
In Austin in the same era, Chicanos demanded a Community Review Board with subpoena powers and the firing of the police chief after numerous Mexican Americans were killed and/or beaten by police. One who died at the hands of Austin police in the 1970s was Eustacio Mata. Mata died in custody. Another Latino was shot in the back and killed trying to scale a chain link fence. No one was ever charged in these and other offenses. And the review board would only come decades later.
Now, there is a call to defund the police, demand transparency of police discipline actions, and fire police immediately after murdering or otherwise injuring individuals.
Against this history and backdrop, there are many community conversations to be held. But if we fail to work on addressing systemic racism, we will again see major protest in the streets of Austin and in the streets of the United States and the world.
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