On August 8, 2018, the Austin NAACP held a press conference at the City of Austin and announced that its legal redress committee had launched an investigation into allegations of unfair treatment, employee harassment and discrimination against African American employees. We also made a determination to investigate policies that had a disparate impact on African Americans in zip codes 78702, 78721, 78723, 78722 and 78724.
The investigation was also triggered by the city’s abandonment of its commitment to eliminating disparities documented in the African American Quality of Life Initiative in 2005. Ironically, the initiative was launched as the Austin City Council voted to adopt a PUD ordinance supported by former state representative Todd Baxter and the development lobby. It’s important to note that the PUD was opposed by city boards, city commissions and housing advocates. This PUD ended the requirements of Inclusionary zoning and accelerated the displacement of the African American population in East Austin. That displacement continues, as gentrification mitigation efforts are still in the planning stages while property taxes, the racial wage gap and medium income disparities, continue to increase inequity and economic segregation.
Despite the structural racism noted above, our investigation was driven by individual complaints of discrimination in the workplace and rampant fears of retaliation from supervisors and managers. In fact, in many cases, written complaints were difficult to obtain because of the lack of faith and trust in city government. In the beginning of this investigation, the Austin Equity Office was under investigation. At this time, the office appears to have stabilized; however, challenges persist because the Austin City Council appears to be disconnected from the mission and purpose of the office. While the entire city has embraced the classroom concept of undoing racism, it has avoided the more challenging task of investigating discrimination and racism within its departments. As a result, the complaints filed with the Austin NAACP depict a lack of confidence in city government and low employee morale.
The concerns and issues we documented at Code Enforcement continued to exist after the forced departure of previous director Carl Smart. The unsubstantiated attacks on some African Americans employees within the department continue to exist and require intervention from city management and government.
The Office of Police Oversight in many ways exemplifies the struggle numerous African Americans directors continue to have in the City of Austin. While the new and so-called improved version of oversight was greeted with much fanfare and enthusiasm, overlooked in the transition was the false narrative that the Police Monitor Office was completely ineffective and had zero success. In fact, the office under Iris Jones called for the first independent investigation of the Austin Police Department in its history. The investigation ended when the Austin Police Association filed an injunction, effectively ending the investigation due to the state 180 day rule. Farah Muscadin is a very capable and competent attorney. Unfortunately, she was not given the authority and autonomy
to build her own staff with city government and management support. As a result, she was placed in an environment that rejected her management style and personality. The Austin City Management and council should give Muscadin the resources and opportunity to fulfill her duties and responsibilities. The lack of city support is indicative and common for African American department heads in Austin.
Our most perplexing and compelling challenge is the city’s own Fair Housing Office. It's rather puzzling that overlooked in all the task force mania and undoing racism workshops is the fact that the city has not empowered its own version of the EEOC to conduct extensive investigations and educate the public about best practices available to address discrimination. Employment discrimination is the most common complaint received at the Austin NAACP, yet many of our clients are unaware that they can visit the office and receive information. The City of Austin should immediately examine ways to change the name of the office to increase visibility and accessibility. The city should take immediate steps and separate the office from Human Resources to negate possible conflicts of interest and ensure that it is independent. In addition, it should review pay standards and ensure employees are compensated on a level that is competitive with other departments. This office is underutilized and under appreciated.
In order to effectively address discrimination, the Austin City Council must take a more active and visible role in publicly denouncing racism and discrimination. The lack of a firm and convincing stand against discrimination will continue to send a subtle message to the nation that Austin, Texas is not welcoming to African Americans.
The NAACP has one of the largest organized groups of young people of any secular organization in the country. The Austin Branch has approximately 50 youth members (ages 5-25) working to improve communication between our community and Travis County Police Department, Austin Police Department, Austin ISD, and Austin Community College through Town Hall meetings. Also, the youth complete 4 to 6 service projects yearly. Want to join? Check out our meeting dates here.
The senseless death of Eric Garner also exposes the fallacy, futility, and incompetency of how too many incidents of police misconduct are mishandled in this nation. First, I send my condolences and prayers to the family. The horrific scene of a human being dying in the street based on a senseless ordinance does irreparable damages to our psyches and expectations for creating the framework and foundation for a just society. However, it does not abdicate any of us from our collective responsibilities to prevent these kind of incidents.
To be very clear, New York City failed Eric Garner, just like it failed Amadou Diallo 20 years ago. The list of African Americans killed in New York City and all across America is to long to list here and would not serve a constructive purpose in this article. The list provides tremendous insights into why these incidents are still occurring. These are local incidents that require local solutions. The idea that 18 USC 242 and its antiquated statutes, will address these kind of incidents, ignores the fact that intentionally and willful intent are classrooms discussions, that are seldom helpful or useful in real life incidents.
I have addressed police misconduct and brutality for over 20 years in the City of Austin. I have worked in environments where almost no communication existed between local governments and Civil Rights organizations, to the current environment where communication is almost daily and constant. I have worked with 5 police chiefs, 5 union presidents, countless elected officials and 3 district attorneys. There is a common standard that everyone in local government must support and demand. That “Minimum Force Necessary “ is not just a cliche. That response to resistance, is not just a policy, but a protective oath. Every community facing these challenges, can learned and adopt best practices, however every community must invest the time to understand it’s on social, political and cultural dynamics. I have had the opportunity to work with great law enforcement people in the City of Austin and as a result, the entire city is much better. Yes, we have had our own horrific incidents and the goal has to always aim for zero tolerance. Every governmental institution failed Eric Garner and we should all be ashamed of that sad reality. - NAACP President Nelson Linder
Read more about the incident here.
On this day in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, preventing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
The act essentially ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination. It also led to other landmark civil rights bills like the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlaws voter discrimination, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, outlawing housing discrimination.
On its 55th birthday, here's how we got this landmark law, which continues to be relevant today.
Plenty of variables go into determining individual rates for car insurance, but in Austin they’ve coalesced into a simple rule of thumb — if you live east of Interstate 35, you’re probably paying more than similar drivers in much of the rest of the city.
Read more here.
Today at 11:30 a.m. CST, the neighborhood group Friends of McKalla Place will hold a protest rally at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center to denounce the healthcare provider’s sponsorship of Precourt Sports Venture, Austin FC, and the proposed MLS soccer stadium.
Precourt Sports Ventures (PSV), Austin FC (MLS soccer team) will not pay property taxes that are sorely needed to fund health and social services for indigent care. “It's disappointing that St. David's has chosen to sponsor this speculative venture fueled by corporate welfare, greed, and political motivations. This is not the type of corporate citizens that Austin respects nor the values or the moral principles of our community. Precourt's property tax exemption is a gross social inequity that will impact our children, our poor, and working families for the next 50 years.” said a group ‘s representative.
The PSV’s stadium deal is the single largest corporate welfare packages in Austin’s history. Opposition to their property tax exemption is a widespread sentiment in Austin. Earlier this year, Friends of McKalla filed a ballot petition with 29,000 signatures of registered voters calling for a public vote to prohibit a for-profit business tax free use of public land. The petition was certified by the City Clerk and is expected to be on the November ballot.
As Austin faces an affordable housing crisis, high property taxes, and budget short falls, citizens are not accepting of the lucrative land deal offered to the California billionaire. “This deal is a poor policy decision and it places a huge burden on Austin taxpayers just so Precourt can turn a profit on his professional sports team,” said a representative of Friends of McKalla.
Prominent community leaders are also concerned with the social inequity of the incentive package, the lack of funding for area infrastructure, and flooding risks to neighbors and small businesses in the area. Nelson Linder, President of Austin NAACP, states “It’s important for St. David’s to send a consistent message by not supporting corporations that avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”
According to stats from Glimmer Austin, over 150,000 people in Austin and Travis County do not know where their next meal is coming from. They rely on food trucks, pantries, etc. to receive a free meal. It’s hard to imagine that a city brimming with food trucks and restaurants of every sort and variety has so many people suffering from hunger. These are largely the people who are living at or below the poverty line. In Austin, 250,000 people live at poverty level, meaning they earn $1,000 or less a month, or $2,000 for a family – which makes it very difficult when you are trying to eat, live, provide shelter, and care for loved ones.
The South Austin Community Church parking lot will serve as the location for the Community Summer Food Program. The first date is Monday, June 24th from 5:00 to 8:00pm. Email email@example.com for more information.
Last week, the Austin City Council sent City Manager Spencer Cronk a set of guidelines to use in his revision of our community’s land development code. When it comes to reshaping Austin neighborhoods, those guidelines go far beyond anything imagined during the CodeNEXT process. They could lead to the demolition and replacement of tens of thousands of our community’s homes and small businesses. They could raise our already-astronomical property taxes. And they could touch nearly every neighborhood in the city. Read more here.
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For frequent updates, visit the Facebook page of Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder!