Militant Journalism

During pandemic, Austin, TX police kill Mike Ramos days after damning city report

On April 24, Austin, Texas police killed 42-year-old Mike Ramos in a parking lot near an apartment complex.

Police were responding to an anonymous call. The caller said they saw people doing drugs, including a man in a white shirt waving a gun. 

Ramos, who was wearing a black tank top, put his hands in the air and showed officers that he had no weapon. An officer fired a “non-lethal” beanbag in Ramos’ direction. After Ramos was shot with the “non-lethal” round, he got back in his car and attempted to drive away, at which point police opened fire and killed him.

The police execution of Ramos happened in the midst of a devastating pandemic when police are supposedly limiting public interaction except in the most serious circumstances. It also happened just 7 days after a damning city report revealing systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, and a culture of retaliation at all levels of the Austin Police Department.

A public execution as bystanders begged APD not to shoot

As with so many police shootings, the Austin Police Department’s first instinct was to spin the story and criminalize the victim. What actually happened is far from their lies.

Cell phone video of the incident shows Ramos with his hands in the air at the time he was first shot. Onlookers begged the six cops on scene not to shoot Ramos, but one officer opened fire, striking Ramos with a “non-lethal” round.

In the heat of the moment, when police are training weapons in your direction and adrenaline is pumping, a “non-lethal” shot absolutely feels like a shot. Ramos assured APD that he was not a threat, and APD responded with a violent assault. Who, believing that the police were already shooting to kill, would not seek cover in their own vehicle? When Ramos attempted to drive away from the confrontation, a second officer opened fire and killed him.

APD’s spin on the killing emphasizes Ramos’ supposed failure to comply with police orders. They also insinuated that Ramos’ vehicle (not necessarily Ramos himself) was connected with other crimes, although they have yet to provide evidence for these claims. KVUE reported that APD “believed the vehicle could have been involved in burglary and evading police in Austin on Thursday.”

This information is a non-sequitur that does not explain APD’s behavior. Police were allegedly looking for someone “doing drugs” and waving a gun with a white shirt. They instead found a man in a black shirt, clearly without a gun, whom they promptly executed. Even if we took APD’s still uncorroborated claims at face value, they cannot appoint themselves judge, jury, and executioner to dispense death at will.

APD is working with Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, herself facing intense public criticism for victim-blaming and mishandling sexual assault cases, to “investigate” the shooting.

Even in the midst of a global health crisis, when APD claims to be suspending most of their policing activity, racist police violence continues. Whatever they might claim, police departments in a capitalist state are not designed for public safety. White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, and violence are at the very core of their mission.

APD’s pattern of violence and bigotry

Even compared to other U.S. police departments, APD stands out in its use of violence, especially against Black, Brown, poor, and mentally ill people. A 2019 study by the University of Texas shows that among the 15 largest U.S. cities, APD has the highest rate of police shootings during mental health calls. APD killed 24 people in shootings between 2010 and 2016, at least a third of which had confirmed mental health conditions. Austin also has the highest per-capita rate of police killings in Texas. In the country, Austin ranks 13th in total number of police killings.

APD’s violence and cavalier attitude have prompted many studies over the past several decades. The latest study into APD’s culture of violence was released on April 17, just one week before police executed Mike Ramos. This study was prompted by a flurry of allegations of improper conduct. Among other allegations, whistleblowers alleged that Assistant Chief Justin Newsom routinely used the n-word on duty, Chief of Staff Troy Gay sought homophobic “conversion therapy” for a family member with Police Chief Brian Manley’s approval, and Manley collaborated with top brass to conceal evidence of these problems. The report corroborated the complaints about the culture at APD:

“Reports came to us, from different ranks, races and genders, advising of the fact that the racist and sexist name calling and use of derogatory terms associated with race and sex persists. Anecdotal history indicated that even members of the executive staff over the years had been known to use racist and sexist language, particularly when around the lower ranks or other subordinates.”

The report also mentions “accounts of retaliation span[ning] almost thirty years” as well as a pattern of missing documents related to officer discipline. APD has a “180-day rule” for police officer misconduct. If a cop acts improperly, they can only be punished if the investigation is concluded in 180 days or less. Put another way, a cop can brutalize someone in January, and if the department does not conclude its investigation by July, the cop will walk away completely free. The report found evidence that APD has avoided punishing officers of wrongdoing simply by letting the 180-day period pass. In addition to obstructing justice, APD has also publicly feuded with city leadership and the Office of Police Oversight.

Before the 2019 allegations, APD was facing a different nationwide scandal for mishandling as many as 1,400 rape cases, having “exceptionally cleared” these cases without charging anyone. The department lurches from scandal to scandal with no accountability.

Justice for Mike Ramos!

Even during COVID-19, community members are finding ways to speak up, support each other, and fight back against police oppression. A growing list of organizations is calling for the resignation of various police and city officials. Spontaneous protests erupted the day of the shooting. Depending on the response of the family and community, the coming days may also see socially distanced “car protests” that allow the community to engage in meaningful resistance while also protecting public health.

The systemic sexism, racism, homophobia, and culture of violence at APD are part and parcel of the capitalist American “justice” system. These problems cannot be solved just by replacing the police chief or his administrators. No amount of “reform” or “retraining” can solve the systemic white supremacy of American police.

But if the people of Austin are able to oust APD’s top brass through protest and determined resistance, it will serve as an example of what we can accomplish when we fight for it. Demand justice for Mike Ramos and an end to all racist police killings!

To help the Ramos family

A Gofundme has been set up to help the family of Mike Ramos. This is being organized by his mother, Brenda Ramos. You can donate directly to this fundraiser here.

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