Police Hostility and Political Pushback: The Dual Fronts of Austin's Justice Struggles

Protest / Jose Garza
Unwrapping current events in Texas

By: D’Angelo Colter and Hiba Faruqi

Aggressive Standoff at UT

On Wednesday April 24, a group of students at the University of Texas at Austin organized a Pro-Palestine protest in response to what is happening in Gaza, but it quickly turned violent when a joint group of UT police officers, Austin Police officers, & Texas state troopers used horses and riot gear to shut down the peaceful protest. 

More than 500 students walked out of class to demand that UT divest from manufacturers supplying Israel weapons in its strikes on Gaza, the reaction from law enforcement resulted in 25 UT students being arrested. The student protesters regrouped on the South Mall, where they temporarily set up a handful of tents. Law enforcement then drove marchers off the lawn​, forming a perimeter behind a chain-link barrier and pushing them onto the sidewalks. A procession of mounted state troopers and officers on foot then herded students farther using body shields and their horses, which at times came within grazing distance of protesters.

President Jay Hartzell sent out an email to the UT community regarding the incident that occurred that day stating it was a "challenging day for many,” but the tone of his statement seems to defend the actions of DP officers. More than 500 faculty members signed off on a letter of no confidence to President Hartzell in response to the situation that occurred on April 24. 

Travis County DA Faces Threat of Removal 

A resident of Travis County is aiming to oust District Attorney José Garza from his position using a Texas law from 2023 intended to restrict the discretion of locally elected prosecutors. 

House Bill 17, effective since September 1, allows courts to remove district attorneys for "official misconduct." This could entail the refusal to prosecute certain criminal offenses under state law, such as minor marijuana possession.

Upon signing the bill, Governor Greg Abbott stated that the law's objective was to "hold rogue district attorneys accountable." The legislation, a priority for the GOP,  gained momentum after progressive district attorneys, including Garza, announced they would not prosecute individuals seeking abortions prohibited under Texas law.

State Senator Sarah Eckhart told Progress Texas that attorney discretion is nothing new from cases pertaining to marijuana usage and much more, stating, “They’re going after a district attorney for being sparing in his use of his authority, while at the same time they have an attorney general who claims authority he doesn’t actually have.”