The racism of Austin's finest

Lucian VillaseƱor reports on the effort to win justice for Larry Jackson and his family.

Larry Eugene Jackson JrLarry Eugene Jackson Jr

LARRY EUGENE Jackson Jr. was slain by the Austin Police Department (APD) on July 26 in yet another tragedy for a community that is no stranger to police violence.

While police were investigating a robbery that occurred earlier that day, Jackson tried to enter the bank during business hours, but was stopped by locked doors. After coming back a few minutes later, a bank manager noticed Jackson at the door and went outside to ask questions. A few moments later, the manager informed Detective Charles Kleinert, who was interviewing bank employees, that Jackson "misidentified" himself.

Kleinert himself went to the door and questioned Jackson for a few minutes, and Jackson ran from the detective. Kleinert commandeered a civilian car to hunt down Jackson to a bridge near Shoal Creek and 34th Street. After a scuffle, he shot Jackson in the back of the neck.

After the shooting, Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley told reporters they were "confident" Jackson was going to "commit a fraud" at the bank. He would not comment why he was so confident, nor what type of fraud Jackson was planning to commit. When asked if it was illegal to run from police, Manley said no, but added, "It's never a good idea to run from police."

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JACKSON'S DEATH at the hands of police is a bitter reminder of the racism that continues to thrive in Austin and around the country. If we look at previous cases in which Austin police killed unarmed people of color, Jackson's family and their supporters could face a long struggle--many other families are still fighting to attain justice for their slain loved ones.

Take the case of Byron Carter Jr. On May 30, 2011, Carter was killed as he was trying to flee two cops who approached him from behind, guns drawn, without identifying themselves. In a federal lawsuit that ended in June of this year, jurors ruled against the Carter family and absolved the APD of any responsibility. "It was very political, it was very racial, and it was not fair," Byron Carter's grandmother Gloria Clark told reporters. "There is no justice at all, and I have no faith in this system."

Two years before that, the APD murdered Nathaniel Sanders while he was sleeping in the back of a car, and severely wounded Sir Lawrence Smith, who tried to flee as he awoke to gunfire.

Local civil rights groups critical of the Austin police force, such as the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Austin chapter of the NAACP, claim these shootings demonstrate that the APD force is lacking in training and professionalism.

"These shootings seem to indicate that the police are not being properly trained and supervised and are overreacting in situations, to the peril of the citizens," said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "We cannot tolerate this constant use of deadly force. People should not have to fear for their lives when they are in a parking lot, stopped for a traffic offense, or go to the bank."

This is certainly the minimum that we should expect. In truth, the APD's track record, like the track record of police departments across the nation, shows thinly veiled contempt for Black life. Such callous disregard for the rights of racial minorities deserves to be called what it is--institutionalized racism.

At a rally in front of APD headquarters to demand justice for Jackson, Richard Franklin described the fear he faces daily for "living while Black." "I go to work, I pay my bills, I follow the law, I try to be a good person, yet I live with this post-traumatic stress disorder just for being me."

He added that the oppression suffered at the hands of police is just one aspect of a system controlled by the wealthy few at the top who leave us fighting for crumbs at the bottom. This system has pervaded our schools and health care, which some in town call the "womb-to-prison pipeline."

In 2007, as the APD's own internal investigations exonerated the department and tensions with the community mounted, local civil rights groups called for the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the APD. At the end of a four-year investigation, the DOJ declared that it had found "no reasonable cause to believe that APD has engaged in a pattern or practice that violated the Constitution or laws of the United States." Now that the APD has taken another innocent life, these same groups are calling upon the DOJ to start another probe.

The recent Trayvon Martin ruling showed us we can't rely on the courts, and considering that the DOJ whitewashed the crimes of the APD in the past, it wouldn't be wise to expect another probe to produce different results. But we do know what does work: Taking our demands to the streets and pressing those in power to deliver justice. Holding Detective Kleinert accountable for Jackson's murder is just one step in the movement for justice in Austin.