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Baptist Ministers’ Union leads non-violent march in Austin

The Baptist Ministers’ Union leaders presented a list of concerns, demands and recommendations at a rally on the steps in front of Austin City Hall Saturday, February 21, 2004 at Noon. Rev. Sterling Lands, II, Pastor of the Greater Calvary Baptist Church and Chair of the Community Action Task Force, a subcommittee of the Baptist Ministers’ Union stated, “We called for immediate action to address the unfair treatment of Black Citizens of Austin on 27 January 2004. At that time we called for action by the City government in three areas; the resignation of the Austin City Manager, Toby Futrell; the resignation of Austin Police Chief, Stan Knee and a complete revision to the City Charter that will guarantee equal and equitable protection to Black Citizens of Austin under just law”. He stated, “we pointed out that the history of the Austin City Government is a history of repeated racial discrimination, unfair housing practices, and police use of unnecessary force against Black citizens”. When questioned about the city’s response Rev. Lands said, “As far as I know we have not received any response from the city, not even a courtesy call regarding our call for action. You would think that something of this magnitude would call for a written response from city officials, but nothing has been received that I am aware of.”

The Baptist Ministers’ Union presented a list of concerns, demands, and recommendations in a public nonviolent demonstration in front of City Hall to the Austin Community through a rally and press conference. None of the City Council Members were presented including Mayor Will Wynn and lone Black Council Member Danny Thomas.
A group of 600 to 800 people representing some 40 Churches met across from the Austin Police Department and marched from I-35 west on 8th Street to City Hall at 8th and Colorado Street. The march was started with a prayer lead by Rev. Anthony Wright, Teen Pastor at the Greater Calvary Baptist Church. They sang spiritual songs as they walked briskly up the hill. The crowd was about 98% Black and 2% other with ages ranging from infants in strollers to senior citizens. Some of the Black pastors with Church memberships exceeding 1000 members were conspicuous by their absence.

The rally in front of City Hall started with a prayer lead by Rev. A. R. Evans, Pastor of New Lincoln Baptist Church. The prayer was followed by singing and then a message was preached by Rev. R. E. Carter, Pastor of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Pastor Carter emphasized in his message taken from Amos 5:24 that “we must register impropriety, reject imposters, and remove impediments if justice is to run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. The message was followed by more singing and a prayer lead by rev. A. Hargrove, Pastor of Mt. Gilead Baptist Church.

The Rev. Joseph Parker, Pastor, David Chapel Baptist presented the Mission Statement of the Community Action Task Force. He stated that, “the Community Action Task Force was an ad hoc committee appointed by Pastor Ivie Rich, President of the Baptist Ministers’ Union of Austin and Vicinity and that it exist under the authority of the Baptist Ministers’ Union of Austin and Vicinity”.

Rev. Parker stated the vision and mission of the task force, “to work to bring about a character centered community of high integrity where people are accepted and protected based on the content of their character and not skin color using New Testament principles and practices”.
Rev. Parker brought a roar from the crowd when he stated that, “this is a nonviolent demonstration to bring our concerns before the Mayor and City Council and the Citizens of Austin, Texas”. He said, “we chose nonviolence because:
•It follows the example of CHRIST.
•It seeks to persuade the opponents that they are mistaken.
•It seeks to gain the opponent’s understanding and conversion.
•It uses direct action methods (demonstrations, etc.) as a means to awaken a sense of moral and ethical conviction in the opponent.
•It seeks redemption and reconciliation instead of bitterness and chaos.
•It is not for cowards or self-seekers, it requires the willingness to suffer without retaliating.
•GOD is on the side of truth and justice.
•It is based on the Love of GOD operating in the human heart.
•It is rooted in an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, creative, and not set in motion by any quality or function of its object.
• It is sustained by love that is disinterested; loving not for one’s own good, but for the good of another. It does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy people or friends and enemies”.
He closed his presentation with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
The Pastors presented a list of concerns that they said represented the results of surveys that were used to get direct input from the people they serve.
Rev. Ralph Daniels, Pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church and member of the Task Force, presented the list of concerns regarding law enforcement:
•Our police don’t care enough about the people in our community.
•Racial profiling.
•We no longer feel safe to call or seek out the police. We fear them now.
•I think we are not being treated fair as Black people by APD.
•It is a scary situation for Black men in East Austin.
•Inexperienced officers in East Austin.
•There is a lack of caring police presence in the community.
•Shooting of Blacks in East Austin.
•Promotions of Black police officers.
•Police Brutality.
•As a citizen, I feel that we as a Black race are being hunted down. It seems that APD are aiming at East Austin. Then we are put in jail for life, possibly for a crime that we may not have committed.
• I am afraid for my son’s life on the streets of Austin because of APD.
• All of the APD officers are not prejudice, but a hand full are and they make it bad for the rest of APD.
• Same sex marriages, gay officers pushing the limits.
• As a citizen of Austin, Texas I am concerned as to how the African-American race is being treated. Where is the justice? That is just what it has come to (“JUST US” - )
Rev. Ricky Williams, Pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church, presented the list of concerns regarding crime in the neighborhood:
• I would like it if the shooting would stop and the drugs everywhere.
• There is illegal Drug activity in the community.
• There is Prostitution in the community.
• Burglaries in the community.
• Car theft in the community.
• Abandoned cars on vacant lots and in front of houses.
• Trash and debris dumped on vacant lots.
•Boarded up houses and abandoned houses serve as a haven for drug users and dealers.
•My prayer is that Northeast Austin residents be treated as Northwest residents. We need: City busing, Traffic lights, Better water systems. The city dumping ground must be moved from our neighborhood.
•I would really like to see more services made available for the homeless to help them have a place to live and teach them how to live in society.
•U-T parking should be held in a parking facility during seasonal games instead of the local neighbor hoods.
Rev. Walter Jasper, Pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church and member of the Task Force, presented the concerns regarding economic disparity:
•Black contractors and professionals do not get a fair share of city contracts.
•We need better access to Health Care. Blacks are treated as second class citizens after waiting in long lines for treatment or care.
•Racial discrimination in the hiring and promotion of Black people in the Austin Fire Department.
•Black citizens are suffering double digit unemployment in Austin.
•With all of the ongoing construction in Austin, why are there so few Blacks being hired?
•Black people have been shut out of the Mueller Airport development opportunities.
•Gentrification in East Austin. Blacks are being displaced in the East Austin community.
•Black people have no voice in the governance of the city. White people choose Blacks who need their validation and assign them the role of leaders in the Black community.
•Black and minority students are trailing behind White students in academic performance in Austin.
The Pastors then presented a list of demands and recommendations.
Rev. Sterling Lands, II, Pastor of the Greater Calvary Baptist Church and Chair of the Task Force presented the demands list:
•We demand an immediate end to APD’s use of unnecessary force and racial profiling.
•We demand equal protection under the constitution.
•We demand that the Justice Department conduct a complete thorough investigation into the disproportion of Black deaths at the hand of APD not just a review.
•We demand the establishment of a Police Oversight Commission that reports directly to the Mayor and City Council. The commission should have investigatory authority, subpoena authority and discipline authority.
•We demand drug free and crime free neighborhoods.
•We demand the elimination of racial discrimination at every level. Make it illegal to discriminate against Black people in hiring, housing, health care, etc….
•We demand economic justice. Fair share of all contracts let by the city
•We demand employment parity. Employment for the employable and training and retraining for the unemployable
•We demand full participation at every decision making level within the City of Austin.
•We demand that the Mayor, City Council and City Manager aggressively pursue education excellence for all of the citizens of Austin. Raise the academic standard and eliminate the academic performance gap that exists between Black and White students. Restrict city funding to AISD if this requirement is not met.

Rev. Ivie Rich, Pastor of the St. Luke Baptist Church and President of the Baptist Ministers’ Union presented a list of recommendations that reflected conversations that members of the Task force had with APD officers:
•Establish a state-of-the-art training program for police officers that is ongoing and recurring and make it mandatory that all officers at every level complete a minimum of 96 approved hours per year.
•Eliminate the barriers to hiring and firing police at every level who violate the law or who disregard and violate department procedures.
•Do away with fixed shifts for police officers. Go to two or three month rotation.
•Police officer promotion should require a minimum of four years active duty with good to excellent performance evaluations each year. Now a patrolman can promote to a detective in two years. Change this to four or five years.
•Get back to basic police work; enforce traffic laws, investigating crimes, patrolling the streets, etc.
•Eliminate excessive special units. Reinstated vice (prostitution, drugs, gambling, etc.)
•Increase the capacity of the patrol officer to do detective work.
•Patrol Sgt. should spend their time on the streets. Leave data entry by civilians. Minimize acting in a reactionary mode.

Rev. Ivie Rich stated that, “we are not done yet, this is a beginning”. Rev. Lands stated that “city officials contacting Black people in our community that have historically been used to defeat the cause of justice in our community will not undermine our call for action and redress. We believe that it is in the best interest of the city of Austin to address these issues with a sense of urgency.

At the conclusion of the rally the crowd marched back down 8th Street to the assembly area across from the Austin Police Department. The crowd was dismissed by prayer lead by Rev. Lee Yarbrough, Pastor of Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church and closing words from the organizers.