By Dmitri Sans
Saturday afternoon at a protest of child-detaining nonprofit Southwest Key, Vice President of Educational Services Salvador Cavazos grabbed one of the younger demonstrators, ripped the phone out of the person’s hands, and threw it into the parking lot.
The altercation ensued following an attempt by protesters, led by community organization Frente de Liberación Inmigrante, to enter the public fundraiser Annual Arts Kaleidoscope hosted by Southwest Key at their charter school, East Austin College Prep.
Earlier at the event, protesters had posted up at the entrance of the school, holding signs denouncing Southwest Key’s participation in the Trump administration’s oppressive immigration policy which separated thousands of immigrant families in the first half of 2018.
Families and community members going to and from the event received pamphlets with information such as how Southwest Key was budgeted $458 million by the federal government to jail immigrant children who crossed the US-Mexico border and how CEO Juan Sánchez makes $1.5 million annually, a salary unusually high for a nonprofit, for overseeing this network of child prisons.
Other protesters held a banner with a painting of Sánchez and President Trump exchanging a bloody bag of money with the caption, “Dos Presidentes, Mano en mano.”
Cavazos wandered up to the protesters as they were canvassing, feigning interest and asking for a pamphlet. Protesters refused to give him one, with one woman accusing Cavazos of trying to gather intel for Sánchez.
When Cavazos said that he respected the opinions of the protesters, one man called him out for being two-faced. “You say you understand where we’re coming from, but in the next breath you’re ready to call the cops on us,” the protester said.
That observation turned out to be prophetic. As a small group of protesters began to march towards the school, Cavazos could be seen on his phone calling the police. Southwest Key staff locked the doors to the building, afraid of the criticisms being lodged against them reaching their patrons.
However, one door failed to lock, and a couple protesters were able to get through into the building, while chanting, “The People Know! The People See! All the crimes of Southwest Key!”
The few protesters who entered were outnumbered by Southwest Key staff and after prolonged pushing and shoving were forced to exit. Cavazos, the veil of pleasantness now removed, told protesters that he was going to “lock them up.”
Upon hearing this, one younger protester took out their phone and started recording, asking Cavazos to repeat the threat. This confrontation provoked Cavazos to rough up the protester in order to steal the camera that sought to expose his violent inclinations.
The protesters continued to push back after Cavazos attacked, causing him to lose his own phone in the scuffle. Shortly after, the protesters marched out, chanting as they left.
Saturday’s action was undertaken as part of a larger boycott of Southwest Key declared by Frente in August. Several community groups have signed on to the boycott since then, and the City of Austin has cut ties with the nonprofit, ending a decade of funding totaling $600,000.
Frente stated in an online post following the event that the boycott does not demand that Southwest Key reform its practices, but that it leave Austin altogether.
“This will not be the last time we confront these monsters who CONTINUE to profit off of the backs of families looking for a better life for their children,” the statement reads. “Let’s make Juan Sanchez regret ever setting up his headquarters in our city!”