Photo: Former Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Justin Newsom announces in retirement in the wake of allegations of racism
By Sandra Harris
At a November 16 Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Commission meeting, commissioners and attendees asked Austin Police Department (APD) Chief Brian Manley about the recent allegations of racism against now-retired APD Assistant Chief Justin Newsom.
An official complaint against Newsom was filed on October 30 for his frequent and continued use of racist language. The complaint stated that he “repeatedly used the n-word to describe African Americans for at least the last decade,” including colleagues, subordinates, a former Austin city council member, and former President Barack Obama. The complaint also alleges that he was involved in a family violence altercation with another current city employee. He retired the same day, collecting a bonus of $137,000 in unused sick time.
At the meeting, questions were directed to Manley on disciplinary procedure and antiracism trainings that top APD staff have attended. Commissioners confirmed that Newsom attended trainings held by the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Undoing Racism Austin (URA), and wanted details about his participation in the so-called “antiracist” workshops.
“If there was one training, two trainings, five trainings that we could put everybody through that we could feel confident that we have addressed the issue, I would like to know what they are,” said Manley.
Manley is correct in acknowledging that these trainings cannot root out racism within the department. What he deliberately omits is that no amount of sensitivity training or diversity requirements can change the fundamental function of police in capitalist society, which is the maintenance of bourgeois rule and the enforcement of national oppression. The ineffectiveness of these trainings does not stop NGO’s like URA from profiting as they sell their “antiracist” snake oil to city governments, thereby giving every reactionary state and non-state institution they interact with a stamp of approval.
On November 8, Austin City Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison and opportunist NGO’s like Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) held a press conference on “allegations of racism in Austin Police Department (APD),” posturing as seeking systemic change but offering nothing but empty reforms.
Presenters at the press conference made suggestions including a department-wide audit of social media communications from police officers, a demand to update disciplinary policies related to racist communication, a prohibition on retirement with full benefits when an investigation is underway, and halting cadet classes until there is a new curriculum that seriously addresses racism.
The speakers contradicted themselves however, with some openly acknowledging that reforming the police does not work. Chas Moore, a leader of AJC, said “Reform is kind of like a janky car but you paint it. We need actual systemic change in the City. We need some people change.”
Moore is known for previously taking donations from former APD Chief Art Acevedo, and has received a $150,000 grant for his efforts to mislead the masses with promises of police “accountability,” and away from revolutionary struggle against the repressive forces that wage war against Black people and the working class.
Harper-Madison made even more misleading statements, claiming, “What we’re talking about is not reform like Chas said. What we’re talking about is blowing it up and starting it over. There is nothing to salvage. These systems are so broken they have to be eradicated, erased, and we have to start over.”
These statements are true— police departments cannot be salvaged. However, politicians like Harper-Madison and opportunists like Moore not only depend on these systems, but are an integral part of them. They function to provide an illusion of “accountability” and “improvement,” attempting to smooth over the people’s righteous anger everytime it poses a threat to the current order.
The controversy surrounding Newsom’s racist comments is only the latest installment in APD’s recent history of harboring anti-people cretins. In fact, the allegations against Newsom only came to light after Jason Dusterhoft‘s defense lawyers, who are currently appealing his termination from APD for domestic violence, threatened to confront Newsom with his racist text messages. Chief Manley had been aware of the allegations since at least September, and Newsom’s peers in APD had also been aware but failed to ever report or investigate them. Additionally, former APD lieutenant Dustin Lee is still facing felony charges for repeated sexual abuse against his own daughter.
The working class and oppressed peoples of Austin and the US know that the racist, brutal police force will not be brought down through press conferences or policy changes. The police are servants of US imperialism, and the only way to liberate the working class and oppressed nations is through the complete overthrow of the reactionary old state.