If you live in Austin and were on Facebook this weekend, you most likely saw this viral video from LiveLeak.com titled, "Six thugs beat up two hippies in downtown Austin, TX." The video, which begins well into a confrontation between two groups of men, is as upsetting as it is confusing, leaving viewers wondering what would prompt such an aggressive fight.
From the video, we know this: The scene opens with two groups of men arguing on the corner of Brushy and East Sixth Streets. The group of men to the left of the screen is African-American, a few of whom are wearing yellow wristbands, a la the kind you're given when you go into a bar or club. The second group of men to the right of the screen appears to be Caucasian (or really any race, it's hard to tell), and are clad in backward baseball caps and flannel shirts. One man in this group, with his wide stance and general inability to get his footing, appears to be intoxicated.
This video represents so many things we tend to wish away in our little progressive hub, our blueberry in the tomato soup: race, gentrification, the abilities of the Austin Police Department, and just how we became a city of bystanders.
Although it's hard to hear exactly what causes the initial fists to fly, we do know that it ends in a poorly matched fight, with two men on the ground being kicked at different points. It appears that all parties are able to walk away (and unconfirmed reports claim that the two men on the ground are generally okay, suffering from black eyes and bruises), but what is disturbing about this video is that as members of the greater Austin community, it shakes us to our very core.
This video represents so many of the things that we tend to overlook in our little progressive hub, our blueberry in the tomato soup: race, gentrification, the Austin Police Department, and just how we became a city of bystanders.
It's almost Shakespearean that this fight happened where it did, barely a block east of I-35. This traditional barrier of Austin's white versus black — of "us" and "them" — has, in recent years, become the heart of gentrification in Austin. This corner sets the stage for a disturbingly violent act, charged with anger and full of hateful language. And it isn't just the violence that is disturbing, but the way we seemed to perpetuate this violence by sharing it on social media with the same unwavering words: "thugs" versus "hippies."
Today, "thug" has been reappropriated from referring to strong arming members of the mob to meaning "young black men in groups of more than two." And "hippies" comes with a connotation all its own, invoking an image of a graying peace enthusiast, when in fact the men were twenty-somethings wearing Converse sneakers and rolled up jeans.
Race aside, the single most disturbing aspect of this video is that the events took place at arguably one of the busiest intersections in the entire city and no one did a thing to stop it. The fight happened just steps from a condo building and across from a gas station that is busy pretty much 24 hours a day. Most poignantly, as local comedian Chris Cubas points out to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo on Twitter, these nine men fought uninterrupted, while someone else videotaped it, just a few blocks away from the Austin Police Department headquarters.
Remarkably, it is Cubas' Twitter exchange with the police chief that has provided the most insight into Acevedo's — and by extension, the entire department's — mindset.
@ChrisCubas that's it, 2nd safest Major City as it relates to violent crime because we just write tickets. Brilliant! Will follow-up though!— Chief Art Acevedo (@ArtAcevedo) February 1, 2014
The exchange continues and is worth a read if only to see the snark coming from both sides. But essentially what Cubas is asking is a critical question: As Austin continues to grow, what is APD's plan? In addition to people moving here, almost every weekend our city is inundated with visitors, the result of a very successful campaign marketing Austin as the premier destination for, well, just about everything.
With a strip of bars that essentially runs from MoPac to the end of East Sixth Street, Austin rivals New Orleans and Las Vegas as the ultimate American city to party your ass off. But in the midst of that, what exactly is being done to ensure that Austin stays safe?
Before the internet trolls feel compelled to spew hatred in the comments section, this isn't about racial profiling. Instead, we need to begin a conversation that examines just when we turned into a city of bystanders who allow random acts of violence to occur, from police shootings of unarmed citizens to a large fist fight that occurred in the middle of a busy intersection without so much as a car slowing down to stop.
It is only when we begin examining that question that we can begin to turn into the city that we all want it to be.