By Kimberly Seals
On June 16th of 2020, the city of Austin revealed a street mural in the heart of downtown Austin. This three block long art installation, created in collaboration with the Austin Justice Coalition, proudly proclaims “Black Austin Matters” and will be displayed for a minimum of 6 months. Unlike D.C.’s Black Lives Matter Plaza, (the inspiration behind this installation) this mural, much like support for Black lives in Austin, is fleeting.
We Need More Than Symbols
While there is always a place for art in activism, this gesture of solidarity from the city of Austin, complete with photo ops from the mayor, comes off as disingenuous when the city of Austin has yet to prioritize the disproportionately Black homeless population that is at a 20 year high. In fact, activist led organizations and nonprofits such as the Austin Justice Coalition and ECHO have done far more to actively combat Austin’s injustice and inequality than the City. This lack of action is particularly heinous during a pandemic that is killing Black Americans at disproportionate rates.
What We Need
To be clear, this is not a judgment against the Austin Justice Coalition. In fact, their vision of criminal justice reform is exactly what Austin needs. However, it is disheartening to see that the city of Austin is more willing to engage in activities that conserve their image of “progressiveness” than to enact policy changes to actually benefit the marginalized groups they claim to care about.
In a social media post following the mural reveal, the Austin Justice Coalition stated that “Until Black Austin Matters… the City, and the people in the city can’t graduate to Black Lives Matter”. But while we wait for Austin to “graduate” to caring about Black lives, people like James Ramos, yet another unarmed Black/Latinx man murdered by Austin police in April of this year, are still awaiting justice.