Although an anti-racism protest slated for this Saturday at the Lakeway Police Department station is now postponed, some residents on social media are questioning the validity of the organization planning the event.
Pegged as a march and rally, the program was organized by From Cities To Suburbs, a group claiming to be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. A Wednesday post on the group’s Facebook page announced the program’s postponement without specifying a reason.
A representative of Black Lives Matter Austin told the View that the group was not familiar with From Cities To Suburbs.
The Cities to Suburbs Facebook page appears to have been created on Aug. 7. When the View reached out to the group online, an unnamed representative declined to name the founder, leader or any member, but stated that the national organization includes 1,312 members.
As news of the rally spread, Justin Berry, a Republican candidate for House District 47, which covers western Travis County, said he asked motorcycle social club Wind Therapy Freedom Riders if their local members would “swing by (the protest) if they could.”
Luis Rodriguez, who is the national president of the Freedom Riders, said he recently formed an offshoot program, Silent No More-We Back Our Protectors, which that invites community residents to join in the group’s activities supporting local law enforcement. The group organizes pro-police rallies such as the Sunday event at the Austin Police Department.
Rodriguez said he agreed to Berry’s request, having already planned to organize other rallies in the greater Austin area on Saturday as well as host a benevolent program on Lake Travis for a small group of police officers. Rodriguez’s group rally was planned for the same time and place as the Cities’ protest but aimed at supporting the Lakeway Police Department.
That rally will still go on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Lakeway Police Department, Rodriguez said. Members will be distributing St. Michael’s pins to officers at the event, which may include about 100 bikers and additional community residents, he said. St. Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of police officers.
In describing his organization, Rodriguez said its members “are huge defenders of the Constitution.”
“We absolutely believe in people’s right to the First Amendment, to freedom of speech,” Rodriguez said. “We believe in people’s right to the Second Amendment and, of course, to peacefully assemble.”
He said “peacefulness is key” to his events.
However, some residents stated the Cities group’s event was “a hoax,” designed to stir division in the suburban Lake Travis community.
“I am very concerned about the motivations of these people who were setting up this fake rally,” said Mindy Gulati, president of Lake Travis Progressives, a community-based organization that promotes inclusion, unity and respect for the area’s residents. “People are trying to raise fear levels, and I think we are about to get into some very dangerous situations if people are not made aware of the lies and misguided actions of people in our community.”
Julie Pena, who lives in South Austin, said she spread news of the Cities protest on multiple Lake Travis social media sites in an effort to make residents aware. A member of both Take Back Austin, which opposes defunding police departments, and Wind Therapy Freedom Riders, she said she’s “on the other side” and against Black Lives Matter efforts.
Pena said she found the Cities group’s rally post online and reposted locally to “let people know that this is planned for their neighborhood” since she often visits friends in Lakeway.
“It’s a safety issue because things have been getting out of hand very quickly,” she said. “The other reason is because our police officers are getting slammed … and nobody supports them.”
Pena said a community should take advantage of an opportunity to tell police officers they are appreciated and, “for the most part, are good and great.”
Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford said his department became aware of the Cities group’s protest last week and “started looking into it.” Although there were no specific safety concerns identified, the agency will continue to monitor the situation, he said.
“For all communities outside of metropolitan areas, nobody is safe from people coming out to protest,” Pena said. “Whether you think you live in a community that’s racist or not racist, I think everybody needs to be aware that people can protest anywhere. As long as it’s peaceful, I don’t have a problem with it. In so many different situations and in so many different cities across the United States, the protests have become violent very quickly, especially after the sun goes down.”
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