Some Austin council members believe police response at pro-Palestine protests could have violated First Amendment rights

Meanwhile, UT system leaders have said they’ll continue to call for help.

AUSTIN, Texas — Some city leaders in Austin are raising questions about the Austin Police Department‘s involvement in the response to pro-Palestine protests on the University of Texas campus last month.

They are now worried APD officers were used to violate protesters’ First Amendment rights. Campus protests led to dozens of arrests.

In April, some pro-Palestine protesters were taken into custody after what they said were peaceful demonstrations. That sparked concern for Austin City Council members like Chito Vela.

“I thought it was mostly unnecessary. I thought a lot of the law enforcement response was disproportionate to the protests that were happening,” said Vela.

Vela said he feels law enforcement agencies responded too harshly.

“Maybe they weren’t going to camp. But at 3 in the afternoon, when they’ve only been there for a couple of hours, I don’t think that it’s fair to say that,” said Vela.

UT police called in other agencies to help, including Texas DPS and Austin police.

While city council members are raising questions about enforcement during the protests at UT Austin last month, UT system leaders have said they’ll continue to call for help from other police agencies if they feel it necessary during future demonstrations.

“We also want to thank the Texas Department of Public Safety, whose officers provided invaluable support to ours when we needed them the most. We will not hesitate to call upon them again if necessary,” said Kevin Eltife, the UT system chairman.

In a UT Board of Regents meeting on May 8, officials defended the decision to call in help. At the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, some state leaders agreed.

On Tuesday, APD leaders said they were simply responding to UTPD’s request for help.

“We wanted to provide a quick way to de-escalate the situation,” said APD Assistant Chief Lee Rogers.

But Vela feels the overall response went against protesters’ First Amendment rights.

“We just want to make sure that we’re respectful of people’s civil liberties,” said Vela.

He says now, the city’s in talks with APD about how that agency handles protests in the future.

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