Police are still investigating what led to a shooting in downtown Austin on Saturday night that resulted in the death of a 28-year old Black Lives Matter supporter, but Austin Mayor Steve Adler said on Sunday evening that one thing is clear; there are too many guns around. In a Twitter post, Adler proclaimed that “in a split moment, three guns were drawn, eight shots were fired, and a protester was tragically killed. This is horrible as is all gun violence. There are too many guns. Our City is shaken and, like so many in our community, I’m heartbroken and stunned.”
According to Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, the incident unfolded just before 10 p.m. as protests in the downtown area were ramping up. The driver of a vehicle turned onto Congress Avenue, where a large number of protesters were blocking the street. The driver began honking his horn, and in turn protesters “descended on the vehicle.” One of them was 28-year old Garrett Foster, who was carrying an AK-47.
Foster also approached the car before being shot multiple times, Manley said. Another person at the protest fired at the vehicle as the driver fled the scene, the chief added. Manley said both firearms used in the shooting, along with the vehicle involved, have been secured as evidence. He noted both of the people who fired their weapons possess concealed handgun licenses.
Manley said the driver of the vehicle was among those calling police to report the shooting. He said the driver was asked to pull over and await arrival of officers before he was detained for questioning. Having cooperated with the police investigation, the driver and the other shooter have since been released after consultation with the district attorney, pending the outcome of the investigation, Manley said.
Protesters say that Foster was a regular presence at the demonstrations in downtown Austin along with his fiancee Whitney Mitchell, a quadruple amputee who uses a wheelchair. Only recently, however, did Foster begin carrying a gun, according to the Washington Post.
In an interview earlier on Saturday with Hiram Gilberto Garcia, an independent journalist who was streaming the protest on Periscope, Foster said he started to bring the weapon after his roommate was arrested for protesting.“They don’t let us march in the streets anymore, so I got to practice some of our rights,” he said. But Foster said he understood the limitations of having a weapon in these circumstances. “If I use it against the cops, I’m dead,” he added.
Foster was pushing Mitchell’s wheelchair on Saturday night when the driver turned into the crowd of protesters just before 10 p.m.
Investigators heard conflicting reports of what happened next, Manley told reporters on Sunday.
“His account is that Mr. Foster pointed the weapon directly at him and he fired his handgun at Mr. Foster,” Manley said of the driver.
But other witnesses told police that Foster didn’t threaten the driver with his weapon. Witnesses told the Austin American-Statesman Foster had his weapon pointed down.
“He was not aiming the gun or doing anything aggressive with the gun,” Michael Capochiano, a witness, told the New York Times. “I’m not sure if there was much of an exchange of words. It wasn’t like there was any sort of verbal altercations. He wasn’t charging at the car.”
During that interview with Hiram Gilberto Garcia, Foster also said that “all of the people that hate us and want to say sh*t to us are too big of p*ssies to actually stop and and do anything about it,” but didn’t articulate any threats towards counter-demonstrators or opponents of the protest.
It’s unclear at the moment whether or not Foster was pointing his gun at the car, as the driver claims, or if protesters are right that Foster had his gun in a low-ready position. That will likely be a key factor in determining whether or not the driver and the concealed carry holder who shot at the vehicle as it was driving away will face charges.
As for Mayor Adler’s assertion that there are “too many guns,” I think the real issue is that there is too much unrest on the streets of Austin, but since Adler can’t or won’t do anything to bring peace to the city, and he’s certainly not going to say anything about protesters shutting down traffic, he’s left with blaming the inanimate object rather than the rising tensions caused in part by his failed leadership. Protesters have already been calling for Adler’s resignation, but expect those demands to grow even louder in the wake of Saturday night’s shooting.