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African-American Oral Histories

Tommy Wyatt
Clip 3: Transcript

Police Brutality

Running Time: 7 min 9 sec

TW: What my articles have been about of late have been about the last two years we’ve had three African American young people who were killed at the hands of law enforcement, two of them Austin Police Department, one Travis County Sherriff. And what we found in several locations, people targeted them because they’re African American. We had one young man, luckily he didn’t get shot or anything, but we had one young man who got chased (and stopped?) and arrested because he was driving a car that the police don’t think he should be driving. He was driving a F150 pickup truck, Ford, and the police officers stated, that: “What you doing driving that truck, that ain’t the kind of truck that Black guys, uh, Black boys drive,” you know. That’s, that’s what they call racial profiling. When you, when you assume that people are doing certain things because of their race, you know. And the guy said, “What do you mean, it’s my truck, I bought it,” you know, so he was, but there are certain stereotypes that the law enforcement have established, you know, as the probable cause to stop somebody and we call it racial profiling.

AS: What has been the, has been the response to your, to you column?

TW: Well, there’s been a demand for it. When something happens in our community, then our community does expect me to have a statement about it, whether they agree with my statement or whatever. They expect me to say something about it. So that’s, it’s been one that’s been a consistent column. It’s been one that, I think that, the feedback we get is that people believe we are fair in our column, whether they believe or are in opposition or not. We take an objective look at it, you know? I’m not always on the side of, the popular side, because there are some issues. In fact, I had lunch with a police officer today and we happened to be at the same restaurant sitting at the same table you know. And during the whole time we were discussing Jesse Lee Owens and Sophia King and things about these police shootings. You know the president of the association, the president of the police association would come out and you’d see it in the press. We have an African American Police Association also inside the police department. They have their own association. The Hispanic folks, they for example, they have a [Hispanic Police] Association. And so after this went on so long, I wrote a column saying, “Where does the African American Police Association stand with this issue? Why have they been so silent?” I mean, we didn’t know. I understand if they support the police department on this issue or if they don’t support it, whatever. But whatever it is, they ought to say something. And he told me, well they finally came out with a press statement about it, and he told me that it was specifically because of a column that I wrote. “Because you’re right. We should’ve said something.” There’s no point in having an association if you’re not going to take a position, you know. Even if they supported the Austin Police Association position, you need to say something because people expect you, you know. It’s just like when stuff is going on and the NAACP doesn’t take a position, I mean, Black folks are being brutalized and you expect them to be there, and if they’re not you ask the reason why they aren’t.

Its always been a problem, but in the earlier days of my newspaper back in [19]73-’74, I mean we had a rash of killings, both in the Black community and in the Hispanic community. I mean police were just, I mean they were killing people in all kinds of ways and the Black Citizens Task Force in Austin got involved when a Black man was killed on 11th Street. He was choked to death by a police officer. What they called the old, that’s illegal now, but they used to have the old, what they called a chokehold. They’d grab you around the neck you know, [and] what they’d do is they’d collapse your larynx and you would suffocate because you couldn’t breathe. And many people, not just in Austin but across the country, were being killed with that process.

And so when he was killed down there, at the same time a guy by the name of Sosa, a Hispanic guy, was shot by a police officer in his front yard because he was trying to keep his son from coming in his yard. His son had been very abusive to him and so he had gotten his gun and went outside, told his wife to call the police, took his gun and went outside to keep his son from his yard. So he was standing there with his gun and the police came up there, and he just drove up and said, “Drop it.” And the guy was trying to say, trying to explain to him what was going on, the police shot him point blank and killed him. Without even ascertaining what the problem was, and he was the one who called for help. That’s where the racial profiling was. What he saw was a Hispanic guy with a gun, so he was a threat. But he was inside his yard, inside his fence, and trying to keep his son who was outside his yard from coming in his yard, but he didn’t want to hurt his son, so that’s why he called for the police, to come in and remove this guy. And the police came and shot him. And that’s the kind of thing they talk about. And that and three or four other incidents happened, and so for about a year the Black Citizens’ Task Force and the Brown Berets put on protests against the police department, much like the NAACP has been doing for the last year, except they were larger.

I mean, they had a mass of people down there and what they finally ended up doing was calling for the ousting of the Police Chief, at that time it was Bob Miles, who they didn’t feel was doing anything about this problem. And eventually he was fired, well he was forced to retire he wasn’t fired, but you know, same thing. But he was old enough to retire, so he retired and got out. So this has been a constant problem. We had another guy who was killed in his home. He and his wife had a domestic dispute and the policeman came out and smothered him in his waterbed. They got in on him and they were trying to restrain him and he was struggling because he couldn’t breathe, and the police were saying, “No, just quit, stop, stop,” and were holding his head down under his waterbed and he couldn’t breathe. So by the time he stopped struggling he was dead, because they held his head down and, anyway he couldn’t breathe. So he was suffocated in his home, in his own bed, by the police department. So those are things, but now the thing that makes those cases so dramatic for us is that doesn’t happen in any other part of town. It doesn’t happen in any other part of town.

“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”

Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.

Tommy Wyatt

Tommy Wyatt

Amy Steiger

Date of Interview:
April 15, 2004

The Villager office, 1223-A Rosewood Ave., Austin, Texas

Recording Format:
Analog tape

Amy Steiger