AUSTIN (KXAN) — A dodgeball game organized by a community events organizer in east Austin is drawing criticism from other neighborhood activists who say it trivializes a serious problem.
Nook Turner, who organizes the annual summer concert series Jump On It, put together the game and invited the police department to play, calling it “APD vs. the Hood.” At Wednesday’s grand finale concert for this summer, Austin police officers will play with members of east Austin neighborhoods the concert series caters to.
Groups like Defend Our Hoodz and Black Sovereign Nation say the game ignores the reality of what “APD vs. the Hood” means for people of color in Austin.
Turner, who’s from east Austin originally, said he framed the game that way to symbolize that reality.
“The game is not pitting us against APD,” he said. “That’s how we feel in society, that’s how we feel in the streets … We got to deal with facing reality and what the situation really is in real life in order to fix it.”
After the game, the event flyer states, participants will hold a “community discussion on strengthening relations,” and that’s the main reason Turner said he wants to host the event.
“If we can’t play a game together, a friendly game that we’ve played since childhood together, and start figuring it out, then what can we ever do with each other?” he said.
Defend Our Hoodz, a group aimed at fighting displacement and gentrification in the city, posted edited photos of the flyer featuring photos of people they described as “victims of APD,” including David Joseph, Breaion King and Victor Ancira. Officers “shouldn’t get to throw anything at our children or people for fun or sport,” the group wrote.
“The cops don’t play games when they invade communities and profile the people there,” the post continues, “or when they brutalize and kill innocents or people who aren’t deadly threats to them.”
Black Sovereign Nation, a group focused on empowering communities of color, also advocated against the game on Facebook, writing that a dodgeball game won’t change how police interact with minority communities.
“Black led organizations, initiatives, and events need not trigger and traumatize or communities by continuing to assist APD in their PR efforts,” the organization wrote.
Police Chief Brian Manley, an advocate for community policing initiatives, said they agreed to participate in the game because he believes it can help facilitate an open dialogue about what APD’s role should be in establishing trust.
“If it takes the games to break down the barriers and to bring down people’s defenses so that we can have a conversation,” Manley said, “then we’re there. We want to participate.”
APD officers have been at Jump On It events throughout the summer at the request of the organizers, he said, and the department has even sent recruiters there to try to find future officers from within minority communities.
Manley, who will be playing in the game himself, said building trust with people of color is a challenge not just for his department, but for police departments all over the country.
“You can’t have trust without a relationship, and you can’t have a relationship without communication,” he said. “So it’s events like this that give us the opportunity to start that dialogue, to continue that dialogue.”
The dodgeball game happens Wednesday evening, starting at 6:30, at the Travis County Expo Center. Jump On It suggests a $5 donation to help them cover costs.