Sixth Street Shooting: One Dead, One In Custody, One Still At Large, Lots of Statements

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Douglas Kantor, a 25-year-old tourist visiting Austin from the Detroit area, died Sunday at Dell Seton Medical Center from gunshot injuries sustained during a mass shooting on E. Sixth St. Saturday morning, which injured 13 others, as police continue to seek a suspect at large.

The shock and sadness expressed by many Austinites on Saturday as they learned of the shooting gave way quickly to dueling statements and political skirmishes over gun violence and gun control, the funding and staffing of the Austin Police Department, and the safety of Austin’s world-famous entertainment district. Kantor and the other victims – the largest number of casualties in a single shooting incident in Austin since the Texas Tower massacre in 1966 – appear to all have been what Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon described as “innocent bystanders.”

The chief did note the ongoing investigation may uncovered connections between the injured and those who exchanged gunfire, or emptied their weapons into the crowd, just before 1:30am near the corner of E. Sixth and Trinity. Though there is some bystander video that’s been shared, the origins of whatever altercation led to the bloodshed have yet to be revealed. Witnesses and APD officers both report that shots rang out without warning on the heavily crowded street, closed as usual on weekend nights to vehicle traffic and with the typical sizable APD presence, according to Chacon, who also said at a Saturday briefing that there’s no apparent connection between the shooting and the Republic of Texas biker rally that brought thousands of additional visitors and revelers to Austin this past weekend.

The suspect whose arrest was announced on Saturday afternoon (after Chacon’s briefing) is a juvenile, so a name has not been made public and likely will not be; that suspect was apprehended, police said, with the aid of the U.S. Marshals’ Lone Star Fugitive Task Force. Chacon confirmed on Saturday that investigators had narrowed down their search to two suspects, but no further details have been released regarding the status of that search or the identity of that individual; police have walked back their preliminary description (of a Black man with dreadlocks) of a suspect.

Kantor, a native of New York’s Rockland County who attended college in Michigan and was employed by Ford, had recently bought a house and was engaged to his high school sweetheart, according to statements from his family. He was transported to Dell Seton in an APD vehicle after sustaining major abdominal injuries that proved unsurvivable. “It’s painful to discuss, but I think the public deserves to know what my brother suffered,” his brother Nick Kantor said.

Kantor was one of two victims reported as critically injured in the shooting; the other appears to be Jessica Ramirez, according to a GoFundMe launched to cover medical expenses and provide financial assistance. The organizer of the appeal, Bilma Ramirez, says her daughter was out celebrating her 34th birthday when she was shot, and that Jessica, a single mother of five, has since had surgery and faces permanent paralysis and does not have health insurance. The conditions of the other 12 victims have not been released.

We don’t know how and why so many people were wounded in an apparently random outburst of violence right in front of the dozens of police officers who patrol any given block of “Dirty Sixth” on weekends – crowds that have basically returned to pre-COVID levels. However, many have rushed into the breach to try to define the event in ways that suit them. There have, of course, been thoughts and prayers, such as from Gov. Greg Abbott, who while inviting all Texans to “join Cecilia and I in prayer for those who were injured,” announced that Texas Dept. of Public Safety officers would work closely with APD to ensure the “perpetrators are captured and punished to the fullest extent of the law.” (Such cooperation of course happens automatically, without any action from the governor.)

Many, many people noted the coincidence of Austin’s worst episode of gun violence in more than 50 years and Abbott’s recent signing of new permitless carry legislation that removes most restrictions on those who would like to arm themselves in public.“I am angry because the politicians of Texas have failed to keep their constituents safe,” wrote state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, D-Austin. “Every day in Texas, 10 people die from gun violence. Yet the legislature just spent five months making it easier for violent people to get guns.This problem will continue to get worse until Texas’ elected leaders have the courage to address it.” Friends of firearms pushed back by noting that no matter what the law, it’s illegal to carry weapons in Texas bars, and thus most of the tens of thousands of people who party on E. Sixth on the weekends are unarmed, including any “good guys with guns” who could have taken action to avert the carnage.

Many, many people have also noted that Austin’s reductions in police spending – most of which have yet to take effect in any event, involve functions other than patrol, and may be reversed by other new laws signed by Abbott – made no difference early Saturday morning, as Chacon acknowledged that APD’s Downtown Area Command was not short-staffed on E. Sixth Street this weekend. The chief did say that what APD defines as its overall staffing shortage is making it more difficult to maintain the visible heavy police presence familiar to anyone who’s been on E. Sixth; DPS troopers are expected to be stationed alongside APD in coming weeks, as has happened before.

That didn’t stop the Austin Police Association from crying out on cue less than eight hours after the shooting, “Austin is no longer the safe, fun and weird city it use to be… We want the safe Austin back, not this new one Council has created.” The spin continued as Save Austin Now, which is now stumping for a ballot initiative that would force the city to hire as many police officers as the union demands, said on Saturday their effort had taken on “new urgency … after last night’s tragic mass shooting.”

In his several statements and media appearances (including on CNN) over the weekend, Austin Mayor Steve Adler focused mostly on the increase in crime and gun violence in all U.S. cities, regardless of their policies on policing, as the pandemic recedes, and called for meaningful action to reduce the easy availability of guns. But, he noted on Sunday, “Crowds returned to 6th Street last night because Austin is a safe city. Austinites will go about their plans today because Austin is a safe city. Some will rattle cages about increasing violence locally, but Austin remains one of the safest cities in the state and country.”