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Austin becomes first 'Freedom City' in Texas

Over 100 people gathered at City Hall Thursday night to support a resolution that would stop discretionary arrests for non-violent misdemeanors. (CBS Austin)

Austin activists are claiming victory for people of color and immigrants when it comes to the city's arrest policies. The Austin City Council unanimously made Austin the first city in Texas to become a Freedom City. The designation requires Austin to be proactive in ending racial disparities in police arrests.

If you're caught driving with an invalid license you can get a ticket and be sent on your way or police can, at their discretion, arrest you. Chantel Pridgon was arrested.

“My two daughters were with me,” said Pridgon.

The Austin mother was driving home when police pulled her over and put her in handcuffs. “It was traumatizing with my children in the car, just feeling like a failure,” said Pridgon.

The college graduate had a suspended driver's license. Police had the choice to either give her a ticket or arrest her. Chantel thinks her race was a factor in the decision to put her behind bars. “It was just a horrible experience. I just remember getting on the bunk bed and crying because I just couldn't believe where I was,” said Pridgon.

Over 100 people gathered at City Hall Thursday night to support a resolution that would stop discretionary arrests for non-violent misdemeanors. The resolution passed unanimously because council members say the data on misdemeanor arrests shows African Americans are arrested twice as often as white residents.

It's a difference that can be life changing. “A person who spends 72 hours in jail that's enough time to lose your job,” said Lewis Conway, Criminal Justice Organizer for Grassroots Leadership.

Conway says it's important to remember this is a resolution not a law. “So ultimately it's in the hands of the officers to choose to adopt a culture of compassion, to choose to adopt a culture of where it makes more sense fiscally to keep people in their homes and families than to have them incarcerated,” said Conway.

Pridgon is optimistic. “It's very huge. It's great,” said Pridgon.

She knows her daughters will always consider her a queen, but she says now the city is showing all minorities more respect. “It just means that they're listening, that they care how we feel, especially people of color,” said Pridgon.

To help enforce this change the resolution calls on the city manager to track when, where and why discretionary arrests are made. The information will be released in quarterly reports.

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