Time was, Tom Austin fought for the dignity of things that really mattered. Like the lake he lived near.
Austin is the south Minneapolis venture capitalist who spent years battling the renaming of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska. At one point he claimed he'd polled hundreds of his neighbors, door-to-door. Another time he took out an ad to raise awareness and money for a legal case, one which would eventually reach the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Austin is also the author of the following sentences, which he published (voluntarily!) in Minnesota's paper of record:
With the exception of one person, they were angry at the "white establishment" and felt that we Minnesotans need to atone for history's wrongdoings. Ironically, none of them was able to provide specifics of what exactly we needed to atone for, other than "Calhoun was racist and we stole all of this land from the Indians."
Austin's quest to save the name Lake Calhoun ended, seemingly once and for all, with a 5-2 loss in the state's high court earlier this month.
For most men, one ill-fated quixotic battle on behalf of the uber-privileged is enough excitement for one decade. Tom Austin is not most men.
As of Tuesday evening, Austin is back in the spotlight, once again of his own volition, and again stubbornly crusading for the white -- sorry, for the right -- to enjoy his version of south Minneapolis precisely as he imagined it.
The scene was captured on the Instagram account of something called Top Figure, a small business whose entrepreneurs office out of a WeWork in one of the MoZaic buildings in Uptown. Evidently, the Top Figure guys were making use of a shared gym space Tuesday evening when they were confronted by Captain Lake Calhoun himself, Tom Austin, there to uphold the integrity of the weight room and verify these men belonged there.
(Do we have to say it?)
"I'm Tom Austin," proclaims the Patron Saint of Very Small South Minneapolis Causes. "I'm a tenant in the building. Are you?"
"What office are you in?" asks Austin, who is told not to worry about it, apparently by someone who doesn't know worrying about things that involve brown people but do not actually affect Tom Austin is what Tom Austin does best.
"I'm calling 911 then," he says.
It might occur to you that Austin was making this threat the day after a successful white woman in New York City was caught attempting to sicc the cops on a black man who'd done nothing illegal -- and had since lost her dog, her job, and her reputation.
Or, more immediately, that Austin was threatening to call Minneapolis police about 24 hours after one of them killed George Floyd, accused of possessing a bad $20 bill, while three others helped. Or that, at that very moment, the streets some 20 blocks from where they stood were filled with protesters, projectiles, tear gas, and rage.
Then again, timing has never been Tom Austin's strong suit. (This is a guy who waited 150 years after the Civil War to pledge allegiance to John C. Calhoun.) He did not carry out his warning about calling the cops, instead phoning some other authority to inform them of a "whole bunch of people who don't appear to be part of the..."-- Austin trails off, and his videographer talks over him, asking: "Y'all see this racism here?"
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Normally we don’t speak out about encounters of racial profiling and age discrimination that we face day to day in our lives as young black entrepreneurs. Although today May 26th 2020 7:51pm we encountered a situation where a man entered the facility, a shared private gym that we utilize in our @wework @mozaic_east office located in uptown Minnesota. Granted we’ve been in this office space and have rented and grown our business for the past 1 year and half here. As we were working out this man approached and immediately asked us who we were and if “WE BELONG” in this building. Granted in order to enter the building you NEED a key card to enter EVERY part of the building which EACH of our team members individually have. We all pay rent here and this man demanded that we show him our key cards or he will call the cops on us. We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation.
If you do, reader, Tom Austin still doesn't. City Pages tried contacting Austin, but he didn't get back to us. (Tom, what gives? Was it something we wrote? Was it a series of things we wrote?) But he did explain himself to Bring Me the News, writing that "several of these guys were trespassing and using a gym that was authorized only for building tenants."
Austin added: "Seems like nobody cares about the complete truth," a point he immediately proved, by lying. "They got in my face in a very threatening manner and I threatened back to call building security."
Gee, it sure seems like Tom is the person in this situation who got in someone's face?
"I would have done this regardless of race," Austin wrote. "So this is bullshit."
A second email to BMTN starts with the first Tom Austin line City Pages quotes approvingly: "Yes, I fucked up." Austin continues:
"I noticed that one of the tenants seemed to have brought 4 friends and I complained to them that this isn’t right and it's unfair to the tenants who pay. One guy was letting his other 4 friends in and out of the building with his FOB. Nobody else had a FOB. When I said something, they got in my face in a very threatening manner accusing me of racial profiling. I said it wasn't racial profiling and was all about suspicious activity/behavior."
Pretty telling, isn't it? The "threat" Tom is exposed to is being accused of racism. The threat posed to the black men is the cops -- hardly an idle one, on a night like last night in a place like this.
Guess it's nice to know Austin's hitting the gym. He'll need to stay limber if he absolutely insists on putting his foot in his mouth in public this often.