22 Aug

The Strength of a Panther’s Paw: Reporting from the 2nd Annual Police Accountability Summit

By Shane “Shag” Matthews

August 22nd, 2013

Austin, TX – On August 17th, 2013, Austin played host to the 2nd Annual Police Accountability Summit. For about 6 hours that Saturday the AT&T Conference Center off of MLK Blvd., where the summit was being held, was a veritable hotbed of civic and social activism at its finest. People came from all over the country to attend this spectacular event in order to support like-minded individuals fighting for justice against abusive and corrupt cops and listen to the harrowing stories of those still seeking justice in an increasingly fascist country. Of course, nothing would have occurred had it not been for the tireless efforts of the Peaceful Streets Project headed by local hero activist, Antonio Buehler, who was the primary sponsor of this event. Also helping to organize the day’s lineup of fantastic speakers was longtime activist, former head of Texans for Accountable Government (TAG) and current host of Liberty Beat Radio, John Bush.

When I arrived around noon, the summit was already in full swing having kicked off around 10am by my friend and emcee, James Franklin. Being a bit late, I hoped to quickly make up for lost time and anxiously climbed the stairs up to the conference, where I could already feel the palpable sense of electrical urgency in the air. Reaching the top, I immediately recognized a few friends of mine manning the tables and milling about the long corridor that ran the length of the center and connected up to a string of smaller conference rooms and a large auditorium. This was where the day’s speakers would be giving their rousing talks on everything from the politics of legislative justice to canine deaths at the hands of overzealous cops. I walked over to the Brave New Books booth and spoke with my friend, Harlan Dietrich, who manages the store and had an array of excellent books for sale including Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. Mr. Balko writes as a columnist for the Huffington Post and wrote a profoundly moving investigatory article about the militarization of America’s police forces for the Cato Institute, before it was later turned into the aforementioned book. In my recent blog article entitled “The Crimes, Corruption, and Racially-Charged Murders of the Austin Police Department” at http://www.parapoliticaljournal.com, I have a link to Radley’s Cato Institute piece that I found on-line and posted, before I even knew he was going to be one of the speakers. He gave one of the better lectures at the summit about this vitally important issue addressed in his book. One of the more telling aspects of his lecture, immediately preceding the keynote, was when he showed a series of pictures and asked the audience to attempt to guess whether they were depictions of soldiers or police. I was wrong in guessing at least half of the time as were most of the audience, especially when he showed police decked out in camouflage, Kevlar, and carrying assault rifles. Clearly, the line between combat and urban policing has gotten very thin indeed, and there are times when it’s pretty obvious that Posse Commitatus doesn’t even apply anymore in America. Balko dated the beginnings of the para-militarization of police and formation of modern SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams with the infamous former LAPD Chief, Darryl Gates, who was instrumental in conceiving SWAT after the Watts Riots of 1965. Originally, SWAT’s mission was at least reasonable insofar as it was to be a highly-trained and armed unit that could be deployed during extremely volatile situations when lives are at stake and in imminent danger, such as a bank robbery already in progress or a hostage negotiation. The idea was to attempt to defuse and/or de-escalate the situation, barring an actual violent confrontation. However, once Richard Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in response to the mythological “War on Drugs”, SWAT teams became a brutal adjunct in the arsenal of metropolitan police departments, where they engaged in escalating numbers of home invasions, asset forfeitures, and wholesale killing of innocent people caught in the crossfire and siege mentality of the so-called “Drug War”.

Prior to Radley Balko’s talk, there were a number of excellent lectures given by people such as Carlos Miller, Pete Eyre, Heather Fazio, and the various PSP Chapter representatives coming as far away as Manchester, England. When I first arrived, I walked in on a spirited talk being given by Heather Fazio about fighting police corruption through coordinated civic campaigning and legislative bills. After her, I decided to sit in on a talk given by my long-time friend, Harold Gray, and fellow PSP member, Stephen Sheftall. Harold gave a very informative talk about the tactics employed, when you find yourself out on the street cop watching. Although much of it is common sense, Harold explained the art and science of filming cops in such a way as to make it easily understood and utilized by a newbie without downplaying its inherent risks. Showing some interesting videos, he discussed the various tactics that the Peaceful Streets Project members employ in filming the cops on their nightly excursions that maximize their effectiveness to get good video (on the one hand), while diminishing their chances of being arrested by an overly aggressive cop (on the other hand). Who knows? Maybe, the revolution will be televised…at the very least it will probably be filmed and posted on YouTube.

There were also a couple of musicians, who sang songs of protest to the entertained audience. Tatiana Moroz played a series of folksy tunes on her acoustic guitar, as she sang in Bob Dylan-esque fashion. Then, rapper B. Dolan spat some mad rhymes (to use street vernacular) for those assembled in the auditorium. B. Dolan was pretty fly for a white guy and gave a short talk about how he came to appreciate the revolutionary urban politics of hip-hop’s pioneers such as N.W.A., KR-1, and Public Enemy. And, in recognition of the cell-phone camera cop watching that PSP spearheads, B.Dolan rapped a re-mix of N.W.A.’s classic radical anthem, “Fuck da Police” that he re-christened “Film da Police”. Although I’m still partial to the hard-core original, his re-mix was pretty good and still in keeping with Chuck D’s quote that “hip-hop is CNN for black people”. Towards the end of the summit, Antonio Buehler took to the stage for the Peaceful Streets Project annual awards ceremony. He spoke about his decisions and passed out award plaques in several different categories including ‘Best Activist’, ‘PSP Member of the Year’, ‘PSP Chapter of the Year’ that went to Sandusky, Ohio, the increasingly difficult to award ‘Police Officer of the Year’, and the much easier to award ‘Corrupt Cop of the Year.’ That dubious distinction and dishonor went to the well-deserved APD Chief, Art Acevedo. Unfortunately, Acevedo wasn’t on hand to accept his award. So, I told someone that I’d be glad to hand deliver it to him personally, assuming Antonio isn’t already going to do it.

Finally, after a brief break, the moment everybody at the summit had been waiting for arrived. The keynote speaker for the day’s festivities was none other than the legendary co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Mr. Bobby Seale. Austin was truly blessed to have been able to get Bobby Seale to regale us with his moving stories from the time before he and Huey Newton started the Black Panther Party in Oakland in 1966 all the way through to the present day, when he is campaigning to have a dramatic feature-length movie made about it. At one point, he stated that the movie Panther got it really wrong, in more ways than one. Bobby spoke about being a good, academically-oriented student interested in math, science, and technology before he was turned on to black history, rhetoric, and civil rights. His stories were emotionally resonant, particularly when he dealt with the politics of race in America. Yet, they were also laced with an easy-going style of eloquence and good humor. On more than one occasion, he had me tearing up one minute and laughing the next. I remember him telling a poignant story about confronting his teacher’s presumptive prejudicial labels. The gist of it was, “Why are Asians referred to as mongoloids, black people are called negroids, but white people refer to themselves as Caucasian? We’re always the ‘noids’. You ever notice that? If I’m going to be called negroid or Africanoid, to be fair white people will have to be called Caucasoid!” He also talked about reciting his radical poem on a crowded Berkley street with weed-smoking hippies around him at the time. After reciting the poem verbatim (that he gave voice to on that street corner to a raucous audience) about the blind patriotism and hypocrisy of Uncle Sam, he had people so inspired and juiced…I felt like we had collectively been imaginatively transported to standing at the corner of Haight-Ashbury in 1969.

Naturally, he covered many of the highs and lows of the tumultuous late 60s and early 70s, but it was the idiosyncratic and largely unknown bits and pieces of his life, in that period of time, that had me mesmerized. Little nuggets and things like how Huey Newton was horrible with trying to pick up on girls, how he modeled much of the Black Panthers on the teachings of the Lakota tribe of Native Americans, and how he used basic mathematics in training new recruits on the finer points of dialectics kept the audience in rapt fascination and attention. Needless to say, by the end of his approximately hour talk or so, he was given a much deserved standing ovation and applause. Afterwards, those that had contributed to the Peaceful Streets on-line fundraiser campaign to be able to afford to hold the summit made their way to a reception room, where they enjoyed refreshments as they mixed and mingled with the excellent bunch of speakers. As I hung by the door chatting it up with my buddy Harold of the PSP, I saw Mr. Bobby Seale walking towards me. Before I had a chance to even think of something cool to say, I blurted out- “It was an honor to have heard you speak today on what I feel was an historic occasion.” Bobby then shook my hand and said, “Thank you man.” After that, for the entire rest of the day and night, I was literally “over the moon”. Later on, after the speaker gala, a post-summit party was held next door at Brave New Books. And finally, around 10pm that same night, Peaceful Streets Project met up with about 30 people for what would be an epic cop watch downtown. In summation, I just want to say, “Thank you very much, Mr. Bobby Seale, for your vision, courage, and social consciousness in co-founding the original Black Panther Party.” And, thank you, Antonio Buehler, and the great people of the Peaceful Streets Project for keeping that social consciousness alive in the ongoing fight for police accountability. To all of those, who attended the “Police Accountability Summit” this year, you are to be commended, and let it be said in the words of India’s iconic peaceful revolutionary, Gandhi, that “We are the change that we want to see in the world!”

So, what do you think?