In the early days of the Peaceful Streets Project, the easiest way to film Austin Police misconduct was to go to 6th Street (Austin’s Entertainment District) on the weekends, where we filmed multiple instances of officers being arrogant and brutal. In particular, during the weekend of the Formula One races a year ago, I, along with Lynn Foster and Harold Grey, filmed Austin Police officers tackling a tourist, and after he was held down on the ground, punching him in the rib cage in an apparent attempt to break his ribs. His crime: Not responding to their commands quickly enough, even though he apparently didn’t speak English.
This past weekend, we again filmed police on 6th street while the Formula One race fans were in town, but we started to notice a change: APD officers are becoming more professional and polite to the crowds. Even when arrests are made, they are usually with a minimum of force. This weekend, and actually over the last few months, I have not seen guns drawn, or pepper spray or Tazers used at all. This isn’t to say that they are perfect; I filmed one instance on Saturday, where our old “friend,” Cpl. Quint Sebek knocked a homeless person flat on the ground, but we also filmed even the Police Equestrian Team showing some discretion and restraint dealing with a passed-out drunk, something they would not have done in the past, even with cameras pointed at them. Friday night’s filming was particularly boring (which is actually a good thing). We noticed APD Assistant Chief Stephen Deaton supervising the officers, who were particularly on their best behavior with him there. We note with great pleasure that trigger-happy officers Nathan Wagner and Thomas Griffin have apparently been re-assigned away from the crowds on 6th street.
The Peaceful Streets Project was founded with the goal of changing the culture, both of the Police, and the Citizens. While I still think that we have a long way to go, it is gratifying to see some visible progress. The Austin Police ARE changing, and as they become more polite and professional, the crowds on 6th street are actually better-behaved, not worse. We believe that we are starting to hold accountable those in the APD who do not follow their own rules, as well as giving a voice and an opportunity for those who always wanted to do their job properly. In addition, the average citizen is realizing not only the legality, but the necessity of filming the police and creating a record of their actions. Aside from the Peaceful Streets film team, the were also people from the Black Star Initiative, and Austin Streets, two other Police Accountability organizations, filming on 6th street this weekend, as well as ordinary citizens filming with their cell phones every time an incident with the police happened.
I would like to thank everybody who has ever been out on a copwatch with us, and all of our members, past and present. The work we have done, the hardships we have endured, the risks that we have taken, and for several of our members, the nights spent in jail, are all starting to pay off. I particularly wish to thank Antonio Buehler, and everyone involved in actually starting the Peaceful Streets Project, when I was too skeptical that we could make even the change that I see today.
Our work is not yet finished, but it is gratifying to see as much progress as I do. Thanks again, everyone!