Yesterday morning (around 10:45a), it was pouring down rain in Austin. I was driving north in bumper to bumper traffic on HWY 183 to get to City Hall, and I noticed cars around me swerving just before the bridge that crosses over the Colorado River. I saw the silhouette of a man standing in the middle of the road, facing traffic, moving from side to side. As I got closer I noticed him hitting cars as they passed by, and shouting at them. When he approached me I was pulling to the far right lane, he shouted something, threw up his hands, and then turned back around to shout at other drivers.
At that moment, I decided to stop the car. I rolled down my window and shouted at him to get in the car. He looked stunned, and walked over to my window, and just stood there. I told him to get in. He then ran over to the passenger side of the car, and jumped in.
I asked him where he needed to go. He said that he was just kicked out of his house by his partner, and that no one was willing to stop to help him out. I asked him again where he needed to go, and he said back to his house. I told him that would be a very bad idea, and that we needed to get him to a safe place where he could calm down and dry out. No more than 40 feet down the road, he shouted, “turn there!”
It was too late to turn so I kept going straight, but there we saw an Austin Police Department squad car slowly approaching the intersection. Another 50 feet down the road was another APD cruiser that had pulled to the side of the road driving southbound, with it’s emergency lights on (but not siren).
I asked the man if he realized that the police were about to taze or shoot him. He said no, and didn’t understand why the police would harm him, because all he needed was a ride after getting kicked out of his house. I explained to him that Austin Police beat, frame, rape, and murder people all the time. That they have particularly quick trigger fingers when it appears that someone is having a mental health episode. And that he needed to be very careful in Austin.
I dropped him off at a gas station, and gave him a $10 bill. I don’t know if he was able to calm down and fix his situation, but I do know that if I hadn’t stopped that the chances that he would have been seriously injured or killed by the police were much greater than the risks I faced in picking him up. And I know that the police would have been fully supported by the public if they executed a “crazy man who was attacking cars in the middle of Highway 183 during a rainstorm.”
There’s a difference between protecting & serving people and preying on people. The members of the Peaceful Streets Project seek to protect & serve the public. We have repeatedly come to the aid of people in need. The Austin Police Department, however, has repeatedly used threats of violence, actual violence, and arrests to harm people who are in need. We do not need violent, criminal cops. What we need is more community.