The Austin Police continue to bring violence to our streets; politicians and prosecutors need to stop sitting on the sidelines
“The protection of life is the primary core value and guiding principle of the Austin Police
Department.” –Austin Police 2015 Policy Manual
On Monday, February 8, 2016, Austin Police officer Geoffrey Freeman shot and killed 17-year old David Joseph. According to Asst. Chief Brian Manley, young Mr. Joseph was naked, running toward the officer, and refusing to obey the officer’s orders, causing Officer Freeman to shoot him, in spite of the fact that APD officers are usually issued Tasers, pepper-spray, and batons, and given training in hand-to-hand combat as part of their academy training.
We, in the Peaceful Streets Project remember the outcry after the 2013 APD shooting of Larry Jackson Jr., “Don’t run from the police, and you won’t get shot.” Apparently, running toward the police isn’t much better, or for that matter, and if the death of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. is any indication, neither is kneeling down with your hands in the air.
As the name, “Peaceful Streets” would imply, we seek peaceful solutions to the problem of APD violence and brutality, but it seems to be of no avail. Several of us have trusted in the system, and spoken for our allotted three minutes to the Austin City Council, the Public Safety Commission, and the Citizens’ Review Panel, only to be ignored by the members of all three panels. Our members marched and protested in a Rally Against Police Brutality, only to be tackled, tased, pepper-sprayed, threatened with shotguns, and arrested by the Austin Police.
Needless to say, there will be protests and demonstrations over the coming days. The momentum is building, as every new APD shooting brings even more activists to the cause, and as the families of those killed in the past link up with the newest victims, to seek the justice that they have yet to find in our flawed court system. Knowing APD’s history of violent reaction to any criticism of APD violence, we fear that, in spite of our mission, the streets of Austin will be anything but peaceful over the coming days. We will be there, not only providing video documentation of APD’s actions, but first aid and support for the protesters, bringing antacids, baby shampoo, and water for pepper-spray victims, and ice and bandages for taser and baton injuries.
We do, in fact, seek a peaceful resolution to this situation, to avoid a violent resolution. We ask that the Austin Mayor and City Council step in and protect the safety of the public from their Public Safety department. We ask that APD’s policy actually be implemented as true policy instead of simply being a “guideline,” and we ask that the Travis County District Attorney investigate and prosecute this case vigorously, through the Grand Jury hearing, criminal trial, and any appeals.We fear that if APD officers continue to kill with impunity, sooner or later, a family member is going to seek justice outside of the court system.
We’re still trying to “trust the system.” We ask that the “system” validate that trust, instead of abusing it.
We have had a most remarkable several months to end 2015 and are thrilled to go into 2016 with tremendous momentum. This will be our best year ever – guaranteed.
To recap, we ratcheted up our cop watch actions in late summer. As we continued to legally cop watch to bear witness to police activity, deter police from abusing people, and to empower others to stand up for their community members, we found certain members of the Austin Police Department were eager to threaten us (e.g., SGT Randy Dear, SGT Adam Johnson, Ofc Dawn Leonard) or assault us (e.g., CPL Quint Sebek, Ofc Zachary Baldridge).
On August 2nd SGT Randy Dear, CPL Quint Sebek, and Ofc Aljoe Garibay assaulted and illegally arrested Antonio Buehler and Mike Bluehair (from Film The Police Portland) on Sixth Street in Austin. The arrest affidavits that were filed were filled with lies and were easily refuted by the numerous videos that the members of the Peaceful Streets Project took. Unsurprisingly, prosecutors dropped the charges against Buehler and Bluehair. The police have arrested Buehler and other members of the Peaceful Streets Project nearly a dozen times, but they have failed to secure a single conviction against us. Sadly, we will continue to get arrested because the police are never held accountable for their crimes. But this is a long fight, and we will eventually win. Until then, we will continue to shame these cops in the most public ways possible. We wrote up a detailed blog post detailing how the arrest affidavits were filled with lies, coupled with videos of the incident.
In November Playboy Magazine featured a story on copwatching, and Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets Project opened and closed the story. The author Frank Owen beautifully laid out some of the various approaches to cop watch and gave context to the August 2nd arrest that local media is apparently afraid to touch upon. This, coupled with endless puff pieces for the Austin Police by local media, made us realize that there is potentially much more value to working with national media or outlets with broad reach outside of Austin than working with local stations who seem to take their marching orders from APD. Since then, we have worked with two documentary series that will feature Peaceful Streets Project in upcoming episodes, and we are working with a documentary crew that will be following us for at least the next year. Stay tuned for updates!
With our increased actions we have also received support from donors to upgrade our cop watch capabilities. Thanks to generous donations we have been able to purchase 8 camcorders, 3 actions cameras, a livestream camera, a professional still camera, and a quadcopter, along with various other technologies that assist us in our work. The quality of our cop watch videos has really shot up, and we have already been able to provide high quality raw video to several victims of Austin Police so they can use it in their criminal defense and potentially in any future civil suits against the City of Austin and the criminal cops. We could certainly use more donations as we have some exciting plans for 2016, so please consider donating if you have the capacity and interest in doing so. We have a rally campaign set up, and you can find additional ways to donate on our webpage. Additionally, you can always purchase us something off of our Amazon.com wish list.
In December, six members of the Peaceful Streets Project had the great privilege of going to St. Louis to train with WeCopwatch. WeCopwatch had been cop watching for years before PSP formed, and in the past year and a half they have helped set up cop watch organizations in several cities. Of note, they helped set up the Canfield Watchmen in Ferguson after the Michael Brown killing, and WeCopwatch Baltimore after the Freddie Gray killing. While in St. Louis we were able to engage in joint training and cop watch with WeCopwatch as their first official Cop Watch College class. We also had the opportunity to go into Ferguson to rebuild a memorial in the spot where Michael Brown was murdered by Officer Darren Wilson. Although the memorial was taken down the next day, the experience was sobering, humbling, and inspiring. The Canfield Watchmen kicked the police out of the Canfield Green Apartments, showing us it can be done, and now WeCopwatch is building a central training space down the road for cop watchers nationwide.
In the coming year we are elevating our direct actions to the next level. The frequency of our cop watching has already risen, and we will continue to put more cameras on the street on a weekly basis. We will be hosting several Know Your Rights trainings, and we are looking for more opportunities to do so. We will also be collecting and analyzing data to identify improved ways of exposing police crime. We will also continue to file police abuse complaints and file civil rights suits, although we recognize that the system is a woefully inept way of trying to achieve justice – we will do it for documentation and discovery purposes. Also, we plan to host WeCopwatch in Austin in return for their hosting us in St. Louis.
You can get involved with the Peaceful Streets Project! We are holding public monthly meetings at Bennu Cofffehouse in E. Austin at 8p on the first Wednesday of each month. Our first monthly meeting for 2016 was held this Wednesday. We are holding public cop watches on the fourth Saturday of each month, as well. Our public cop watch events will initially meet at Bennu Coffehouse, as well, but at 9p. We also have ample volunteer opportunities outside of cop watch for those who don’t want to risk getting arrested. Come to a meeting to discuss! And once again, you can always donate to help us empower our volunteers to drive change in the streets.
The USA loves violence, especially when it is directed toward the poor and homeless, women, LGBTQ persons, the mentally ill, and people of color. Our police apparatus exists in order to defend hegemonic power and property. Police are given the power to beat, to invade, to rape, and to kill with impunity, and people love the police because they love violence, subjugation, and control.
One of the most popular and enduring TV shows of our time, Law and Order: SVU, consists of a never-ending sensationalist exhibition of the torture, rape, and murder of women. Its ostensible “feminist” purpose is to illustrate the problem of violence against women and the “heroic” efforts of the paternalistic police to combat it. The detectives decide who is a “good victim” and often engage in victim blaming, exploitation, and worse. It is a nasty, misogynistic, pornographic spectacle that perpetuates the basest attitudes and thoughts about women.
The idea of the good cop makes no epistemological sense. In service to an oppressive system that commits daily assaults, rapes, and murders, being a good cop is like being a good soldier in an immoral war which, like almost all wars, exists in order to abuse the vulnerable.
As a society, we have long ago decided to allow the state, through its policing apparatus, the authority to decide who has freedom and even life. But fascism needs more and more bodies to exploit and to destroy in order to fuel its growth. By definition, the police need the ability to beat, to rape, and to murder.
In this video, Officer Martin of the Austin Police Department publicly flaunts his entitlement to rape young women. He carries the smugness and the nonchalance of the serial rapist and abuser. With all the power of the state behind him, why should he expect any consequences this time? Indeed his own police chief became nationally notorious for minimizing rape by officers, and his fellow officers’ jokes about “un-raping” women were parodied on the international hit Orange is the New Black.
Notice, however, how his demeanor changes when he is held accountable by members of the Peaceful Streets Project. He can’t scurry away fast enough.
It would not be sufficient for Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo to take the badge away from this rapist and to put him in prison. The whole system is deeply diseased. The problems are so insidious and so overwhelming that it can be tempting for members of oppressed classes to turn away into depression, isolation, or escapism.
But social movements throughout history show us that they can beat us, rape us, even kill us, but that when we come together and expose the truth, we still have agency.
On July 18, 2015 three Dallas area activists headed down south to Waller County Jail to conduct an independent investigation into the murder of #SandraBland. One of those activists was Stephen Benavides (@S_Benavides1 on Twitter), and the other activists were Shani Deason (@WickedBeaute) and Sunshine (@LOLatWhiteFear).
Afterwards, on the 4 hour drive back to Dallas, the group stopped in Madisonville, TX to use the restroom. Across the street, Madisonville Police had a Black man pulled over and out of his car. This prompted the group to begin filming the interaction (cop watching) to ensure the safety of the driver.
After the driver was let go, the group of activists decided to leave. The two Madisonville police officers decided instead to approach the group and began to question their decision to #FilmThePolice. When asked by the police why they “think that’s acceptable to come walking up like that,” Stephen clearly articulated that they have a Constitutional right to film the police so long as they did not interfere with the stop. On that point, he was completely right, and the police should have apologized for the misunderstanding and left them alone. However, the police officers decided to continue the discussion instead of disengaging.
Stephen told the police officer, “you walked toward us.” Again, Stephen was right. The activists clearly never interfered with the stop and there would not have been an interaction had the police not approached these law abiding activists. But instead, knowing the activists had not committed any crime, the police officer said, “if you wanna keep pushing the issue, what we can do is we’ll take you to jail and you can explain yourself to the judge.” The police officer at this point was making it very clear to the activists that the cops would be willing to illegally arrest the activists for what is commonly known as “contempt of cop,” or not bowing down before the police.
The activists then challenged the thuggish behavior of the police. Stephen specifically asked, “push what issue?” As the police tried to inform the activists where they would allow them stand if they wanted to film, Stephen asked multiple times, “push what issue?” He also reminded them that filming was a Constitutionally protected right. As the activists tried to educate the ignorant police officers as to what is illegal and what is not illegal, Stephen uttered the f-word. At that point the other officer told him, “if you say one more word you’re going to jail, one more cuss word.” The cop then continued, “you’re not going to cuss out here.”
Stephen then had a choice to make, as many cop watchers and activists do. Does he stand up for his rights, knowing that it is completely legal to curse at police, and let another f-word fly? Or does he go home so that he can see his family and sleep in his own bed at the end of the night? Stephen chose to flex his rights, and told the cop, “fuck you.” The police then illegally arrested him. He spent the night at the Madison County Jail on the charge of “Disorderly Conduct”.
For those who don’t understand how terrorism and white supremacy work, pay attention to the video. Even if the police believed that Stephen had broken the law, which he did not, once the cops arrested him they had no reason to reengage with the other activists. However, the cops felt it was more important to terrorize the other activists, so they turned around and came back to bully and threaten Shani (@WickedBeaute) and Sunshine (@LOLatWhiteFear). Kudos to these two activists for standing up to these bully cops after they saw their friend illegally arrested, despite the imminent threats to their lives and liberty.
The police have a saying for the type of illegal arrest they employed against Stephen, “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.” It means that they don’t really care if you are convicted or exonerated, the purpose of the arrest is to cause you the inconvenience of spending a night in jail, paying thousands of dollars to a lawyer, coming to court many times, and then often times having to go through a trial in the hope that a jury will recognize that the arrest was illegal.
Telling a cop, “fuck you” is not illegal. The courts have ruled time and time again that cops do not have the right to arrest you because they are offended by your words. The courts have ruled that you can wear clothing with the word “fuck” in public. They have ruled that you can flip off a cop. And, Stephen will eventually have the courts reaffirm that you can say “fuck you” to a cop. A member of the Peaceful Streets Project also has a pending lawsuit over an arrest for telling a cop to “go fuck yourself,” which will also go down as a case law win.
Stephen’s fight continues. Yesterday, Stephen was in court in Madisonville and had his next pretrial appearance set for September 24th. He is going to fight this illegal arrest, he is pushing for a speedy trial, and he needs your support to do so. When people stand up to the terrorist police they risk their most basic freedoms, their money, and sometimes their lives. When Stephen righteously told the cop, “fuck you,” he was speaking for all of us. Please help him beat these bogus charges by donating to his legal fund: https://rally.org/f/kUhNYaDBy0U.
On August 2nd, I was arrested while filming police officers downtown. It marked the fifth time that I have been wrongfully arrested by the Austin Police Department in retaliation for exercising my constitutional right to film the police in an attempt to hold them accountable. Fortunately for me, I do not have to rely on police video to ensure that I am exonerated of the charges pending against me.
APD continues to mislead the public on the well-established right to film the police in public. In addition to being the document that all police officers swore to uphold and defend, the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Among the first rights enshrined in the Constitution are freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Contrary to claims by Chief Acevedo, it is impossible for someone to illegally film police officers if they are peacefully doing so in a public space. The pro-First Amendment position that we have the protected right to film the police has been reaffirmed numerous times in Federal Courts, from Glik v. Cunniffe in the First Circuit to my lawsuit against the City of Austin in the Fifth Circuit.
Acevedo tries to confuse the public by claiming that his officers are not arresting people for filming, but merely for their “conduct” while filming. But there should be no confusion—the only questionable conduct is that of police officers illegally arresting lawful people. Acevedo also tries to confuse the public by claiming that the Peaceful Streets Project is interfering with arrests. However, all such claims are baseless. They have yet to provide a single example of a Peaceful Streets Project member physically interfering with an arrest. Legally, one cannot interfere just because they happen to be holding a camera in their hand.
The Peaceful Streets Project is a grassroots initiative that grew out of the community support I received after I was arrested on January 1, 2012. That morning, I witnessed Officers Patrick Oborski and Robert Snider abusing a woman who had not committed any crime. I began to question the officers and attempted to take pictures with my cell phone. Because I had the audacity to exercise my constitutionally protected rights, I was arrested and charged with the felony crime of spitting in a police officer’s face. Fortuitously, half a dozen witnesses were willing to come forward and testify that the police lied about the event, and one took video of the incident.
What I did not have access to for the two years and nine months after the arrest, while APD continued to slander me by claiming I spit in Oborski’s face, were the dash cam videos that also proved my innocence. APD and prosecutors also failed to turn over the 7-Eleven surveillance video they had in their possession, which we fortunately acquired through other means. In subsequent arrests, they also confiscated three Peaceful Streets Project cameras that had video of Austin police illegally arresting us for filming them. It took us about two years to get those videos back from the city. And the city tried to quash our requests for HALO video that show the events leading up to my arrest on August 2nd.
Acevedo disingenuously claims that they are now rolling out body cameras to increase transparency. However, body cameras without access will not increase transparency, they will become another tool for the police to abuse people they find undesirable. The opposite of transparency is the status quo in which APD suppresses video of police misconduct while misrepresenting those incidents by referencing videos that they refuse to allow the public to see.
If APD were really interested in transparency, they would acknowledge that the six videos of my most recent arrest prove that the police officers lied in order to justify another illegal arrest. And they would encourage the public to record the police.
* This is in response to their op-ed Body cameras might illuminate right and wrong when recording police. I tried to have this op-ed published by the Austin American-Statesman but like many media outlets, they choose to let the lying cops dictate the narrative of the story, and to have the final word.
Last night a Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy was allegedly shot and killed execution style at a gas station. Like clockwork, while ignoring stories of Texas cops executing an unarmed man with his arms in the air and another who was a patient at a hospital, cops and cop supporters went to social media to declare the dead cop a hero while claiming that there is a “war on police.” Their response to a cop getting killed relative to a cop executing someone highlighted how much they believe cop lives matter, versus how much they believe everyone else’s lives matter.
The usual cop worship sickens those of us who have been struggling to try to get society to evolve to the point where they believe that just because you give a bully a badge, a gun, and qualified immunity, doesn’t mean that they should be celebrated for receiving tax dollars to beat, frame, rape, and murder without consequence. Therefore, we decided to post the story of the cop being killed on Facebook, with a comment that mirrored comments made each time a cop kills someone, especially a person of color.
As is common when a cop kills a young person of color, the cops and their supporters are often eager to claim that the victim was involved in criminal activity, and thus, you should then conclude that the extrajudicial killing of the victim was somehow warranted. When you point out that the police officer shouldn’t have executed the person even if they were involved in criminal activity, the cops and their supporters will quickly argue that the victim made bad decisions that put them in the unfortunate position of being executed by a cop. And particularly when the victim is black, you have the usual suspects quickly claiming that the cop murdering a young person can somehow be blamed on the bad or absent parenting the victim received.
Our Facebook post was meant to serve as a mirror for those who reflexively defend criminal cops while slandering their victims. Instead of helping people come to terms with their hypocritical view of crime and personal responsibility, all we got was a bunch of hysterical responses from the people who are so often eager to slander the dead.
Not surprising, the biggest critics were the police officers who make it standard operating procedure to attack the character, the life, and the families of the people they kill. One of the biggest hypocrite cops in America is Austin Police Chief Hubert “Art” Acevedo who quickly shared a screenshot of our post with the comment, “This is how mind of so-called peaceful activist works & why police officers don’t want him inches from their face.” We couldn’t have asked for a better example of a cowardly, criminal, terrorist cop to respond to our posting that that of Acevedo.
First, Acevedo is either stupid enough to not catch onto the fact that we were using the tactics of cops across America to make a point, or dishonest enough that he pretended to not notice it. Either way, that alone gives some indication to the degree to which he is unfit for his job. Second, the mind of a peaceful activist is obviously beyond the comprehension of a tax parasite violent terrorist cop. We endeavor to call out violence and to encourage people to find the courage within themselves to stand up to it. Acevedo and his fellow cops simply endeavor to dispense violence on the people and to promote the cowardice of the profession of policing (e.g., shooting every time they “fear for their lives”). Thirdly, claiming that his police officers don’t want [Peaceful Streets Project co-founder Antonio Buehler] “inches from their face [sic]” puts an exclamation point on how cowardly and corrupt Acevedo is.
The reason Acevedo references cameras a certain distance from one’s face stems from the illegal arrest of Antonio Buehler and Mike Bluehair Smith (or Film the Police Portland) by Austin Police on August 2nd, 2015. In the lie-filled affidavit written up by Austin Police Officer Aljoe Garibay, it is claimed that Buehler on multiple occasions held a camera within inches of various officers’ faces. That claim was the foundation for their ultimate claim that he was interfering with the public duties of the officers, who just happened to be doing nothing but standing around watching people film them.
The problem with Garibay and Acevedo’s claims are that they were definitively debunked by multiple videos of the arrest. In the videos, it is patently obvious that the only reason a camera was ever in any cop’s face was because the cops kept moving toward Buehler and placing their face in front of his camera. In not one sequence of shots did Buehler ever move his camera and body toward the face of a cop.
The fact that Acevedo would so blatantly lie about someone who was trying to hold his criminal cops accountable, while he has engaged in coverups of his cops illegally arresting cop watchers, highlights that Acevedo and the thin blue line is unconcerned about crime when it emanates from within the fraternity of law enforcement, but that they are all too eager to slander and attempt to dehumanize the victims of police abuse, corruption, and violence.
And that is why at the end of our Facebook post, we pointed out that perhaps the reason that every once in a blue moon someone decides to mimic the violent tactics of the police against the police may be because tens of thousands of people are victimized by police each month. Cops and their supporters love to dismiss the executions of young black men by using the twitter tag #thuglife. So we ended our post with the same. Sadly, the cops and their supporters can’t grasp the meaning of the term.
Tonight, August 14th, the Peaceful Streets Project will dedicate our effort and resources to holding Sgt. Randy Dear #4422 accountable. We will be shadowing his operations for the night with banners and fliers, stating his violations of our Constitutional right to film.
On the night of August 1st, Sgt. Dear illegally conspired with his subordinates to threaten and then arrest Peaceful Streets Project founder Antonio Buehler and Film The Police Portland founder Mike “Bluehair” Smith. While Buehler was filming from over 10 feet away, Sgt. Dear #4422 approached Buehler and told him that he would arrest the members of the Peaceful Streets Project the next time there was a “disturbance” and they got “in the way” that they would be arrested. Buehler questioned Dear how they could be interfering if they were just standing where hundreds of other people were also standing. Later, after Dear re-approached and moved within inches of Buehler, he gave Buehler an arbitrary order move claiming Buehler was now interfering with his duties. While Buehler was complying, and protesting the illegal order, Dear and five other paramilitary soldiers* jumped, assaulted, and arrested him, while Cpl. Quint Sebek #3454 turned and assaulted and arrested Mike “Bluehair” Smith. Ofc. Aljoe Garibay #6155 then submitted a lie filled affidavit to support the illegal arrests. The Peaceful Streets Project later released multiple videos of the incident in a public rebuttal, proving that APD lied in their attempts to justify an illegal arrest.
A few weeks prior to this incident, Dear gave an unlawful ultimatum to the members of Peaceful Streets Project requiring them to maintain an arbitrary distance from APD officers. In response to the quoted facts of the law regarding filming, and rulings by both the 5th Circuit and the Supreme Court, Dear stated, “This is not a judicial system. This is the law I’m telling you.”
It has become an obvious reality that there is a disconnect between the ruling of the courts and the actions of the Austin Police Department. If the constitutional right to film is no longer being respected, then we have no choice but to advance our tactics and strategies. We will exercise our constitutional and legal rights to the furthest extent possible to document the illegal actions of Sgt. Dear.
Sgt. Dear, Chief Art Acevedo, and the rest of the Austin Police Department, in three and a half years you have yet to beat us in court. We remain undefeated. You have attempted to murder, hospitalize, imprison and assault members of our community. Yet we remain ever strong, ever fearless. If you seek to end the existence and operations of the Peaceful Streets Project, the only way is to cease wrongfully abusing and murdering members of our community.
You WILL be filmed.