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 popularity of cop watching as a direct action tactic has been surging nationally. In the aftermath of the unjust killing of Michael Brown, and particularly the overly aggressive and violent actions that the various law enforcement agencies took against those protesting Michael Brown’s killing, We Copwatch (led by our friend and ally Jacob Crawford) teamed up with the Canfield Watchmen (led by David Whitt) to create a cop watching presence in Ferguson and the surrounding areas. Like the Peaceful Streets Project did in 2012, We Copwatch and the Canfield Watchmen raised thousands of dollars to put scores of cameras into the hands of the people so they could hold police accountable.
But the current cop watching activities of the police accountability movement that has been energized by the killings of Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed (and most often black) people is only the crest of a wave that has been building for decades. The Peaceful Streets Project engaged in cop watching after we formed in 2012 because we believed that that was one of the most powerful ways to let the police know that we were not going to stand by as they continued to commit crimes against the people. Cop watching also allowed us to strengthen communities that would protect and serve each other, instead of hoping that the people who often abuse them might decide to help them when they are the victim of a crime by someone who is not a police officer. Finally, cop watching allowed many victims of police abuse to feel that they were once again in control of their lives. For a victim of police abuse to be able to stand up to a police officer, and film them as the police officer glares at them, and to know that people are there to stand behind the filmer is quite powerful. For many it is a part of the healing process that never comes through the criminal or civil courts.
We were lucky to be able to learn from the successes and failures of cop watchers that came before us. Jacob Crawford and We Copwatch had been cop watching for years, and we were able to use their work as a guide for ours. But we also met members of the Austin Brown Berets who didn’t have the benefit of cell phones and portable cameras when they were trying to rein in abusive and racist police in the late 70′s and early 80′s. We also had the opportunity to host Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale and learn from him how they cop watched when all they had were their eyes to bear witness to police abuse, and their rifles to serve as a deterrent to the police abusing them. (Note: The Peaceful Streets Project prohibits the carrying of weapons when we cop watch because we don’t want criminal cops to have a ready excuse to kill our activists; and as Bobby told us, today the camera is more powerful than the rifle.)
Cop watching has come a long way since the 60′s, and too often those who dared to cop watch were ridiculed and slandered by those who claimed to be “law and order” types. But the theme that runs through cop watching from the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, We Copwatch, the Peaceful Streets Project, and the Canfield Watchmen is that the cop watchers have always stood in opposition to oppression and have always been eager to call out the institutionalized violence of the police state. It is the cop watchers that stand up for the most vulnerable members of society – the people the police choose to prey upon as opposed to protect.
The act of cop watching has become perhaps the most powerful direct action tactic. Know Your Rights trainings are critical in educating people. Giving victims a platform to share their stories of abuse raises awareness. Organizing summits can help build communities. And many people are doing great work trying to change laws to help chip away at the police state. But it seems that cop watching is the tactic that has the greatest ability to change the way that victims respond to police abuse, to immediately alter the behavior of the police, and to help those on the sidelines to recognize that the offense that police everywhere take to filming indicates that the bad cop mentality is rooted deep within the culture of law enforcement.
The movement has now drafted the young and elderly, people of all races and all socio-economic backgrounds, and now the movement is even getting airtime on mainstream media. Last weekend, Peaceful Streets Project founder Antonio Buehler even had a five minute piece that ran on Fox News at 10p Eastern. While this riled up many Fox News watchers, it no doubt also planted some seeds. Perhaps some of them will even join us in the streets as we film the police. This movement is winning, and this movement is on the right side of history.