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.
From Eric Garner to Michael Brown, it has become more and more apparent to more and more Americans that the police state in this country is out of control. Despite endless attempts by police, their cop apologist friends and families, politicians, corrupted media and overt racists, thoughtful people cannot explain away a seemingly endless array of “isolated incidents” in which cops murder unarmed people.
The events in Ferguson, MO are forcing a national debate on the appropriate role of police and their use of force. We believe that conversation must happen if we are going to move toward a more peaceful society. And yes, we believe that there are many factors at play beyond criminal cops. We believe that racism, poverty, corporate interests and public union interests, and a society that is conditioned to blindly respect authority are all factors that have helped increase the aggression and criminality of so many cops. In fact, we believe that the problem is systematic; many well-meaning cops end up becoming the criminals they thought they would be fighting.
While the murder of unarmed people should be unacceptable in an advanced civilization, there are tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of crimes committed by police against the public each year. These crimes run the gamut from bad to horrible. These crimes include false arrests, assault, rape and framing people for crimes they didn’t commit, among others. With tens to hundreds of thousands of victims of police abuse each year, one might expect there to be tens of thousands of police officers sitting in prison; however, cops are able to brazenly commit crimes in front of witnesses and video cameras and get away with those crimes almost every single time. Sadly, innocent people don’t have such good luck. It is estimated that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent, meaning there may be 100,000 innocent people in prison in America. Layer on top of that all of the people who are in prison for non-violent, victimless crimes (such as drug use) and it becomes apparent that justice is a joke.
While we encourage people to get mad over the senseless killings of unarmed people such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown, we also want people to get mad over the constant harassment, victimization and imprisonment of people who manage to escape a police encounter with their life still intact. These victims are everywhere to be seen, however they are often hiding their struggles because they live in a society where victims of police abuse are blamed for their misfortune.
We also encourage people to step forward and fight back whenever they can. It is a shame that more people don’t sue police and their municipalities when they are victimized. We understand, though. Filing civil suits is hard work and there are far too few civil lawyers willing to take cases against the police; particularly if there isn’t serious bodily injury. Further, if a victim doesn’t win their criminal case, most lawyers won’t even consider a civil suit.
John Pharr of Austin, TX is a recent victim of police abuse who has had the resources and courage to fight back. On August 14, 2012, APD officer Christopher Willie pulled over John Pharr under suspicion of driving while intoxicated. When Pharr didn’t obey Willie’s arbitrary orders quickly enough, Willie ordered Pharr out of the vehicle. Willie then threw Pharr on the ground, and landed a few punches on Pharr.
Fortunately, Pharr survived his encounter with this violent cop, and now has filed a civil suit against the cop and the city of Austin. In pursuing the civil suit, Pharr and his lawyer realized that not only did the cops commit multiple felony crimes by assaulting him, but they also perjured themselves in their affidavit. And while the cops will never be charged with their felony crimes, this civil suit might raise awareness with a few more people.
While we recognize that not everyone can file suit against the cops who abuse them, we hope more and more will take the path that Pharr has taken. Winning the fight against violent, criminal cops will not be easy, and there is no silver bullet. Voting won’t solve the problem, nor will filming police. Civil suits, won’t either. However, by using every peaceful means available to us, we can help drive the national debate further, put a human face on the issue of police abuse, and begin to make more and more people aware of the out of control police who have destroyed the lives of millions of Americans.