It’s been a busy year for Antonio Buehler.
When he agreed to be a designated driver for friends on New Year’s Eve, 2011, he had no idea how much that simple decision would shape 2012. As reported by RT.com (one of many media sources to pick up this story in recent weeks) Buehler, a 34-year old Iraq Veteran and West Point Graduate, had stopped to refuel at a 7-11, when:
he witnessed officers with the Austin Police Department attempt to detain a woman under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol at a fueling station. By the end of the evening, though, Buehler also found himself being apprehended by authorities.
“I saw a woman getting assaulted by the police. It looked like police abuse, and I decided to speak up and take pictures. I think that is every person’s right,” Buehler told Austin’s KVUE News earlier this year.
The authorities, however, see things differently. According to the officers, Buehler was interfering with their investigation. Buehler says he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights from afar, but the police department begs to differ. Buehler was “in my face,” Officer Pat Oborski writes in the official police report. The officer also claims that Buehler spit at him, an allegation that Buehler rejects.
Buehler faces a felony charge for his supposed assault on Officer Oborski. Police have gone to court to prevent release of the dashboard camera which would show this incident clearly. However, the viral video ‘No Spit! No Wipe,’ constructed from witness video solicited by Buehler via Craigslist, clearly shows his innocence. Footage also shows police restraining not just the alleged drunken driver, but also violently pinning the passenger in retaliation for advising the driver of her right to refuse a breathalyzer test. Despite these abuses of the rights of all three, the toothless Citizen Review Panel recently cleared Officers Pat Oborski and Robert Snider of any wrongdoing; per their policy, they also won’t release any details of that investigation. Antonio Buehler faces up to ten years in prison if convicted. A grand jury must convene in order for the felony charges to go forward, and he’s next due in court on July 20.
Buehler’s story is like dozens we hear about all the time. As Buehler himself admits, his case would probably not have gotten so much attention if he was Black or Hispanic, and he would have much less credibility in the mainstream media if he were not a veteran. Most of us would not be so lucky in his position. Many in his shoes would be satisfied to use their good fortune to mount a successful defense, and perhaps raise a bit of awareness about police corruption. Few would take it this far.
In the seven months since Buehler’s arrest, what started as an unfortunate infringement on first amendment rights has transformed into a personal crusade. As more and more rallied to his defense, more and more stories of bad policing came to light. Other stories that made the news in the first half of 2012, like the unfortunate deaths of Byron Carter and Cisco the Dog, helped people realize that this is no isolated incident, but a systemic problem stemming from a lack of transparency and accountability in the Austin Police Department (and almost all other departments anywhere).
Buehler and his allies launched the Peaceful Streets Project (motto: Protect and Serve Each Other). The Project has spent its first few months focused on education and awareness. They’ve brought that education straight to the source of the problem by holding Know Your Rights classes on the front steps of the APD headquarters. Another project, the Police Complaint Department meets by the HQ or the county jail to offer newly released prisoners a chance to share their story; the most recent was held in the early hours of this morning, as Joshua Pineda (known as Comrade to Occupy Austin) told Fox 7:
As they’re released from jail, we interview them and make sure their rights weren’t violated, make sure they weren’t abused. If they were we can … get their story out there and get them in touch with civil rights attorneys. [We] give them food, water, let them use our phones so they can call people to come and pick them up. And most importantly give a presence that lets them know that the suffering is over.
Occupy Austin has held solidarity events called PB&J Actions, where we feed people by meeting places of the homeless and the disadvantaged. We record the stories of people like Rubiks, who was held by police for 7 hours for smoking in a park. Peaceful Streets is an example of the power of coalition building; Buehler and his closest network are strong Libertarians and Ron Paul supporters and hold some positions about which others like occupiers might disagree. Yet we and many others can come together over our belief that police should answer to the people, not abuse their rights; whether we’re activists, veterans, or normal citizens of the city, far too many experience police violence and corruption.
All of what’s happened so far has been a prelude to the Peaceful Streets Police Accountability Summit. This free, all-day event will be held Saturday at Austin’s Mexitas Restaurant. After a free breakfast at 9am, the summit begins at 10am with classes and discussions of our rights, activism, and tactics in filming the police. At the end of the day, 100 high quality digital video cameras will be given away to activists dedicated to filming the police.
If you’re interested in attending this summit, you can RSVP on the Facebook event or via the information on the Peaceful Streets homepage. If you can’t make it, tune into my stream all day for live coverage.
More: The Rise of Peaceful Streets in Antonio Buehler’s own words on Austin Indymedia