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#Chalkupy Continues In Austin

3:10 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

The Crackdown on Chalk

Austin Police Department Joins State Troopers in Targeting Chalk

More on MyFDL: The Crackdown On Chalk, More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests

During the week leading up to Occupy Austin’s October 6 birthday, the group participated in the Cop Block’s Chalk The Police Day of Action. We began by chalking at Austin City Hall, where the police monitor was in session and in honor of a recent court ruling that said bans from City Hall were unconstitutional. As we chalked, we were confronted by security guards who insisted that City Hall was private property, and therefore we were engaged in illegal graffiti. We continued to chalk, pausing only to quote court rulings backing up our right to chalk. The group left as bicycle cops began to converge on the site.

Chalk on the APD Headquarters: Murderers

Austin Police Department Headquarters, October 1 2012 (Photo: Jeff Zavala / Zgraphix.org / Austin Indymedia, used with permission.)

We stopped briefly at One America Center, the office building which houses both a Chase Bank and Strategic Forecasting. After a short chalk adventure there, we visited the Austin Police Department headquarters. An audacious chalking of the word ‘Murderers’ on the building would win Cop Block’s Best Location Award and the enmity of the police. As the group left the premises, police arrived in multiple vehicles, a transport wagon, and on bicycle. The whole group was detained on 6th Street, the nearby club district.

Though police had no grounds to make arrests for chalking itself, they confiscated two boxes of chalk as evidence and made two arrests. One was a man who had past traffic warrants. The other was Peaceful Streets Project member Lynn Foster. Though Lynn only filmed and did not chalk, police arrested him when he refused to identify himself. According to Pixiq, this is legal under Texas law:

He was charged with failure to identify, which according to Texas law, is an offense if the suspect refuses to provide his name after he was lawfully arrested on another charge or if he refuses to provide his name if he is a witness to a crime.

Police confiscated his camera, the fourth Peaceful Streets Project digital video camera stolen by Austin Police since the police accountability summit.

Texas Department of Public Safety’s Lips Are Sealed

Two activists in handcuffs with State Troopers on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

August 9, 2012: Audrey Steiner and Corey Williams are processed on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol after being arrested for chalking a public sidewalk nearby (Photo: Kit O'Connell, all rights reserved).

The first set of Chalkupy-related arrests occurred when Texas Department of Public Safety State Troopers nabbed Audrey Steiner and Corey Williams from the sidewalk across the street from the Texas State Capitol. Both were arrested for “criminal mischief” — a class C misdemeanor though the DPS threatened in the press to increase charges to class B — but when they reported to court for their first hearing, no record of their charges could be found. The Troopers neglected to file their charges, or perhaps hope to withhold them for a later day as a threat.

John Jack Anderson, photojournalist for the Austin Chronicle, filed an open records request seeking DPS documents containing the word ‘Chalkupy.’ Despite the lack of charges, the DPS refused to provide the documents on two grounds:

Because this is an ongoing criminal case, the release of potential evidence would interfere with the investigation and prosecution of this case.

[and]

Revealing the requested records would provide wrong-doers, terrorists, and criminals with invaluable information concerning the methods used by the Department to detect, investigate, and prevent potential criminal activity and could jeopardize security in the Capitol Complex.

Are chalkers wrong-doers, terrorists, criminals or all three? The open records request now gets sent to Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, whose office will decide how to respond.

Thanks to Zgraphix.org / Austin Indymedia Center for their coverage of Occupy Austin’s Birthday Week

Bans at Austin City Hall Ruled Unconstitutional (#OATX)

11:08 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A policy which shaped the history of Occupy Austin has been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S District Court. The ruling comes just over a week before the group celebrates its first birthday on October 6.

38 activists were arrested at Austin City Hall in the early hours of October 31, 2011.

38 activists were arrested at Austin City Hall in the early hours of October 31, 2011. Most City Hall arrestees were charged with 'criminal trespass' and banned from City Hall for one year (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission)

On that day, Occupy Austin first encamped on the amphitheater steps outside Austin City Hall; because of a legal loophole, the camping and sleeping ban which applies to most of Austin did not apply at that site.

Almost from the start of the movement’s history, police, security guards and city officials used criminal trespass notices banning occupiers from City Hall as a way to break up and divide the movement’s key volunteers and those most dedicated to direct action. Even recently, when Austin Police want to justify the eviction, infiltration, and suppression of the movement they point to the over 100 arrests which took place at the encampment — over 80 of which were for ‘Criminal Trespass.’

Today, the United States District Court For the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, ruled those bans unconstitutional:

Having carefully considered the evidence presented at trial, the parties’ stipulated facts, the case law applicable to this action, the argument of counsel, and the parties’ post-trial letters, the court concludes that the City’s policy on issuing criminal-trespass notices violates Plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

The case was brought on December 21, 2011 by Rodolfo “Rudy” Sanchez and Kristopher “Kris” Sleeman, with the help of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Both Sanchez and Sleeman were among 38 arrested on the night of October 30 and the morning of October 31, 2011. The arrests came in three waves — first the arrests were over a food table when city officials insisted food service must stop at night, then more when some staged a sit-in to resist the thrice-weekly power washing which disrupted the encampment. Finally, the remaining arrestees were hand-selected by an undercover operative named “Trevor,” who went behind police lines to point out key Occupy organizers to police.

The criminal trespass notices and arrests had a profound effect on Occupy Austin. Suddenly dozens of its key members could not longer come onto the site of its major encampment. Some took to protesting and holding meetings across Cesar Chavez Street on a tiny patch of land which is technically Margaret Hoffman Oak Park, but became known as ‘Exile Island.’ Some were energized by the Halloween weekend arrests — they inspired this reporter to join the movement; I witnessed one of the newly released prisoners mic-check a demand that Occupy Austin march in the street, not on the sidewalk, a commandment we follow to this day.

The city provided a review process where someone banned could ask for it to be lifted as long as they applied for review within a short window after their ban. Sometimes, our ‘exiles’ would return to City Hall and be surrounded by our bodies to protect them from sight. Yet many of those arrested or who witnessed the police’s show of force left and never returned. At one point, Kris Sleeman returned after his ban had been lifted and was threatened with a new arrest by a police officer ignorant of his reprieve; the chilling effect of these bans was clearly far-reaching

A Long-Awaited Ruling

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