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Antonio Buehler & Peaceful Streets: Grand Jury & Sticker Update

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on this topic, see Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful StreetsThe Peaceful Streets Police Summit, and More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin.

Antonio Buehler at the Texas State Capitol

Antonio Buehler dodged a felony charge, but continues to struggle with multiple misdemeanors and another arrest.

Earlier this month, a Grand Jury in Austin, Texas finally ruled on Antonio Buehler and his allies in the Peaceful Streets Project in a case which stretches back to New Years 2012. Though Buehler will not face felony charges, he and other allies will go to court to answer to several misdemeanors. And Buehler found himself back in jail again after the Grand Jury ruling.

Felony charges date back to this Westpoint graduate’s controversial first arrest on New Years, when he filmed a violent arrest of a driver suspected of DUI and her passenger. Buehler was arrested and accused of spitting on an officer. Though the Austin Police Department refused to release the officers’ dashboard camera footage, other witness footage collected by Buehler seemed likely to exonerate him and it seems the Grand Jury didn’t think this charge would stick.

But Buehler’s first arrest launched him on a personal crusade to fight for police transparency and the constitutionally-protected right of citizens to film the police. Other arrests during the ensuing months were rolled into the investigation. The Grand Jury also made at least a token consideration of whether police had engaged in wrongdoing too.

Unsurprisingly, the cleared police of charges. At the same time, they chose to indict Antonio Buehler on four Class C misdemeanor charges of failure to obey the obey the police. Area activist Sarah Dickerson, arrested while filming one of Buehler’s arrests, was indicted for a single count of the same charge. Norma Pizana, the passenger in the New Years situation, will go to court for a Class A misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

According to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg,

The Grand Jury met on six occasions and heard from 13 witnesses, including Antonio Buehler and Officer Patrick Oborski. The felony charges considered by the Grand Jury were tampering with a governmental record by Officer Oborski as well as harassment of a public servant by Antonio Buehler. The Grand Jury also considered whether Officer Oborski committed official oppression.

But according to the official statement on the Peaceful Streets website:

[The Grand Jury] did not hear from either Buehler or Dickerson regarding the post-New Year’s Day incidents, nor any of the Peaceful Streets Project volunteers who witnessed those incidents. … There was no evidence that either Buehler or Dickerson ever obstructed or interfered with an officer engaged in his official duties.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo continues to insist that none of the arrests were motivated by the filming, but by interference with police duties:

The Austin Police Department wants to once again reiterate the fact that simply filming police actions are generally lawful. However, interfering or obstructing a lawful police action, failure to obey a lawful order, and/or resisting arrest is a violation of the law.

Thanks to the Austin Chronicle for their continued coverage.

Buehler’s activism — and arrests — continue. The Austin-American Statesman reports that Buehler was arrested in mid-April for putting Peaceful Streets stickers on the back of city signs near the Travis County Courthouse, part of a major hub of law enforcement activity in downtown Austin — he spent the night in the jail on the same block. The initial charge was for misdemeanor Class C Criminal Mischief, but after a city technician assessed the “damage” to signs at $99, the charge was upgraded to Class B.

Peaceful Streets Project members continue to regularly gather for copwatch events and Know Your Rights trainings.

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Tent City Rising: Occupy Austin Attempts New Encampments (#OATX Birthday, UPDATED)

2:37 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police Repeatedly Evict End Homelessness Campers and Arrest 3

On Saturday, October 6, a week of events and direct action celebrating Occupy Austin’s 1st birthday culminated on its official anniversary with an attempt to reoccupy space; the goal was to create a new transitional encampment for those without homes in a city which has criminalized their existence.

The Popular Assembly at Austin City Hall

The Popular Assembly at Austin City Hall (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

The day began with a March Against Hate to protest a hate crime on Pride weekend (previously mentioned on myFDL). Occupy Austin, in addition to joining the march, lent our portable sound system to the community for use at the Texas State Capitol, then danced along the sidewalks on the way back to Austin City Hall for our Popular Assembly. In between blowing on party horns and whistles, members of the community got on the microphone to talk about the accomplishments of our movement, our favorite memories, and our hopes for next year.

From City Hall, Occupiers left by car, bus and bike for a rendezvous point at Highland Mall, a failing mall which was recently bought out by Austin Community College (though classes have not yet begun there). The bicycle contingent was the last to arrive, and by the time they did the Austin Police department and mall security had amassed — at least a dozen police cars, not to mention the helicopter circling overhead. It was time for Tent City Rising.

Occupy Austin’s Ending Homelessness Working Group called for the action with the goal of creating new temporary housing for those without homes. The encampment, if allowed to exist, would follow strict behavior guidelines for all those present. It would provide critical meals and shelter for a city which has thousands of homeless (about 4,000) and only hundreds of beds in dangerous, overcrowded shelters. Austin has also made it illegal to camp on public property, against city code to erect tents on private property within city limits, and even illegal to sit or lay down on the sidewalk. The timing of the action was perfect to shed light on the problem, because the Austin Police Department has started an initiative to ‘clean up downtown‘ for the Austin City Limits Festival and the upcoming Formula 1 Race in November. Arrests of the homeless have increased as much as 200% or more by some reports.

Police wrestle a man holding a backpack to the ground in front of a tent.

Jeremy Cruts is arrested for camping, September 6 2012 (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission).

Moments after the cyclists arrived at the ACC property, police and security cleared the parking lot. In the process they made two arrests — including the Peaceful Streets Project‘s Joshua “Comrade” Pineda, who they grabbed off the sidewalk, later claiming he’d stepped a single foot back onto the “private property.” Regrouping, the occupiers marched to an abandoned Home Depot, shadowed by the helicopter and an unmarked law enforcement agent in a white SUV.

On the night in February when police evicted the 5-month long occupation from Austin City Hall, the city allowed people without anywhere else to go the opportunity to sleep for a single night at this disused big box construction store. The site was chosen symbolically to make a stand. If the city was willing to house people there for one night, why not many nights when so many sleep in their cars or try to find a hiding place from the police to get a few hours rest?

The gate to the Home Depot was opened, and three Occupiers parked their cars inside. Soon after, many police officers arrived and told them to move their vehicles. As soon as they reentered the property to do so, police boxed them in and placed all three in handcuffs. One member of the group was due to visit a sick relative the next morning and became extremely distraught. Even the police seemed affected; one officer appeared near tears and helped occupiers recover a bicycle belonging to one of those arrested.

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#PeacefulStreets Project: More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Peaceful Streets Project: Antonio Buehler and Peaceful Streets, Police Accountability Summit, and The Buehler Bubble

Under your department’s rules officers are free to create a chilling effect upon far more speech (photography/recording is deemed a form of speech for First Amendment protections) than is necessary to achieve a substantial government interest … We believe that if challenged, such a directive would be deemed to be unconstitutional. -National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher in a letter to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo

Police accountability activist Antonio Buehler arrested a third time for filming police; Occupy Austin’s Sarah Dickerson arrested also

Antonio and Sarah embrace as others look on.

Antonio Buehler and Sarah Dickerson embrace outside the Travis County Jail after their copwatch arrest (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

September 20 marked another Peaceful Streets Project copwatch. Though these happen often, this copwatch had a heightened tension due to a recent court decision in the trial of long time copwatcher John Bush. Bush was arrested for filming the police in mid-December of 2011, before Antonio’s New Years Eve arrest which inspired the Peaceful Streets. Despite video evidence showing a lack of interference with police duties, John Bush was convicted for refusing orders that would have put a traffic sign between their cameras and notorious Austin Police Department Officer Jason Mistric. Mistric is known for harassing cyclists and for threatening Occupy Austin members, including myself, with pepper spray in February.

Pixiq has the lurid tale, from Mistric’s Facebook stalking of Bush and his wife (using the porntastic nom de plume Max Rock) through to last week’s conviction for “interfering with public duties:”

A Texas cop watcher was found guilty Wednesday for not moving away while he was video recording a cop on a public street last winter. John Bush was charged with failure to comply with a lawful order when a cop ordered him to stand behind a street sign to continue recording. Austin police officer Jason Mistric claimed he was ‘interfering,’ even though the video shows he was merely standing on a sidewalk, several feet from where officers were making an arrest.

Further complicating matters was the recent Austin Police Department flip-flop on filming distance. As previously reported on Firedoglake, Austin Police Department threatened to require a 50′ to 60′ filming distance from any police situation; this threat was issued after Buehler’s second arrest during a 6th Street copwatch in late August. Last week, APD seemed to back down. KVUE reported, “No restrictions on distance public can stand, film officers:”

Austin police say there are no rules for where you can stand and record what they do. At a news conference in August, they said they’d like anyone filming to stay 50 to 60 feet away, but now there are no restrictions. Of course, it was the Aug. 26 arrest of Antonio Buehler that put this issue in the spotlight. … Police now say it’s up to the officers to decide a safe distance.

To this journalist, this announcement seemed like a victory for first amendment rights. Unfortunately, rather than a message of respect toward our right to film public servents, this was instead a notice to activists — we can arrest you at any time. Early Thursday evening, Twitter’s @chapeaudefee reported that Peaceful Streets’ Joshua “Comrade” Pineda had encountered a tense situation where while copwatching he was threatened to back up or face arrest:

.@Pisce_Incarnate [Comrade] was just harassed by about three officers and DUI officer w/expensive camera. [Police] locked down the sidewalk so Peaceful Streets members could not approach. No reason given why. Told them arbitrary distance to step back. Our teams are debriefing about the situation.

@chapeaudefee is Sarah Dickerson, a member of Occupy Austin who livetweeted during Occupy Boston’s eviction and other events. As a member of OATX Team Chupacabra, she contributed alongside this journalist to Firedoglake’s live coverage of September 17, 2012. Though she’d escaped arrest during tense situations with both Boston and New York police, before the night was out the Austin Police Department arrested her for filming the arrest of Antonio Buehler.

Peaceful Streets Project members use the Lonestar Liberty Bell alert network to communicate by phone. At 1:08am Antonio phoned in an alert — he and his copwatch team were filming a Driving Under the Influence police stop west of the club district; Oborski, the same officer who arrested him for falsified assault charges last New Years’ Eve was running the stop. Five minutes later, another alert came in: Read the rest of this entry →

The Antonio Buehler 60′ Bubble (#PeacefulStreets)

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on this story see Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets, and Antonio Buehler Arrested Again For Filming the Police.

Peaceful Streets’ Police-Transparency Activists Defiant After Second Arrest, Plan Thursday Night Mass Copwatch

Do police need a 60-foot bubble of safety from activists with cameras? That’s the claim Austin Police Department is making in the wake of the second arrest of a police transparency activist.

Antonio flashes a peace sign while exiting the Travis County Jail.

Flanked by allies, Antonio Buehler exits the Travis County Jail last Sunday after his second arrest (Photo: Sarah Dickerson @ChapeauDefee, used with permission)

Antonio Buehler’s first arrest came last New Years Eve, when this Iraq Veteran and Westpoint graduate was accused of spitting on a police officer while filming a traffic stop turned brutal. This arrest inspired the formation of Peaceful Streets, which gave out 100 digital cameras to community activists at a police transparency summit earlier this year. Saturday night on one of their regular downtown copwatch outings, Buehler was singled out of a group of four for arrest.

Now Austin Police Department claims they may institute a new policy requiring cameras to keep 50 feet or more away from police at all times according to KEYE TV, claiming that the presence of cameras agitated the arrestee:

“The individual became really agitated to the point the officer had to use more force,” [Commander Troy] Gay said.

Now APD wants a policy change. They say people should be allowed to exercise their first amendment right, but they need more distance to do their job.

“We would like them to be 50 or 60 feet,” Gay said.

Most mainstream media outlets are repeating APD’s claims that Buehler’s presence interfered with arrest. Buehler tells a very different story in Pixiq:

On Saturday night, police responded to an incident where a man had pushed his fiancée down to the ground. It turned out, the man had a warrant, which is why he was arrested. Buehler and other activists began recording the interaction.

“She walked up to us and I told her we were filming for her safety and she hugged me and walked over to her fiancée and told him,” Buehler said.

“He looks at me and gives me the thumbs up sign.”

But as two cops led the man away and Buehler and another activist began following, a third cop arrived and began ordering “Mr. Buehler” to back away.

“I was standing more than 25 feet away,” Buehler said.

While the cop kept ordering Buehler to back away, the handcuffed suspect began threatening Buehler by saying he is going to kick his ass.

The cop, who Buehler believes may be named “Berry,” then asks the suspect whether Buehler was harassing him. The suspect says yes, which is when the cop made the arrest.

The American Civil Liberties Union firmly believes You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop. I asked Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director of the ACLU of Texas how that applies to the Lone Star State in particular:

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Antonio Buehler Arrested Again For Filming Police (#PeacefulStreets)

10:31 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on Antonio Buehler: Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets, Peaceful Streets Police Accountability Summit and Peaceful Streets Rally for Anaheim

Late Saturday night, anti-police corruption activist Antonio Buehler was arrested a second time for filming the police.

Antonio flashes a peace sign while exiting the Travis County Jail.

Flanked by allies, Antonio Buehler exits the Travis County Jail on Sunday after his second arrest for filming police (Photo: Sarah Dickerson @ChapeauDefee, used with permission).

Since the formation of the Peaceful Streets Project, members have continued to film the police and report to the Lonestar Liberty Bell. While individuals are encouraged to film the police whenever possible, in order to promote their visibility the PSP gathers as a group on weekends to patrol 6th Street, Austin’s nightclub district. Copwatching there is frequently chaotic, especially after 2am when the bars close and mounted police are sent in to clear the area.

Though some officers are respectful of being filmed, others have grown more hostile; they make arbitrary demands about where copwatchers can stand while filming, shine flashlights at their cameras or even become directly confrontational. Last Wednesday, YNN reported on these encounters, including the following ominous statement by the Austin Police Department:

In a statement released by the department, APD leaders say they are, ‘Aware of pattern of behavior with Antonio Buehler that could be of criminal nature. Based upon that and other pending matters, the Austin Police Department is unable to discuss at this time.’

Saturday night on 6th Street, Buehler and other copwatchers began to film police making an arrest. An unedited video of the encounter shows police growing increasingly concerned with Antonio’s presence while ignoring other cameras. According to eyewitnesses, the police asked the arrestee if he was bothered by being filmed; about seven minutes into the video, a voice can be heard saying “Yes, I want to press charges!” after which police abruptly place Buehler under arrest. He remains calm and peaceful throughout.

Antonio Buehler was charged with interfering with police and released Sunday night on $2,000 bail. Speaking to a small crowd of media and supporters from the Peaceful Streets Project and Occupy Austin, Buehler said:

APD is going to claim that I interfered with what they were doing. … We never engaged with a single officer. The only time we talked with an officer is when they came up to us. … However, some people … have an issue with people watching them doing their job. So then they go ahead and fabricate false threats and they fabricate interference and they use that to push us around and yesterday I guess it finally caught up to me. I met someone who was a little more unbalanced and immature than other cops who just resorted to pushing us around and yelling at us.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this. I’m pretty sure that [Austin Police Chief] Art Acevedo is not going to have the courage to do what’s right and discipline his officer and make sure these charges are dismissed. … I’m sure they’re going to lie just like they lied with the New Years Eve case. But we’re going to keep fighting it.

I will update Firedoglake with further developments as the Peaceful Streets Project continues their important work.

LIVE (at 5:30PM CST): Peaceful Streets Rally for Anaheim

1:11 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

This evening I will be live from the Peaceful Streets Rally for Anaheim Solidarity.

On my ‘GonzoATX’ (KitOConnell) Ustream

The Peaceful Streets Project draws from a diverse Austin including Occupy Austin, which is formally in solidarity with the project.

The rally begins at 5:30pm CST and is starting at the Austin Police Headquarters.

More info: Anaheim Police BrutalityAntonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets

 Peaceful Streets Police Summit

Peaceful Streets — Austin Police Accountability Summit (VIDEOS)

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

See also: Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful Streets. Links to additional summit videos can be found throughout this post.

On July 14, I attended the Peaceful Streets Project Police Accountability summit. This all day free conference brought about 200 diverse members of the Austin, Texas community together to learn about police abuse and create new ways to fight it.

Though the summit had its genesis from the mistreatment and false accusations against Antonio Buehler after he filmed police on New Years Eve 2011, Buehler himself stayed in the background for much of the day, letting other key project leaders and volunteers be the center of attention. Even when telling his own story, he made it part of a larger panel on victims of police abuse, seen to the right. This let the larger problem — the lack of transparency — show through. For example, it is clear that ‘spitting on police’ has become one of the go-to false accusations when cops need to pin something on an uncooperative suspect or political enemy.

The host of the police abuse panel, Debbie Russell, is a longtime Austin activist who was arrested at the eviction of Occupy Austin. In another highlight of the day, she was joined on stage by Scott Crow, anarchist author of Black Flags and Windmills, for a discussion of alternatives to calling the police and how they’ve been put into place at the downtown cooperative Ecology Action. Even lunch time was thought provoking, giving attendees a chance to tour a vehicle which was customized with cameras, sophisticated recording equipment and even a smoke screen.

Of course, the central event of the day was the formation of a new cop watch group and the gift of 100 cameras to community activists dedicated to filming the police.

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LIVE: Austin Peaceful Streets Police Accountability Summit

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Today, I am livestreaming from the Peaceful Streets Summit on Police Accountability. Created by Antonio Buehler, a victim of police corruption at New Years, the summit aims to create greater transparency in police behavior

More info: Peaceful Streets Project

Antonio Buehler and Peaceful Streets

1:35 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

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.

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Texas Occupies Independence Day

1:43 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A street march in Austin. Banners: We the People / Workers of the World Occupy. Sign: Choose Love Over Fear

The #OccupyJ4 March on Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

Yesterday, I spent all day with my favorite radical activists, people I’ve come to think of as family, occupying Independence Day. But this wasn’t simply a gathering of the usual Occupy Austin core members —  this was a coalition of occupiers from around the state, along with representatives of several other activist groups from Iraq Veterans Against the War to Texans for Accountable Government. The weather was mild for a Texas summer with a breeze that provided actual relief, and the trees on the beautiful grounds of the Texas State Capitol provided plenty of shade. We had good food, 16 different teach-ins, music, inspiring speeches, and a beautiful street march.

A state trooper admonishes a member of IVAW for her chalk art.

Texas State Trooper Craig Cummings accuses IVAW's Lindsey of Criminal Mischief (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

It might have been a perfect day except for the interference of the Texas State Troopers, who guard the capitol. The grounds are used almost continuously by tourists, workers on their lunch breaks, quinceañeras and weddings, and guerilla dance parties, not to mention activist groups. Once, antiwar protesters pitched tents there for continual occupations in support of peace. Then, about a month after Occupy events began in Austin, the State Preservation Board, the group which oversees the building and its environs (Governor Rick Perry is a member) changed the rules for its use. Now tents are banned, despite their legitimate use as tools of free speech; these same regulations led to Troopers claiming last year that we could only be there for three hours at a time without a permit. Though they backed down and now allow us to assemble for as long as we choose, they are determined to harass us and make that assembly difficult.

In fact, it was the same Sergeant Craig Cummings who appears in the above linked videos who was responsible again yesterday. The harassment began when we erected food tables. Mac, a member of the Occupy Austin OccuQueers, told me about how the table — and he and others at it — were surrounded by ten Troopers with hands on their holsters. Later, they watched members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War use chalk on the sidewalk, a feature of previous ‘die-in’ style protests, before approaching, collecting IDs and arbitrarily giving one member, Lindsey, a warning for ‘Criminal Mischief.’ Later, they told IVAW and others that ‘unattended signs’ were against the law, and that banners spread on the grass must have people sitting on them at all times or their owners would face legal action. Water pistols (even neon-colored or animal-shaped), he said, when aimed at anyone, might merit the use of deadly force. That evening, Christopher Michael (a.k.a. @OccupyURCapitol) began erecting a tent during our permit hours, Troopers approached him and asked him to take it down, then arrested him when he hesitated in doing so. After 24 hours in custody, he was released without charge.

I’ve received negative criticism when I speak out against this behavior by agents of the 1% and the police state. It’s true that Austin’s police, whether APD or Troopers, are not as violent or corrupt as elsewhere — we haven’t dealt with stop and friskactivists shot by tear-gas cannisters, or pepper spray assaults on queer folk. I don’t think this is an excuse: any abuse of police power is inexcusable. I think it’s a sign of how far our free speech rights have fallen that these excuses are made — it’s not as bad as it could be. That’s true — police could be firing on us with live ammunition, too, but does that mean we shouldn’t demand our right to peaceably assemble regardless of whether the reaction is violence or arrests and threats?

While I want money out of politics, and basic human needs met for all people, I continue to believe that free speech itself is enough of a reason to protest. When we take the streets, I’m happy to march for independence, for gay rights, against the NDAA, or any other cause. For me, though, the core of almost any action is our absolute right to freedom of speech.

Sharing Knowledge, Forging Connections

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