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Occupy Austin in Solidarity with Turkey; Detained for Chalking City Hall

4:22 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Turkish allies and Occupy Austin gathered at Austin City Hall on Monday for a special #OccupyGezi Solidarity General Assembly. Police temporarily detained gonzo journalist Kit O’Connell.

Lighted Signs: TX <3 Resistanbul

Occupy Austin and the Austin Overpass Light Brigade joined members of the Turkish community in solidarity with Occupy Gezi on Monday.

This week has been a hard one. It’s not news to anyone paying attention that the state of national and global affairs is bleak, but there are times when the enormity of how fucked we are settles hard into the gut.

Monday saw the return of Occupy Austin to its original home at Austin City Hall. During the Texas Legislative session we moved our weekly gatherings to the Capitol. The anticipated wave of legislature-based activism never materialized (from Occupy, anyway — other groups like GetEqual staged multiple actions) and our small weekly group felt a little lost on the giant capitol grounds. Though the Leg has extended its session into ‘extra innings,’ we consented to move our gatherings back to City Hall and focus on our next steps for the future.

As June 3rd approached, the Occupy Gezi movement grew into global prominence and #OATX started receiving requests for solidarity. We invited any local allies of the Turkish people to attend our weekly assembly. About two dozen supporters joined the Assembly and we agreed to drop the usual assembly process and just create an open mic for discussion of the recent events in Turkey.

Detained for Chalking City Hall

While the Austin Audio Co-Op (fresh from an appearance at Queerbomb) set up their sound system, we chalked the plaza and steps around Austin City Hall as we have many times before. I wrote Occupy Gezi & Occupy Austin on the steps, and an older Turkish man followed me, outlining my words in yellow and others adding a colorful ISTANBUL! More of the steps soon read TX <3 Resistanbul, the message which the Austin Overpass Light Brigade would display that night.

Chalkupy: From Austin to Turkey We LOVE YOU

Occupy Gezi Chalkupy at Austin City Hall on Monday

Police appeared just as we were preparing to begin. Defiantly, I picked up a piece of chalk and wrote ‘OUR CITY HALL’ in large white letters as three officers approached. So of course, they detained me.

I know my rights and, once I knew that I was actually being detained, I identified myself with my legal name, birth date, and home address as required by Texas law. Then I invoked my right to remain silent. Three police surrounded me while others moved through the plaza. Bicycle cops soon arrived too. At least a half dozen cameras came out in the plaza, filming the police and me.

One Turkish woman spoke up: “They are killing our people in Turkey. Why are you harassing us here?”

An officer tried to placate her while another, my main interrogator, Officer Howell, badgered me with questions and sarcastic comments, adopting the tone of every high school’s mean girl bully. When I broke my silence to mention several legal precedents which show that chalk is free speech, she asked me if I was aware that Florida is three states away. Another exchange went like this:

Officer Howell: You have chalk all over your face.

Me: I invoke my right to remain to silent.

Howell: I know, I’m just saying you have chalk ALL OVER your face.

As I looked from her hard, angry eyes to the assembled crowd (Howell: “Why ARE you looking around? We’re having a conversation!”) I realized that the only thing separating these police from the pigs murdering people in Turkey was their orders. It’s a thin blue line indeed, and I felt like Officer Howell would go just as eagerly about her duties either way whether it was badgering me for my free speech or shooting a tear gas canister directly at my head.

This was far from my worst encounter with police (that honor goes to the Houston Police Department), nor even my most unpleasant with Austin Police. I’ve known for a long time that the police serve the 1%, but it would be hard to underline that fact more severely than at a moment like this: harassed by the police state as we tried to honor the victims of police violence across the world.

All our grievances are connected.

Everywhere Resistance Everywhere Taksim 

The police released me after reiterating that they considered chalk to be criminal mischief. Several cars would continue to monitor the gathering.

At last, we could hear the voices of our Turkish guests.

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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

#D12 Gulf Port 7 Interview: Questions Still Unanswered About Austin Police Infiltration

9:56 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A bearded undercover 'Butch' stands behind Natalie, whose mouth is taped at an NDAA protest.

Undercover APD Detective Shannon 'Butch' Dowell stands next to Natalie Atwater, a member of Occupy Austin facing felony charges in Houston because of using his lockboxes. (Photo: John Jack Anderson / Austin Chronicle, used with permission).

For more FDL coverage of the Gulf Port 7 case see Undercover Austin Detective Enables Houston Felonies and Judge Joan Campbell Is Not Amused.

Since I broke the story of Austin Police infiltration and provocation at Occupy Austin on Firedoglake, the story has become international news. To review, Austin Police Narcotics Detective Shannon G Dowell, along with two other still unidentified undercover agents, infiltrated Occupy Austin under orders that reach all the way to Chief Art Acevedo. While undercover, Dowell (known to activists ‘Butch’) built and delivered lockbox devices (a.k.a. sleeping dragons) to activists to use at the Houston Port Shutdown, resulting in 7 activists facing state felony charges.

Monday I was interviewed by Marlo Blue of 90.1 KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Below is a transcript, but you can also listen here. The interview begins at 1:55.

Marlo Blue, KPFT: The Occupy effort seems quiet these days but controversy continues to swirl around the group’s efforts and that of some of its members, also officers who allegedly infiltrated that camp. Well, back in December of last year, groups of Occupy members from Austin, Dallas and Houston took part in the National Port Shutdown Day of Action.

Seven activists blocked the main entrance into the Port of Houston by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons) which physically linked them together so that police [must] cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use Of A Criminal Instrument Or Device while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges.

One of those in attendance has followed the action through his blog and he joins us now. Kit O’Connell. Kit, thank you for joining us.

Kit O’Connell, myFDL Editor: Hi, thanks for having me.

KPFT: Your blog has quickly become one of my very favorites so I’m very pleased to have you on today.

Kit: Thank you!

KPFT: In your blog, you talk about how Austin undercover officers infiltrated this camp. What led you to suspect these officers or was it discovered after the arrests?

Kit: It was discovered after the arrests. Specifically, the arrests of course occurred on December 12 on the Port Shutdown Day. In the first days of February of 2012, the first inkling came in as an anonymous tip to Occupy Austin’s email saying specifically that a person a person who was known to us as Butch was an undercover officer. It didn’t give his full name so it took quite a bit of investigation to find him after that.

KPFT: Now your blog points to a key question in this incident: Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston, Texas? Did you actually get an answer to that question?

Kit: We did not. It’s unclear to what degree the Austin Police Department knew about this. They’re admitting, even bragging about their use of undercover officers. The police chief has been talking on Twitter about how it kept the people safe to do this but they’re at the same time saying that they weren’t aware of Dowell buying the lockboxes. I find that hard to believe and I would still like some answers.

KPFT: And of course when the arrests took place, you know, in order I guess to keep everyone safe, they also droppped tents on the protesters to I guess to prevent other people from seeing the dangerous protesters inside or…?

Kit: I wish I had a good explanation for those tents. I was present when those went over people and it was one of the scariest moments of my life to see friends of mine vanish under an inflatable fire department tent.

KPFT: That must have been terrifying. I mean, because, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. There is no transparency when a big ‘ol tent is being dropped.

Kit: Exactly. And, I mean, there were no threats from the protesters. At that time, we were being corralled, even trampled Houston Police Department horses to be kept back, well back from the scene where they were, I guess, cutting the lockboxes apart under that tent.

KPFT: Now, you did mention at first of course, Austin Police Department Shannon G Dowell. Was he the only one who infiltrated the Occupy Austin group?

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The Crackdown on Chalk (#Chalkupy Austin)

12:53 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

“No reasonable person could think that writing with chalk could damage a sidewalk.” Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Mackinney v. Nielsen 69 F.3d 1002, 1995)

What’s happening in this country?

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

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).

I know this is a question we ask frequently on these pages. Every day, some new offense against basic freedoms comes to light, further shaking faith in the basic principles of our constitution. I thought I was jaded, but what happened in Austin last Thursday shook me — not just because chalk merits police response, but because of the intensity and overwhelming force being used to strike at one of the simplest, most transient forms of expression possible.

By now most of us have heard of the crack down on chalk which occurred in Los Angeles in July, when Occupy Los Angeles passed out chalk to a monthly Artwalk event and the gathering found itself under attack by violent riot police retaliation. Activists decided to pass out chalk at the Artwalk in the first place because of almost two dozen arrests for chalk in public places just in Los Angeles. Not a single one of these arrests has resulted in charges.

From an Occupy Los Angeles press release:

Participants of Occupy LA’s Chalk Walk wonder why the Los Angeles Police Department continues to arrest them for chalking when the City Attorney has declined to prosecute any of the chalking arrests.

One Occupier wonders, “If the so-called crime is not worth prosecuting, then is it worth making the chalk arrests in the first place?” and then adds, “LAPD harasses us with these arrests to intimidate us.”

Occupy activists say that LAPD had made nearly twenty arrests for chalking related to Occupy but has failed to make chalking arrests at non-occupy events including an event the Mayor handed out boxes of yellow chalk to be used on the “sidewalks,driveways, and any blank canvasses” including the streets of Sunset Blvd in traffic at night for a fundraiser for Lance Armstrong’s art campaign, “Hope Rides Again”, sponsored by Nike.

The crack down is not limited to Los Angeles, but appears to be occurring nationwide. Activists in Orlando recently won a lucrative lawsuit against the city for wrongful arrest in a chalk-related arrest of an Occupy Orlando member. Occupy New Orleans members fled from police during their chalkupy event. While the crackdown may be political in nature, not just activists are getting caught up in it — a mother in Richmond, Virginia faces 50 hours community service because her daughter chalked some rocks, and two teens in a Philadelphia suburb were ticketed for drawing a sea turtle and a whale in chalk. Which brings us to Austin, where two people were arrested Thursday and face uncertain charges for expressing their right to free speech.
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