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Tents Up for Occupy Austin’s Eviction Anniversary

4:01 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

One of Occupy Austin's free speech tents with the Austin Overpass Light Brigade's signs.

On February 3 2012, Occupy Austin received about an hour’s notice before a violent police raid which cleared the encampment at City Hall. New regulations imposed a 10pm curfew and rules against tents, bedrolls or other “permanent” structures. As occupiers took the streets, there were several arrests. Activists and journalists were threatened by police ambush and, at one point, a pepper-spray can brandished by Austin Police Officer Jason Mistric. Three undercover police officers that had infiltrated the group in order to entrap its members were present throughout the day.

Tents at Austin's City Hall

Occupy Austin erected tents and celebrated the one-year anniversary of its eviction from City Hall on February 3, 2013.

One year later — this past Sunday — Austin’s occupation gathered again at their first home to honor the day and all that had taken place there since the movement began. Publicly, the group announced a simple potluck. Occupiers put up a food table that was soon overflowing with everything from both vegetarian and carnivore-friendly chili to the infamous piggie pie, a surprisingly edible concoction of graham cracker crumbs, donuts, soy “bacon,” and coffee chocolate syrup.

38 “food fight” arrests took place in late 2011 when occupiers refused to remove a food table, eventually leading to a successful lawsuit against City Hall. On Sunday, a security guard emerged with a photocopy of the memo banning permanent structures from the site.

“Do you have a permit or something that allows you to be here today?” she asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “it’s called the First Amendment.”

She tried to give me the memo but I refused, explaining I had read it before. When she placed it on our food table, I tore it up as she walked away being careful not to drop any on the ground — I didn’t intend to litter. Grabbing a piece of chalk (which Austin’s occupation is never without) I wrote ‘The First Amendment is Our Permit” on the plaza. Soon, chalked art and messages appeared everywhere and, as the afternoon wore on, two tents were erected.

Another occupier later thanked me for standing up to the security guard because she credited me with emboldening the rest of the group, which swelled to about 30 at its peak. But I just acted on my knowledge that the security guards have no power without the police backing them up, especially in light of the lawsuit.

The Austin Audio Co-Op erected an amplified sound system and Dan Cioper played folk music, followed by a group jam session. We cheered visits by old friends we hadn’t seen since the encampment. Police drove around City Hall or stopped to observe us but kept their distance.

Our tents seemed to provoke an intense response from the Internet, with messages of solidarity pouring in on Twitter and Facebook from around the world. The local media even appeared, including the Austin American Statesman which captured another of my interactions:

At one point, while occupiers were addressing each other with a microphone, a security guard inside City Hall appeared to be taking a photograph of the group. One protester, Kit O’Connell, noticed this, gained the attention of the group, and said to the security guard: ‘If you take my picture, please tag me in it on Facebook.’

On the microphone, I told the assembled occupiers that our encampment had shown me the best and worst of humanity.
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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 →