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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 →

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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry →