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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 →

Pussy Riots Everywhere (#PussyRiot Update)

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Putin with a gun juxtaposed in front of activists in colorful balaclavas.

Image: Putin Meets Pussy Riot by Punk Toad / Flickr

The love affair with Pussy Riot shows no sign of slowing down since the trio of punk women were sentenced to 2 years in prison. Neither has the legal system’s attack on their actions, with Russia Today reporting two more members of the group now under fire:

A new criminal case was launched into two Pussy Riot members who escaped police after participating in an infamous ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s main cathedral. The announcement comes days after their co-participants were sentenced to two years in jail. “We have launched a separate criminal case against the unknown members of the ‘Pussy Riot’ band, and are seeking to establish their identities,” a police spokesperson told the Interfax news agency.

As an aside, what does it say about the American mainstream media that a Russian news agency sometimes accused of pro-Putin bias has become a major source of news for myself and many others I know?

Getting back to the Pussy Riot, the sentence was met with worldwide protests that featured rallies in many countries and several United States cities. Six were arrested in NYC for obstructing a sidewalk during a Pussy Riot solidarity march. Four Germans protested inside Cologne Cathedral in support of the group and may themselves face up to 3 years in prison. Most flamboyantly, a member of Ukrainian women’s movement Femen protested Pussy Riot’s sentences by taking a chainsaw to a cross while topless.

The fate of these women has struck a chord, but why? Writing in The Atlantic, Joshua Foust compares the outcry to Kony 2012 while a fellow Atlantic scribe, anthropologist Sarah Kendzior, questions how gender affects the media presentation and popular response to Pussy Riot:

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Watercooler: Be the Media

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

It’s often said we must be our own media. This report from the NY Daily News about Occupy Sunset Park arming a tenants with cameras is a great example:

10 residents who live at buildings 545, 553 and 557 on 46th St. used disposable cameras to take amateur shots of their terrible living conditions for an art show opening Saturday.

The photos feature tenant nightmares ranging from piles of garbage; cracked windows and floors; and a rickety fire escape.

Occupy Sunset Park organizer Dennis Flores helped distribute 50 disposable cameras to the tenants. The exhibit was the brainchild of Bedford-Stuyvesant photographer Noelle Theard, who supplied the cameras through a grant and taught the tenants how to take the pictures.

I am reminded of the work here in Austin that the Peaceful Streets project is doing, but of course with a housing angle. Reminding people that they have free speech and giving them allies to back them up when they speak is one of the best ways to empower the populace.

What’s on your mind tonight? How was your weekend? This is the latest myFDL open thread.

Watercooler: Guthrie’s March

7:13 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Been a rainy day, some stong lightning here so I shut off my laptop for a little while and watched it. It is nice to see Texas finally get the water it needs. Though this summer has been hot, it’s been a contrast to last summer’s desperate dryness. Our grass has mostly stayed green although some of my garden has had trouble keeping up with the heat!

Today the Occupy Guitarmy’s 99 Mile March reached New York. If you haven’t heard, Tom Morello’s Guitarmy, now a regular part of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, have been marching from Philadelphia, site of the Occupy National Gathering, back to the home of the Occupy movement itself. The march is in honor of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, as many see him to be a musical forefather of today’s people’s rebellions. According to Twitter, about 50 people made the march. They stopped in Staten Island today, after some obligatory harassment by NYPD, and plan to complete the journey tomorrow.

This is tonight’s MyFDL open thread. What’s on your mind?

Watercooler: Mud

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

I had a lovely weekend camping at a small camp-out in the Texas hill country, a small followup (or ‘decompression‘) for the bigger festival I attended last month. I had a great time dancing in the rain, but now all that’s left is the mud on my dancing boots. It’ll soon wash away — except today it’s raining in Austin, so now it’s not the time for drying my things.

A DJ turned the Ben Harper song to the right into a foot-stompingly good mix late Saturday night, but I found a live track for you in all its unaltered glory. And speaking of dancing, how about this story of dancing in New York from the Daily Mail (admittedly, not the world’s most reliable paper)?

Caroline Stern, a dentist, and George Hess, a movie prop master, were waiting for a train at the Columbus Circle station after a late evening at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing last year when they began dancing the Charleston to a musician playing the steel drums. … That’s when police came in and spoiled the fun, they told the New York Post.

The officers demanded their ID. When Ms Stern only had a credit car, the police ordered the couple to go with them.

When Mr Hess pulled out a camera to start recording the incident, the officers called for backup and the situation turned nasty, the couple says.

After being wrestled to the ground, they spent 23 hours in jail. Though the incident occurred last summer, it’s receiving renewed attention because of a lawsuit the couple brought against the city. Besides, if Occupy Wall Street has taught us anything, it’s that the NYPD hasn’t gotten any less repressive of free expression in the last year.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. This is tonight’s open thread. Come chat with MyFDL.

Mark Adams’ Hunger Strike (Occupy’s Political Prisoners Update)

6:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Earlier this week I wrote about Occupy’s Political Prisoners, specifically Mark Adams (shown in the video to the right) and the NATO 5. There have been new developments in both cases.

Hunger Strike

Mark Adams, sentenced to 45 days (of which he is expected to serve 28 at Rikers Island) for his involvement in the December 17 reoccupation attempt, has reportedly begun a hunger strike.

Support Mark Adams quotes a statement by Adams:

Yesterday, Trinity Wall Street “Church,” the NYPD and the State of New York sentenced me to forty five days in jail for my political beliefs and actions. … On [December 17], my intention was to facilitate the on-going efforts to convince Trinity Church that our use of the space was consistent with their principles and mission. I wanted the unused and deserted lot to the community within Occupy Wall Street and beyond, so that through collective grassroots effort we would build an alternative society built on mutual aid, solidarity and anti-oppression.

For those intentions, I am now serving a forty-five day sentence on Riker’s Island. In response I have taken my protest out of the streets and into the jails. As of 2pm June 18, 2012 … I have been on a hunger strike. I will continue the hunger strike until I am released, to draw attention to the political nature of my arrest, sentencing and the greater themes and goals of the occupy wall street movement. This punishment has further strengthened my resolve to build a society, alongside my comrades, that does not further the corporate agenda of the prison industrial complex, compassion for all, community, solidarity, and mutual aid for all. Everything for everybody.

11 Indictments for the NATO 3

Brian Church, Jared Chase, and Brent Betterly, the three activists charged with terrorism (and arrested with FDL’s TarheelDem in the same terrifying raid) were indicted by a grand jury on July 12, but the defense was not allowed to know their charges! The National Lawyers Guild finally obtained this information June 20.

From an NLG note on the Occupy Chicago Press Relations Facebook page:

Read the rest of this entry →

Watercooler: Pride

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Pride celebrations are coming up, or have already occurred, in most major cities — though not in Austin.

Pride traditionally takes place near the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, or at least during the same month. Austin Pride celebration takes place in September in deference to the heat of June. Instead, June in Austin features Queerbomb, a street celebration of LGBTQ rights that follows the original spirit of Pride.

What began as a riot by fed up queer people (largely drag kings) at a mafia-owned watering hole has had its rough edges taken off over the years. Instead of angry activists, we have family-friendly rainbow runs and drink specials at the local bars. What was once about gay rights has instead become about the pink dollar; the mafia has been replaced by corporate sponsors like Budweiser. I’ve never seen so many drunken fist fights in one night as when I attended Pride Weekend in Dallas last year.

Some activists and Occupy-related groups are queerbombing their local pride events. GLITUR, off-shoot of Occupy Seattle, are organizing Drag Out Capitalism:

“Are you sick of the corporate spectacle that Gay Pride has become in Seattle? Do you reject the way local bars jack up their prices to try to make a profit off what is supposed to be a weekend of celebration and unity? Well so are we!!!,” the event announcement reads.

A guerilla street party with high police presence is also expected.

Organizers from Occupy Wall Street NYC’s Occupride celebrations caught the attention of high-profile gay blogger Joe My God when an organizer quit. This looks like a bit of internal Occudrama which unfortunately attracted the attention of the the blogosphere. What saddens me is the speculation in the comments that suggests occupiers intend to ruin Pride. Meanwhile, queer people can still be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity; to me, the real threat are those corporate sponsors and beer companies who turn Stonewall into another excuse to get drunk.

In any case, OWS organizers have reorganized and created a new Facebook event for their action. My group, the Occupy Austin OccuQueers will have our first discussion of pride plans at our next meeting.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight.

What about you? This is today’s open thread.

Update: Bay Area OccuPride to target Oakland’s Jean Quan during SF Pride Parade.

Occupy’s Political Prisoners

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Among the many signs of the profound threat that the Occupy movement poses to the status quo has been the coordinated effort by local and state police together with the Department of Homeland Security to suppress the rights of protesters. The United Nations recently criticized the United States for its violent police attacks on the movement.

In the month since the pre-NATO arrests, a new tool in the arsenal is becoming clear: turning dedicated activists into political prisoners.

Occupy Wall Street, Trinity Wall Street, and the December 17 Trial

Sign: Mark Adams is Bearded, Selfless, Defends the Poor, Persecuted. Remind you of Anyone?

Photo: @SubVerzo via Twitter, used with permission.

On December 17, Occupy Wall Street attempted a reoccuptation — not of Liberty Square, but of a new space. Climbing a fence on livestream, occupiers poured into a fenced-in space owned by Trinity Wall Street, a church-run business that is historically one of New York City’s oldest landlords. The trial of 8 of these occupiers, including a retired bishop and active clergy members, concluded on June 18. Seven of the defendants, including the clergy, were convicted of trespassing and sentenced to four days of community service. But one man, Mark Adams, was singled out for especially harsh treatment.

The Village Voice quotes Judge Sciarrino’s justification for his harshness:

He issued his his ruling immediately after closing arguments, finding all eight defendants guilty of trespassing and further finding one of them, Mark Adams, guilty of attempted criminal mischief and attempted criminal possession of burglar’s tools. Adams was seen on surveillance video using what appeared to be bolt cutters to open the fence.

“This was the use of siege equipment to storm a castle,” Sciarrino said in his ruling, adding that political demonstrations are no excuse for violating property rights. “This nation is founded on the right of private property, and that right is no less important than the first amendment.”

Though the district attorney asked for a mere 30 days, the judge instead chose to charge Adams with 45 days in New York’s dangerous Rikers’ Island! Although activists who practice civil disobedience must expect to face legal consequences from time to time, occupiers are surprised by the harsh treatment from Trinity Wall Street, a business theoretically built on Christian values. The Episcopal News Service quotes Bishop George Packard:

In a June telephone interview, Packard had expressed surprise at the trespassing charges and the manner of his arrest. When he entered the property Dec. 17, he said, “I felt that we were entering into a protected area and that it was closed for the season. I had visited hunger strikers on the perimeter of that space … three or four times. …”

“Trespass is a word that I’m not used to hearing as it’s related to church property,” Packard said. “I hear expressions like ‘refuge’ and ‘sanctuary,’ and even … in the Trinity newsletter they talk about ‘radical hospitality.’”

The Continuing Plight of the NATO 5

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Watercooler: More from Wood Ridge

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

The other day I filed a report from Wood Ridge apartments, the site of a balcony collapse about a month ago. After the massive inspection of the property, code enforcement found a total of 760 code violations at the apartment complex. Though the video which YNN created uses some footage from Occupy Austin (we got onto the property while the media was kept outside), the angle of the story seems strange to me:

A resident YNN spoke with says she welcomes the inspections, and the negative attention at Wood Ridge is not a fair representation of the overall complex.

“In a place like this you don’t expect everything to be fixed on the spot. But I haven’t had anything to have fixed,” Wood Ridge resident Linda Foss said.

According to city officials, all the complaints issued Wednesday were common violations like missing smoke alarms or electrical problems.

Linda Foss calls the code enforcement visit a ‘witch hunt,’ as if it were somehow unfair to the poor, long suffering property managers at Assets Plus to force them to uphold the law. In a way it might be unfair — one can almost certainly find other properties with unstable balconies and stairs, life threatening wiring problems, and other dangerous violations within walking distance in Wood Ridge poor, working-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Wood Ridge residents have 40 year old air conditioners while the city brass overseeing inspections sit in an expensive command post trailer so cold it made me shiver in the Texas sun when the doors opened.

I feel like expectations have been lowered about what we deserve. You look at a place like Wood Ridge and you can genuinely say it could be much worse — after all, we could live in New York City. But does that make it good? Should we accept this as our lot in life, or is it possible we could make life better if we stop accepting the status quo?

Because, to quote Doctor Horrible, the status is not quo.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. How about you? This is our latest open thread.

p.s. Check out my photoblog from Wood Ridge, a huge Austin Police / Homeland Security command post, and the C&M Conveyor action over on  Approximately 8,000 Words. I’ll give you a song below…

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