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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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#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 →

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.

VIDEO: Peaceful Streets Rally for Anaheim

11:11 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

The Peaceful Streets Project with help from members of Occupy Austin held a solidarity rally on Saturday for the people of Anaheim California.  This video, by Meg Seidel and Jeff Zavala of Zgraphix, intersperses footage of the rally with video from Anaheim and two Austin events: the February 2012 Fuck the Police march through downtown and a violent arrest of a shopper at Austin’s Barton Creek Square Mall who attempted to join a CODEPINK protest.

Antonio Buehler holds a sign: APD Kills

Antonio Buehler at the Peaceful Streets Anahem Solidarity Rally, Austin Police Department HQ (Photo: Meg Seidel / ZGraphix, used with permission).

All around the country, in over a half dozen cities, people have come out in support of the people of Anaheim. Though the mainstream media frequently continues to defend the police or report their side of the story, video shot on the scene by every day witnesses and a growing number of Occupy livestreamers and citizen journalists is spreading through social media channels and letting the world see the truth. Rather than calming the situation with open community dialog, the Anaheim Police Department (APD) is escalating through the use of militarized police in army-fatigue uniforms with heavier weaponry.

About a dozen of us gathered at the Austin Police Department (another APD) headquarters in downtown near highway IH-35. It was a hot day here in Austin, and we struggled to stay hydrated and active. The vast majority of people driving past on the frontage road were supportive, honking, waving and cheering; even several passing police officers honked or waved to us. There were a few hecklers, of course. In addition to the usual middle fingers and shouts of ‘get a job,’ one passing truck yelled ‘Fuck world peace!’ and ‘You’re poor!’ — insults which speak volumes about a classist mindset which is far too common today among people who are often themselves only a paycheck or two away from the streets.

Viewers of my livestream, which was carried here on Firedoglake, kept up a steady stream of conversation with me throughout the evening. Near the end of the protest we were so worn out that some of us could barely stand, but then one viewer, Rick Rynearson and his wife, of Veterans Against Police Abuse, ordered pizza for us! Pizza eaten after the hard work of protest always tastes especially good.

More: The Videos Anaheim PD Doesn’t Want You to SeeAntonio 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.

Read the rest of this entry →

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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