Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
--Does this new APD policy of having to stand 50-60' away to record any police activity AFFECT YOU?
Friday, May 11, 2012
Mike Martinez's main talking points on why he should stay in office is that: while the gentleman's agreement is racist, we should still keep this Hispanic in 'his place' AND that his contender shouldn't be trusted because of who supports her (the local Republican party*) and whom she supports as a presidential candidate - as if that has anything to do with the local issues...which she's obviously winning on...or he'd not have to resort to this.
After Martinez' letter about Ms. Pressley being an evil Republican b/c of her Ron Paul support was forwarded to the Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) listserve, I followed with this response:
Truly sad. The incumbent can't run on his own merits - all he has is partisan politics? Which are NOT supposed to play into council elections...but no one seems to remember our Charter.
Republicans in this town have also supported the 10-1 plan (as has ANC...as has Martinez!); does that make the 10-1 plan automatically suspect? "Bad"?
ANC endorsed Pressley - does that make her a member of ANC? No. Does that make ANC Republican because TCRP also supports her*? No. Hispanic groups are endorsing Pressley - does that make her Hispanic, or ANC Hispanic? No. Neither does Republicans supporting her make her "Republican." She's voted in Democratic primaries and until this past year, only given money to Democratic candidates.
She's supporting a Republican candidate for president because he's right on foreign policy, because he's the only one else in the primary race to deride the wars/occupations - no DEMOCRATS have been doing that (now, however, are 2 candidates running outside of the major parties doing that: Rocky Anderson and Gary Johnson). No candidate during the primaries besides Paul has been talking about the drug war...at all. Some people believe these to be their major priority issues, and are willing to look past differences on other issues. Does that make them a member of the party that candidate belongs to? Nope. Giving your money to the party and/or voting in that primary consistently does (or it does in Texas, anyway).
Has anyone heard of being an "independent"? I'm one. Ms. Pressley's one. In fact, a third of this country considers themselves independent-and frankly, I'm much more trusting of independents in office than partisans. Independents don't buy into a football mentality in politics. "Us" v. "them." If anything, it's "us" - the people...v. "them" - those in power screwing the people. Party matters little when policies are crafted to keep us poor and hungry.
Parties matters little when their respective platforms are constantly being upended. They've made themselves irrelevant. Just as irrelevant as the argument Martinez poses about his opponent.
Some people in this town want better government...that's why they are endorsing Pressley. Some people are tired of giant corporate giveaways (which have become a staple as much, if not more so, by Democrats: take Pressley's opponent, for example). Some people are sick of not only the anti-neighborhood/anti-community votes by the incumbent, but of his tactics as well - name-calling....bullying, etc. Some people want a responsive councilmember in that place. That's why all walks of life, from the most progressive east Austin Democrats-of-color to the moderate Libertarians to even the (gasp!) northwest, semi-conservative Republicans support Pressley.
Unless Pressley has indicated she wishes to stem the flow of undocumented workers, get rid of environmental protections or infringe on our right to choice (NOT!), there is no basis for alluding her support of Paul will 'infect' her policy decisions on Council. We know where she stands on the issues that affect us on a day to day basis (which local politics do) and we know she's a more responsive, courageous person that isn't afraid to tackle the status quo.
So come to think about it, although I don't support Ron Paul, Pressley's support of him is actually significant. It shows she isn't beholden to party politics, that she takes courage from her convictions and isn't afraid of the heat she knew she'd take on this matter in her campaign.
That's why she's my gal :-)
*as are many progressive groups: http://www.betteraustintoday.org/ and Democrats and more...
Pressley's website: http://www.pressleyforaustin.com/home
PS: I'm also endorsing Brigid Shea for Mayor: GO VOTE SATURDAY!
Thursday, April 12, 2012
I apologize for a recent statement made on my FaceBook page about “ego,” and it’s possible role in the recent death of an APD officer. My sincere regrets go to the community, the family, fellow officers and friends of Officer Padron - also to my many colleagues who were being asked to defend me or who stand in disappointment of me. My comment was not thoughtful, and the follow up context in which I had hoped explained it further was lost in the fray. But I take responsibility for that, as the initial statement reflected the very thing I was condemning: my ego.
Words matter, and my words matter more than I realized – and social media is WAY more powerful than I realized (my concurrent comments to the press never spoke to the officer's death; merely Ahmede Bradley’s-see below). I shirked my responsibility as a community activist in not taking this into consideration first.
I regret increasing the conflict, when normally I pride myself on encouraging conflict resolution.
Live and learn.
Please know I spoke only on behalf of myself. Not on behalf of any organization or board I sit on and NO ONE should have to answer for me BUT me. I hope some out there will now stop using my words against organizations I'm affiliated with, as that is entirely unfair.
Tragedy breeds more pain. How we react to it is a testament and/or an indictment of our humanity. I am not proud of the words I used, no matter how "right" I believe my sentiment to be. I admit my mistake and ask for forgiveness of my lack of judgment as I strive to improve myself as an activist...as a human.
My point, if it matters at this juncture, was to search for a common thread between the two adjacent deaths in an attempt to prevent further deaths and in an attempt to make sense of the senseless coincidence. In the Bradley shooting, it seems pretty clear to me and much of the community (and I’m understanding even many officers), that the foot chase was in violation of APD policy. Chief Acevedo changed the foot pursuit policy in 2008 to avoid this very thing.
I extended that thought process to the Wal-Mart incident, because as I understood it, the shooter didn't pull out his gun until he first tried to flee, and Officer Padron jumped on him to subdue him. I posited that if he allowed him to flee the store, it may have lessened the danger. In my comments, I didn't contextualize what we all know to be true: things happen fast and split decisions are easy to question in hindsight. Padron simply didn’t know he was dealing with an armed individual. This has to be an officer’s worst nightmare scenario.
Amy Donovan was our last officer to die in the line of duty (in 2004)--and she was pursuing a suspected drug user. This is a major reason the Chief, upon DOJ's recommendation, changed the policy. Non-violent crimes shouldn't be met with force that amplifies the chance for injury or death. I readily admit we don't have enough information yet on the Wal-Mart incident to pass thorough judgment, and in that, I failed. I also failed in first relaying my condolences - which are sincere, despite former appearances.
Just as I never intended to put blame on Officer Padron, I do not blame Officer Donovan for what is a matter of instinct – a matter of expectations in policing – of “getting your man" despite all risks. This is not policy, this is not training; yet there is pressure amongst the ranks that I hope becomes a point of discussion for further changes….just as the community needs to have its own discussions about interfacing with police and reacting as a community to police abuse.
My biggest regret, beyond any pain I’ve caused others, in this is that I made the same mistake I've often accused Chief Acevedo of...of speaking too soon, and of –however unintentionally– laying blame on the victim in doing so. Immediately following the Sanders, Contreras and Carter shootings, the Chief did just that...and never apologized for it.
It's been proven in expert discovery and the independent KeyPoint report (backed by both the first Internal Affairs report and the Citizens Review Panel recommendation) that there was no struggle for a gun before Sanders was shot; there wasn't time...yet the Chief said it "appeared to be a good shooting" hours following the death. The Chief said hours after the Contreras death, before having watched the video, that Devin shot first...that didn't happen. The Chief said hours after the Carter death "they used the car as a weapon" which was belied by the lack of an indictment against the driver. He has said about the Carter and Bradley shootings that “people shouldn’t run from the police,” which sends a message that it is their fault they were shot and killed.
I offer these parallels not as an excuse…but as a point to say that “in this matter, I’ve been a hypocrite.” I jumped to a conclusion and put it out there publicly before waiting for facts. Yes, my comments have taken on a life of their own – and I’m being quoted as saying things I’ve not said, such as: “it’s Padron’s fault he was killed.” I would never say that, any more than the Chief would outright say that about a victim of police shooting. But it shouldn’t stop either of us questioning preventative measures, even though neither of us like hearing the other say it.
My intention was to start a dialog, even knowing I didn’t have all the facts yet. My intention was not malicious - it was to question the culture we live in and the culture of policing, in an attempt to prevent more deaths.
My intention was to understand what we did know about the police shooting…why Officer Padron was the sole responder, what might have gone differently if back up had arrived concurrent to his response…if the gun would have appeared had he not tried to subdue him in the store. I know these are hard questions immediately following. I know many feel “it’s too soon,” but I think immediacy is important to prevent another similar tragedy. I won’t apologize for asking those questions, but I do wholeheartedly apologize for the words I chose in that one forum.
I understand many people will never forgive or forget. I can only ask that people focus less attention on me, and my thoughtlessness, and more on the dialog around the need to improve our pubic safety practices such that no one dies before their time.
I never got to meet Officer Padron, and have only heard good things about him and his time on the force. My heart goes out to all who were touched by this loss. I value all life equally. I recognize that I didn't exhibit that last Saturday when I posted the statement in my exhaustion and heightened emotion.
These adjacent deaths put a strain on us all. Austin wasn’t prepared for this. Our collective selves are still in shock. We look at the pain around us, from wars abroad to our recession; from the Zimmerman case to here at home, and wonder if something is spinning out of our control. I think once we step back, we’ll see this is not the case – that this horrific coincidence was just that – a coincidence.
We can't control everything around us...we can't account for the insanity of a few (except for where we fail in social services), so when I speak loudly about police abuse on others, some see it as a lack of empathy for the police perspective. I don’t lack that empathy, but there are plenty of voices to speak to that. In my attempt to control the one thing we should have some control over— public safety officials …as we pay their salaries; as they take an oath to serve and protect…I hastily jumped to find an answer to why a second death came upon our community in one night.
I am open to respond to individual questions on this matter and appreciate any input on how to move forward.
Again, my apologies to those I’ve brought pain to…including to Chief Acevedo, who, apart from the families and friends of the deceased, is experiencing probably the most distress from the respective fall out of the combined traumatic events.
In community, Debbie Russell
----below is what I sent out last Friday to media and elected officials:
QUESTIONS TO ASK AT APD PRESS CONFERENCE
Ahmeed Bradley, a 37 year old African-American male, was pulled over by an APD officer for an unknown cause last night...tried to flee in his car...was stopped again by the officer and then Bradley fled on foot.
It was at this point that the officer must determine whether to pursue by foot.
TO CHASE OR NOT TO CHASE?
APD's policy manual on foot pursuit policies says that the pursuit policy "recognizes that the use of force in response to resistance by law enforcement requires constant evaluation and that response to resistance is a serious responsibility." The foot chase policy (Policy 216) was changed to be more restrictive by Chief Acevedo in conjunction with the DOJ recommendations. The very first sentence recognizes the high risk of things going wrong on a foot chase: "Foot pursuits are inherently dangerous and require common sense, sound tactics, and heightened officer safety awareness." Later it says they can put the public and those involved at "significant risk."
The officer(s) "must continuously balance the objective of apprehending the subject with the risk and potential for injury to department personnel, the public, or the subject....Officers must be mindful that immediate apprehension of a subject is rarely more important than the safety of the public and Department personnel." (bold is my emphasis)
The policy says the chase can occur if the suspect is thought to have engaged in "criminal activity." The question here is, is fleeing, or "resisting arrest" - almost always a misdemeanor offense - "criminal activity"? Is this person an imminent threat to the public safety because of fleeing (or just a threat to the officer's ego)? "Mere flight by a subject who is not suspected of criminal activity shall not serve as the sole justification for engaging in a foot pursuit..."...WAS BRADLEY AN IMMINENT THREAT?
The policy goes on to say "an officer should continuously consider reasonable alternatives to pursuit..." and lists what those are....DID THE OFFICER CONSIDER ALTERNATIVES?
216.3 is "Foot Pursuit Considerations" asking officers to consider alternatives especially if any of a list of factors are in play, the first one being "when the officer is acting alone" and later, if the identity of the person is already known (such that a warrant can go out for a safer arrest). There are also considerable responsibilities in communications with dispatch/supervisors during this as well. ...DID THE OFFICER ID HIM BEFORE THE FOOT CHASE? DID HE COMMUNICATE WITH DISPATCH/SUPERVISOR?
And lastly, DID THE SUPERVISOR APPROVE THE CHASE?
Was this a moving violation? An expired inspection sticker? Weaving/suspected DWI? Or was Bradley seen to have engaged in criminal activity?
If it was a moving violation or sticker issue...he wasn't an imminent threat to the public safety...as the policy says, fleeing does not make one a threat.
If he was seen to have been weaving across lines...then yes, he's a threat...but not once he got on foot!
If he was seen to have engaged in other criminal activity--the threat must be assessed by that activity...and again, does the threat extend to him being on foot?
THE EVER-CHANGING STORY
When we arrived, media was getting reports from APD that "there was a foot chase...a tasering...a punch to the officer...then the shooting." Some of then questioned, "a punch RIGHT after the tasering?...how can that BE if his muscles were just completely incapacitated?"...THEN the story became "the taser didn't work."
Also, at first, stories media were getting were that the officer suffered from a broken neck and other very serious injuries which insinuated that Bradley had been violent towards the officer - beyond a defense standpoint...which then turned into simply a "broken wrist." (Perhaps they need to add fence-hopping at the Academy IF they are going to violate their foot chase policies).
THEN, later, came the ever-popular, "struggle with the gun." We know from audio that didn't happen in the Sanders case (according to KeyPoint and the CRP and expert discovery in the civil suit). We know that didn't happen in either the Olsen/Brown case or the Schroeder/Rocha incident, which was an alleged "I thought he grabbed my Taser."
There's a little story about a boy who cried wolf...
ACEVEDO FIRED OLSEN FOR THE CHASE
...in part....for the "violations leading up to the shooting." Acevedo then set about making his foot chase policy more restrictive to curb death and injuries.
NOW: after the Carter shooting...where it's apparently NO ONE'S FAULT Carter is dead....except if you ask Acevedo: he says "don't run from the police!" That's the lesson, he tells us.
So, you shouldn't use lethal force to prevent fleeing or stop fleeing...but you shouldn't flee either. But the more police are not held accountable for VIOLATING POLICY...the more people will flee in fear of being killed by someone who has immunity. Cause and effect....but THEY are paid to serve and protect, and are supposed to be held to a higher standard.
SHOT IN THE BACK and/or BACK OF THE HEAD:
---Jesse Lee Owens (also for fleeing)
---Daniel Rocha (lie was "thought he grabbed taser" real story was to prevent him from fleeing)
---Nathaniel Sanders, II (no time for a struggle...so no gun in hand-no fingerprints on gun...LQ simply freaked out)
---Devin Contreras (also attempting to flee -saw officer - turned to run away - shot, but lie was that he shot twice first--Contreras never fired)
---Byron Carter, Jr (for attempting to flee, as a passenger, since we know Rodriguez wasn't struck by THEIR car, and that Webb was not indicted, so the "officers life in danger" story doesn't hold water)
Only one in this list was holding a gun...and he didn't point it at the officer, much less shoot it like they initially claimed. He turned to run and was shot for it.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION TO ASK IS when Acevedo asserts that he knows something (because he believes his officer) but doesn't seem to have any evidence to back the officer's claim, is to ask why the public should withhold judgment if APD has already made up its mind?
Thursday, March 1, 2012
His seizures since the Oct. 2009 incident have caused him not only neurological issues, but subsequent physical ones as well. The chances of falling and seriously injuring oneself are compounded.
Yesterday morning, Leslie's doctor relayed to his local legal proxy as well as his sister in Miami that things were looking pretty grim, in large part due to the length of time he had been semi-conscious, especially given his physical/neurological history. Other bodily ailments weigh in as well...those common to patients in such a sensitive state.
Several of his close friends, including myself, were summoned to the hospital believing they were about to be helping Leslie pass on. The doctors had opted to remove Leslie's respirator; which was merely supporting him as he was breathing on his own...but still a risky proposition in Leslie's situation. There's only so long a patient should remain in stasis; and so long that medical intervention can reasonably be provided. It was a "do or die" situation - and the outlook leaned towards the latter.
By 4:00pm, 10 of his friends (many not knowing the others previously) were packed tightly around his bed swapping Leslie stories and speaking to Leslie directly, simultaneously joking and relaying loving messages. "Hey, Leslie, can I bum a cigarette? Can I borrow $20??" "Hey Leslie, tell me a dirty joke!"..."Those are the only jokes he knows!" "Leslie, you have to wake up...who am I going to argue with?"
One close friend shared with us her appreciation for Leslie's lessons regarding what "home" means; when asked where his home was, he'd say "Austin." But Leslie is a philosopher. He'd teach others that the traditional idea of "home" is limited. He said people put up "walls" when thinking in these terms. Leslie helped many among us break down those walls a little.
He had already been stirring by this moment, responding to the many familiar voices in the room relaying their love. Lo and behold, he woke up. After 13 consecutive unconscious days, he regained consciousness.
WOW! Tears turned to cautious smiles and the prospect of removing the tube became increasingly joyous instead of frightening.
While still awaiting the order by the doctor, another friend joined us: John Kelso (AA-S). Leslie was not only a fitting muse for Kelso, but a kindred "Keep Austin Weird" spirit. He sweetly thanked Leslie for all he has done for Austin; beautiful words which only he can adeptly relay in his column, if he so wishes.
Then the time came and we all held our breaths during the traumatic procedure of extracting tubes from deep within the body. Leslie clearly wanted it gone, though, and toughed it out...his face bright red by the end of it. After the nurses finished tending to him, he fell fast asleep... exhausted.
After celebrating and relaying more well wishes to him, we discussed the emotional roller coaster ride we were dizzily departing. Then we went for food and beer...raising a toast to one helluva guy!
He remained asleep into the night, waking periodically to cough up the residual fluid in his lungs and acknowledge nurses tending to him. He will be moved out of ICU to a regular room, but remains in critical condition, receiving "comfort care."
PROGNOSIS: There isn't one at this juncture. There are too many variables. It's up to Leslie in many respects. (I later got a text from my friend Jonathan Cronin who remarked, "Marching to his own beat to the end!")
ASK OF THE COMMUNITY: SEND THE LOVE, Y’ALL! Keep him in your thoughts. Talk about him to friends. 10 friends in his room ushered him out of unconsciousness. 812,500 people in his city can do much more!
BookPeople is starting a donation collection for Leslie, Friday, March 2: $10 or more gets you Leslie refrigerator magnets!
Monday, February 20, 2012
10-1 is the Winning Plan
Now that the Charter Revision Commission (CRC) has voted on a geographic representation plan for November's ballot, we're one step closer to having true representation in our City. The CRC voted to endorse the independent citizens commission Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR) incorporated into its plan, with a few minor additions in terms of the qualification process.
Seeing that "Eight Isn't Enough," the CRC saw fit to vote on a 10 district plan. The contention came in on the question of having a hybrid system. In the end, they voted we shouldn't; and endorsed a straight 10 districts + a mayor ("10-1"). One of the commissioners voting for a hybrid ("10-2-1" with 2 at-large seats), remarked she didn't think the voters wouldn't support those two additional offices, yet oddly voted for that plan anyway.
What Council will do with the CRC's recommendation remains to be seen. They could accept it as is - but have almost always, in the past, put something different on the ballot. A handful on the commission and in the public, however, are still married to the concept that we can't have "bold change" - wanting to maintain the status quo to a degree. They want to keep some at-large seats, and will continue to lobby council to do just that. If another plan is supported by council in the end, that will mean two plans will be presented to voters in November, assuming AGR gets enough signatures to put the 10-1 plan on the ballot.
But as it stands, a majority of the community and CRC commissioners involved in these efforts, to date, support the 10-1 plan with an independent commission. Councilmembers wanting to be re-elected would be fool-hearty to go against that. Two options on the ballot means votes will be split, and we'll fail yet again to get representation.
Case(s) in Point
Maintaining at-large seats won't pass a legal challenge here - and MALDEF has already promised that challenge. Since 1990, in Texas, we've seen two critical court cases on hybrid systems go to the federal district court, be ruled unconstitutional, then upheld at the appellate court level as such.
In some instances, like with Austin ISD, hybrid systems do make sense and don't dilute the minority vote. In other cases, like in Houston, the hybrid system was put in place long before legal precedent was set that it does dilute those votes, and/or there are other major factors that change the equation (like Houston not having zoning). The Memphis example often referred to in the 8-4-1 proposal (where "4" are "superdistricts" - or at large for one region of the city, like east or west of I-35) works because Memphis has a 64% African-American population! This simply cannot be compared to Austin's 7.4% where drawing an African-American majority district is not feasible (although at 10 districts, drawing an African-American "opportunity" district is).
These federal cases, staged in Texas, tell us that given our population mix and history with a lack of acceptable opportunities to elect minorities, we can't have hybrids and keep them even if they're voted in. Since the DOJ won't "pre-clear" a ballot measure, we have to make a good faith attempt to avoid a lawsuit.
The first case of note was in Dallas, TX in 1990 and the other, in our very own back yard: the Del Valle ISD case in 1992/93 - which shares much of eastern Travis County with the City of Austin, so we're dealing with many of the same communities of concern.
Del Valle ISD
In Del Valle, the school board previously served fully at-large and the district was over 75% African-American and Hispanic population combined. Those communities filed a lawsuit and the district's response was to propose a hybrid system (5-2-1). The courts ruled that it was unconstitutional to continue the at-large system's practice of "diluting the minority vote." A straight 9 district system was chosen as the correct solution. (Disclosure: I am the Trustee for Single Member District 2).
Dallas' Gentleman's Agreement
In Williams v. City of Dallas, a federal court ruled that the three at-large seats in the Dallas City Council’s mixed system diluted the minority voting strength and therefore violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Under the "8-3 system...no African-American and only one Hispanic had every won an at-large seat, although at the time, Dallas was 42% minority." The court investigated Dallas' version of the gentleman's agreement – where minorities were elected, they wrote, "only with the permission of the white majority..." (sound familiar?).
They also noted severe racial tensions relating to police brutality and other issues as being indicative of "some of the white at-large councilmembers simply ignoring the minority areas of the City." It held that because of "substantial economic disparities between white and minority residents," it was not possible for minority candidates to raise the large sums of money from their own communities that are necessary for competing in at-large elections.
Attorneys Warn Austin
Besides Luis Figueroa of MALDEF telling the CRC they plan to sue if a hybrid system is put on the ballot and voted in, other attorneys have weighed in, including Dave Richards and Terry Meza, from Arlington, TX. Ms. Meza submitted a letter and had a colleague verbally present her warning to the CRC that Austin shouldn't head down the "same path of heartache" as Dallas did with a hybrid system.
See Jacob Limon's testimony, at 27:00 minutes in on "Item 3A, Part 1 of 2." He tells us this is still active case law and of the successes with a straight district plan in Dallas. Depiste Vice Chair Ann Kitchen's assertation the letter doesn't provide enough information, it does. It summarizes precisely what cases the court would consider in ruling on a legal challenge here. It clearly explains Austin would likely waste a great deal of money in defending a hybrid system.
Central Texas - Majority Straight District
San Antonio put a 10-1 plan in place in the 1970s, almost 20 years prior to the federal cases. The same aspect of voter dilution weighed into that decision then. They saw the writing on the wall.
Since the federal cases, smaller communities across the state, and in central Texas, like Kyle, Georgetown, Taylor, Cibolo and Boerne have switched to straight district systems, knowing that any hybrid plan would cost them money they don't have on a legal challenge.
Let's hope Austin City Council is as wise.