Colored drawing by Anthony Jensen

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Who's The Criminal?


APD Infiltrates Occupy Austin in the Name of “Public Safety”

Our friends at the ACLU-MA are as appalled as we are, and have already provided the linear version of events here.  A more detailed account by Jordan Smith of The Austin Chronicle is here…and the first to break the news is an active Occupy Austin participant, Kit O’Connell, blogging here at FiredogLake.com, which includes the most relevant portions of the transcript of the hearing in Houston last week that brought to light these activities.

Today in a Harris County court, a judge will rule to proceed forward or move to dismiss, essentially by suppressing much of the prosecution’s evidence against the Occupiers.  We Austinites also happen to be in the midst of passing our city budget, including the proposal for more patrol officers to be hired.

CointelPro – Coming to a City Near You!

Across the United States, urban police departments prioritize the drug war and the so-called “war on terror” over simply rooting out violent criminals. The war on drugs targets non-violent, low-level users for the most part, in an effort to log higher arrest numbers such that it appears they are doing their job. The war on terror, formerly the purview of federal entities, and now being done in conjunction with them, takes many forms including: data-mining, spying on people with no prior cause, infiltration into activist groups (many times acting as provocateurs) and the use of military tactics to chill free speech: all in the name of oppression of dissent.

The average violent crime clearance rate is under 50% nationwide, while non-violent people account for over 60% of the nation’s jail and prison population.  Seven of ten non-violent offenders end up back in jail, while the white-collar drug lords sit confidently back and count their money. Expert groups like the Police Executive Research Forum recommend an increase in investigator pools, as well as increasing civilian support, as opposed to increasing field officers.1 Police chiefs and sheriffs – and their respective law enforcement unions, on the other hand – convince their respective purse holders that they must fund more beat officers, lest they be seen as “soft on crime.”

This dynamic occurs even when violent crime goes down: police claim responsibility for the downturns, yet cite external factors when there’s an upswing. They can’t have it both ways. Politicians still go along with building up police presence on the streets (but not necessarily patrolling neighborhoods) despite knowing that perpetuating the cycle does nothing to reduce crime. For police to justify their largesse, they must keep a steady flow of crime happening…or at least keep up the appearance that it is.

Meanwhile, outrageous acts by police against the population seem to be on the rise (based on YouTube evidence), yet district attorneys refuse to prosecute cops and police chiefs refuse to fire them. We “reward” this pattern by throwing more money at them with no accountability strings attached.

Let The Sun Shine In!

So when we get a “rock star” police chief as in Austin, an energetic charmer with the gift of gab and a love for the camera, it’s hard not to get caught up in his promises of change. A little over five years ago, Chief Acevedo stormed our liberal enclave in an otherwise conservative state and promised to clean house and bring the department into the 21st century. He produced results in some ways: a few bad apples were fired, some policy was cleaned up, a long-awaited “disciplinary matrix” was instituted (he even joined us at the legislature to oppose “secure communities” which targets undocumented workers) and he eagerly began building bridges with the community. 2

But those bridges were made of straw. On one hand, he worked with us to pass “cite and release,” 3 but then he turned right around and proposed officers get trained as phlebotomists to draw blood in DWI cases – sacrificing the public safety in the name of collecting evidence (ACLU-TX helped squash this effort). His handling of the first major police shooting death under his watch (Nathaniel Sanders, II) proved there would be no real change. Then it was cinched that he would protect his officers in any deadly shooting, no matter how atrocious, after the shooting death of Byron Carter, Jr.

While there is no comparison between unjust killings and curbing of free speech, our last bastion of hope rested on his many promises of protecting the 1st.  He made great speeches before Occupiers — even raising his fist in solidarity!  He also got himself in a spot of trouble with the nationwide blue shield when he posed for a photo with a gentleman holding a “Shame on NYPD/God Bless the APD” sign, alluding to the nasty actions of NY officers during Occupy events…and crediting APD’s promises of not doing the same.

Empty Words

Then he showed his true colors by using excessive force in shutting down the food tables at the occupation, and at the questionably-legal eviction last February (a federal court ruling is pending that will inform what happens with the eviction arrests and possible civil action). 

As if that wasn’t enough, despite his promises to ACLU-TX representatives and other community leaders, he ordered infiltration of the occupation (he had previously promised, “I’m not going to waste precious resources…”). No, it’s not surprising, as it’s the model nationwide4 and he’s not one to buck the system in any meaningful way, but it is disappointing; our last glimmer of hope sizzling out.

The Buck Stops -???

The big question is: did Acevedo order or approve the entrapment? There’s no doubt that it happened…one of the undercovers4 proudly admitted it in a court hearing last week. He pushed for activists to “step it up” and suggested building lock boxes – a riskier action than simply linking arms to block a roadway. The problem is, participants didn’t know it was “felony” risky! Never before had this action brought more than a misdemeanor charge, but some “clever” assistant district attorney in Harris County found a way to bump it up by claiming the lock boxes could have been hiding explosives (these are people committed to non-violence, or at least the non-police officers were).

As farfetched as that claim is, lockboxes can, in fact, be harmful to the participant depending on how public safety officials choose to remove them.

So, those in charge of our public safety not only lied about who they were and  encouraged riskier actions than were being initially  planned, but they bought the materials, assembled them and delivered the “criminal instruments” to the activists: “instruments” that would put them at risk. 5

It would also, in APD’s mind, quell the public’s fortitude in dissenting against its government in the future. People would think twice before attending another action – or even a protest. In doing so, they hope many would wonder, could I end up with a felony charge…putting my future at risk in a very serious way?

In no way did this activity by APD protect anyone from harm. In fact, it created it.

This is what we are paying the highest-per-capita salaries in the nation for?6


Notes:

1Most violent crime isn’t pre-meditated, but of that that is pre-meditated, they are perpetrated by the same, small handful of offenders. “Best Practices” emphasize this, but police lobbyists downplay it.

2Aptly summed up, on Acevedo’s day of hire in 2007, Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said: "Today, the sun has shined on the city of Austin, with the hopeful promise of a new era for relations between the police and the city's minority communities…The selection of Chief Acevedo honors the many good officers in the police force and honors Austin's diversity and Austin's efforts to respect the human rights of all its people."

3a policy in conjunction with a state law passed meant to encourage participation – which provides for not spending the night in jail for minor offenses (like small marijuana possession, driving with an expired license, etc), in exchange for showing up in two weeks to “walk through” a booking, facing the same legal consequences)

4For more, watch the documentary, “The Miami Model”

5 Dowell, the only APD infiltrator currently named, is a $95,000/year narcotics detective. The war and drugs and the war on terror are inexorably linked; not that they are looking for drugs at peaceful protests –and not that free speech should be treated as terrorist activity, but that they treat peaceful protestors like hardened gang-banger/drug dealers (which is how they view all potential arrestees in a narcotics investigation). Narcotics is where some of the most questionable police tactics, and police corruption, can be found in any department.
             
6Why spending money elsewhere in the city’s budget improves the public safety: “Bloated Police Budgets Do NOT a Safe Community Make”



Thursday, August 30, 2012

PEACEFUL STREETS PROJECT: We Promote Peace


 
Last weekend, Antonio Buehler was targeted and arrested a second time while filming police activity. This set in motion a storm that put APD on notice for their attempted curbing of a constitutionally-protected activity. The APD and APA retaliated by mischaracterizing what Peaceful Streets Project does.
 
"Antonio Buehler asserts that filming cops protects people from false arrest. For this, he was falsely arrested. We know he was falsely arrested because someone filmed it.”  ~Sam Frank, filmmaker
 
The Peaceful Streets Project (PSP) is an all-volunteer, grassroots effort uniting Austinites in ending the institutional violence taking place on our streets. Through community organizing and direct action tactics, the Peaceful Streets Project seeks to support Austin communities in understanding, exercising, and standing up for our rights.
 
PSP works towards its mission through regular “cop-watching” (video-witnessing police activity to assist those who may have been the victim of police misconduct), training, education, coalition-building, solidarity with similar groups nationwide and through its ongoing “Police Complaint Department” (collecting stories of police abuse at events and set locations throughout the city – see example stories).
 
While many APD officers tolerate and even welcome PSP’s presence, APA’s Wayne Vincent’s allegations against PSP are baseless. There is no evidence of PSP negatively affecting the public safety, and his scurrilous charges against a group dedicated to peace of “inciting violence against police” smacks of the very problem PSP was formed to address.
 
"It's called PEACEFUL Streets Project for a reason...we don't engage in, or encourage, violence, disruption or intimidation. We keep a respectable distance and are not responsible for any officer’s engagement of us just because they don't like our witnessing their actions." – Monica Savant, PSP
 
In fact, while PSP’s sole tactic is passively observing via videotaping, some APD officers have engaged in: intimidation, yelling in close proximity to a PSP member, shining flashlights in member’s eyes, giving contradictory orders to create confusion, physically pushing members and on two occasions, using horses against members (a long-time tactic of APD, dating back to at least April, 2001, in which a lawsuit was won to curb this activity).
 
"Because recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment, policies should prohibit interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations. ...Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices." - Department of Justice (DOJ)
 
PSP has never “interfered” in police activities and we know this because the law is clear.
 
"...speech is not protected by the First Amendment if it amounts to actual obstruction of a police officer’s investigation – for example, by tampering with a witness or persistently engaging an officer who is in the midst of his or her duties." – DOJ
 
There has been no “actual obstruction” of anything…no tampering or “persistently engaging an officer” by PSP. The only time a PSP member speaks to an officer engaged in a stop is when the officer has spoken to her/him first. There is no evidence of PSP obstructing police activity or threatening the safety of others.
 
APD will not, and can not, pass any law or policy that is both unconstitutional and unenforceable. Any rumored 50-60’ rule is just that, a rumor. It’s clear that some officers, certainly not all, need training and/or clarification; so if there is policy to be implemented, PSP’s coalition partners have an example policy they will bring before APD (attached).
 
PSP will move forward from these case-in-point injustices brought against them and engage in a mass cop-watching action tonight. Activists will meet at 10:00pm near 6th St., train/review as to our peaceful, observatory tactics, form affinity groups and venture out to protect the liberties of Austinites.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

APD's ANTONIO BUEHLER 50 FOOT POLICY


A message to the media, following coverage of the second arrest of Antonio Buehler for videotaping police officers...Buehler is already facing charges for the same several months ago, prompting a national outcry.

---  "Because recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment, policies should prohibit interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations....Officers should be advised not to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices." - Department of Justice ---

Media...ask yourselves:

--Does this new APD policy of having to stand 50-60' away to record any police activity AFFECT YOU? 
...Police across the nation are increasingly confiscating news media cameras -and trying to delete video- in an effort to hide their just-caught actions. (I witnessed APD throw an Occupier's -our livestreamer- computer to the ground to break it during the OA eviction -- I was standing directly next to it - about to get cuffed myself). THIS HAPPENS-all over the country, arrests for videotaping, and destruction of video evidence, despite the complete legality of videotaping. APD's been moving in this direction for some time now, despite their platitudes of "we welcome it!"

--Does media get an "exemption" from this new rule? Who is "media"? Do you have to get permits to distinguish yourselves from us lowly bloggers and livestreamers? If so, would that be in the spirit of the 1st? Is that a slippery slope you support? Besides, we kinda have some case law around here (I was a plaintiff-remember the 8 Klansfolk at City Hall?) that they won't be able to do that--not that they won't try.

--How will APD enforce its distance rule? Tape measures? If random bystanders are 10' from a detainment, as they often are without ANY concern by LEOs, are they going to be arrested if officers are also planning to arrest a videographer 30' away? If not, why? How is someone holding a camera further away MORE of a danger than someone closer, without a camera (with their hands free)? What kind of lawsuits would come from that (there's plenty across the nation to draw from, almost all in favor of the videographer/photographer)? How much pubic safety & legal energy/resources will be spent on "dealing with peaceful videographers"?

WHAT IS 50-60' & IS IT "REASONABLE"?

Videotaping police is completely legal, according to SCOTUS (covering 1st, 4th & 14th amendment rights).ACLU even has an app for that! At question, supposedly, is keeping a "reasonable distance."

Having some experience with the measurements of 6th St. (a side job is working a certain festival twice a year...and I know the 10x10 tents, back to back, take up half the road, leaving 10' on either side, meaning the road, curb to curb is about 40')...essentially, you'd have to stand against the wall of one building to videotape a police detainment directly across 6th St. on the other sidewalk, and THEY'D have to press up against that building to get 50' between you. You'd have to walk 10 feet down on your side to get 60'. And can you even get any video through all those heads?

Is that reasonable? At all? Picture ALL the other people gaily strolling on the sidewalk, right next to officers detaining someone. They aren't a threat...but THOSE GUYS, WAY over THERE, in the red t-shirts with the peace signs, and the videocams - yeah...THEY are a threat.  :-p

WHAT'S BEING MISSED RE: "INTERFERENCE" & BURNING QUESTIONS:

"A person may record public police activity unless the person engages in actions that jeopardize the safety of the officer, the suspect, or others in the vicinity, violate the law, or incite others to violate the law." -Dept. of Justice

--Buehler was quiet -except for coordinating comments amongst PSPers - up to the moment he was standing on the spot the 1st officer engaged him (read: "OFFICER engaged BUEHLER"), that officer concluding the spot was fine. The officer who arrested him just happened upon the scene and decided to change that previous agreement (not exactly in line with policy--officers already on a scene are supposed to be deferred to).

"...speech is not protected by the First Amendment if it amounts to actual obstruction of a police officer’s investigation – for example, by tampering with a witness or persistently engaging an officer who is in the midst of his or her duties." - See video/see any of that?  For Buehler to be guilty of "interference," it would have to be proven that he intended to "obstruct the activity or threaten the safety of others."  See any of that? Buehler didn't even comment on the activity...which wouldn't matter, either. "Nor does an individual’s conduct amount to interference if he or she expresses criticism of the police or the police activity being observed."

--Since when does a suspect get to decide whether another person, exercising their 1st amendment right (upheld by SCOTUS), gets arrested? Is that even legal - or within policy? It's at least completely irresponsible of the officer to delegate HIS authority to a SUSPECT. 

--Did you know that the suspect apologized to Buehler in jail that night? 

--Did you note the warning the officer gave Buehler --was a whole 1/2 second to comply?

--One outlet reported: ..."That's when things got out of control." REALLY?? Who was out of control? Buehler was the calmest one there. He only spoke to the 1st officer about where to stand, and complied completely when the 2nd jumped him with his 1/2 second of warning.  I wish police officers were as IN control as Buehler was in that video.

--APA says WE are an endangerment. With our cameras. Getting in the way. WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE WE HAVE EVER CAUSED ANY ISSUES (ask next time, please); caused a cop to trip or a perp to get away?  Isn't paying attention to those paying attention to you doing your job what's endangering your job? Being distracted? Doesn't THAT harm the public safety? It's not the guy witnessing you being distracted from your job....

--Also ask APA why they insist on engendering violence against PSP and Buehler - the death threats didn't start until the news cycle this evening...due precisely to APA's 'outrage' against us peaceful videographers.

--They can get away with homicide of unarmed youth of color by saying they "felt" threatened. NOW they think they can get away with not being recorded by pushing us 50+ feet back, because that's where they "feel" safe. Notice a pattern? A whole lot of "feelings" involved in the rules and practices of police work...a lot of discretion...very little quantifiable accountability.

IN SAD CONCLUSION:

So, you see, all this talk of "distance" is a distraction. It has nothing to do with the number of feet, and everything to do with your ACTIONS - and whether you are physically, intentionally interfering, according to the courts and the DOJ. Standing aside quietly, at a "reasonable distance" proscribed by one of the officers until another one suddenly decided that was not "reasonable," does NOT "interference" make.

Remind me again how Chief Acevedo was our change agent; intent on bringing us a better department - ?  Seems like such a long time ago...all that hope we once had.  And where has Mr. Everywhere been lately...anyone? ...Buehler?

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Significance of Laura Pressley's Ron Paul Support: Next to None

Re: Austin City Council Election, May 12, 2012: PLACE 2 RACE

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

Mea Culpa

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?


INITIAL STOP


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)

---Ahmeed Bradley


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

Hell Not Weird Enough for Leslie; Decides to Stay Put

"It's not what happens to you, it's what you do with it that counts." - Leslie Cochran

Two weeks ago today, Leslie fell in a parking lot in south Austin (S. 1st and Johanna St.) and was taken to the hospital. He regained consciousness briefly, then showed signs of brain hemorrhaging, and yet again (the 4th time in 30 years) underwent brain surgery - having a scar starting at the front of his hairline back down the ridge, swooping down around the back of his head almost at the neck, then darting forward towards his temple, ending above his ear - with approximately 100 staples suturing it closed.

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.

He responded with hand squeezes to questions. He looked at people as they spoke to him. He held our hands (with his right one, his left is still mostly asleep). Then when we explained they were preparing to take the breathing tube out, he lifted his arm and gave us a big "thumbs up!"

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!

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Join us at: “LOVE FOR LESLIE!” @ Facebook

BookPeople
is starting a donation collection for Leslie, Friday, March 2: $10 or more gets you Leslie refrigerator magnets!

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Hybrid District System for Austin is Unconstitutional, Part 2

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.