What Is There to Say About This Austin Police Video?

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There’s an old adage in journalism that you’ve probably heard: a dog bites a man, that’s not a story. A man bites a dog, that’s a story. 

You have to keep this in mind when covering the great state of Texas. A lot of noteworthy things happen—noteworthy except for the fact that we see them a lot. And that makes the question of whether we cover the video below, of an incident on Sixth Street that happened over the weekend between Austin police officers and the citizens they’re sworn to protect and serve, a tough call from a news perspective. Take a look. 

It opens with a bunch of APD officers cuffing a man in a prone position—a legitimate part of police activities—and continues as multiple officers seek to establish a perimeter on the street, keeping bystanders on the sidewalk. That’s also legit. But as the video continues, mounted police begin riding into the people who are off to the side, as the observers film their actions on their cellphones. And then one mounted officer who has apparently had enough of it grabs the phone from the hand of one man and rides away with it. As the man gestures to the officer and reaches out in her direction, another officer lets loose a steady two-second stream of pepper spray in his face. 

The officer taking the man’s cellphone seems to be violating his rights—it’s not illegal to film police, and if he is within an unclear perimeter, the proper way to handle that probably isn’t to steal his phone. The officer who then sprays him in the face might see the guy as a threat to his fellow officer—who knows how far he’ll go to retrieve his property?—but it’d be hard to argue from the encounter that he’s guilty of anything more serious than pissing off a cop who was tired of being filmed. And, again, that’s not actually a crime. (In fact, the Texas Legislature considered a bill earlier this year that would have made it illegal to film a police officer from less than 25 feet away, but decided against it.) 

The officers’ actions are under review from the department, but there’s not much of an argument that the APD behaved appropriately on Saturday night.

But how many stories about police abusing their authority, or viewing citizens as enemies, do we have an appetite for? How many videos of police behaving poorly must we see before it’s just another dog biting a man? 

One has to ask these questions in the wake of what happened in McKinney over the weekend. That story became an international headline (here, go read about it in French) and subsequently attracted hundreds, from around Texas and the U.S., to march in protest

On another weekend, what happened on Sixth Street in Austin might have been a bigger story—there’s clear-cut video of a police officer stealing a guy’s phone and then another officer pepper-spraying him for it—but it’s also hard to justify the idea that this sort of thing deserves less attention simply because it happened the same weekend that police in another city did something even more egregious. 

This steady stream of stories can reduce our faith in authority to Arya Stark–level lows. But at the same time, it seems like the best way for trust to be restored in this institution isn’t through journalists refraining from reporting every time the police abused their authority; the best way would be for the police to stop abusing it. 

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  • MDER

    I don’t know but I’m sure you’ll twist the facts for the best possible ratings like every “news” agency did with the McKinnney ordeal. If you are going to report on incidents, do your job and report some facts this time. He news media is a disgrace and an embarrassment. “Let’s get the first 15year old with a phone camera you can find and run with his version as absolute fact and then race bait the nation”

    • Derek Jude Tallman

      I was there, this isn’t “hype”. The mounted cops were being very aggressive for no reason for a good five minutes before this incident.

  • Derek Jude Tallman

    I was there Saturday night and saw how the cops were just riding into groups of people without slowing down. I didn’t see the pepper spray incident (we were walking away towards 35 where we parked, we just heard the shouting and screams), but, prior to, the mounted cops were acting like assholes, basically riding at a steady trot down streets closed for walking at that hour, immediately after the bars closed and the streets were most crowded, and not bothering to slow down when they hit crowds.

  • MM

    There is another side to the McKinney story. You did a great job searching FRENCH news on it (Matt Drudge would be so proud…), but did you see the McKinney FOP press release?

    I am not a member of the police officer fan club, but I can see things from that perspective.

    Maybe your article should have started from the question: When are we going to get tired of people provoking cops and then crying when they respond? In TEXAS we learn not to go home crying if we get stung because we were throwing rocks at wasps’ nests.

    • Adell Cruz

      I’m from Texas and find the McKinney incident an abuse of power. The white adult male is just as to blame as the officer. Racist pigs literally….that is the ugly side of humanity and police officers need training on crowd control

    • Derek Jude Tallman

      Actually, the cops on Sixth Street were doing all of the provoking. You see a slice out of the entirety of how the cops on horseback were that night. They were riding in formation down a crowded street, not giving people any time to get out of their way, and actually speeding up to barrel through crowds.

      My wife and I were nearly trampled for nothing more than crossing a street blocked off for pedestrians. We may have had a total of three drinks in three hours (we’re very light drinkers, being parents in our forties and all), so I was actually dead sober at closing time.

      The question should be, when are we going to hire smarter cops (Fed courts said you can discriminate against high IQ applicants) and cops with better ability to not be easily baited by words? That is, when are we going to hire professional police and not a bunch of thugs with badges?

  • Joe Downey

    I swear to Defend the Constitution of the United States part of the oath that Cops take, First Amendment Rights include the filming of cops. If you are can not follow the Constitution then QUIT your JOBS you are no better than the GESTAPO of 1933

  • sid storch

    Way to bury the lede. So long as the victim is white, no need for the cop to resign, right?

  • constituent

    Too many police, and none lead by example.

  • David Alfonzo Chavez

    Looks and sounds like a bunch of drunk assholes.

    Don’t know what happened. Don’t care what happened.

    All I know is, police don’t respond in this fashion unless provoked.
    If you wanna act like a dick, then you’re gonna get treated like a dick, from someone in a position of a authority who will be a dick right back at you.

    This is not a tough concept to follow.

    • Mys

      Police don’t respond in this fashion unless provoked? This is entirely false.
      The list of examples is too long. Daniel Rocha, for example. 18 year old kid, died while being 100% cooperative, unarmed, passenger in car that was stopped and driver ran. Shot in the back while on the ground handcuffed and unable to move. The entire neighborhood was there to see it.

      Police routinely pretend to be part of a group and cause issues between people in order to create rioting and respond violently.

      The officer in McKinney yanking that girl around, by her hair, throwing her on the ground and slamming her facedown into the grass multiple times, pulling a gun on her and SITTING on this child’s back with his full adult weight, and pulling a gun on her. That was NOT following procedure, and NOTHING justifies what he did.

      Additionally, it is legal to film what is happening, taking his phone is illegal action. Also, I find it to be questionable that they were maintaining a perimeter with horses in a fashion that made it difficult to see/film/have accountability for what was happening.

      • Derek Jude Tallman

        They were riding up and down a two block section of Sixth that was blocked off for foot traffic, speeding up to a trot to push through crowds, immediately after the bars closed. They did ALL of the provoking that night.

      • Derek Jude Tallman

        The “perimeter” was so foot cops could arrest a dude that wasn’t happy that a horse almost trampled his ass and he said so in a less than polite manner. The cops CREATED the tension, they weren’t trying to dissipate anything.

    • Derek Jude Tallman

      The cops were acting like assholes for a good ten minutes before this incident. I’m sorry, but my perfectly sober forty-two year old wife and mother of two with a Masters degree in Psychology, who leads an ACT team for a mental health organization, and was dressed like an adult, was doing NOTHING to provoke the cops, and she was told she’d be in jail if she didn’t “hurry her fat ass up”.

      Fuck you, bootlicker.

  • Nico Sterling

    I think if a horse is headed in your direction, it’s in your best interest to move. Settle down, everyone!

  • http://www.reverbnation.com/santonesmusic Patrick Sigel

    pigs. pitchforks and torches.

  • John Chadwick Crews

    Not fifteen minutes ago I returned from lunch with my coworkers where we had had a heated discussion about the events in McKinney and whether we could trust police in general. The argument was heated and I stood steadfastly on the side that I know longer feel I can trust the police in America, and that I would avoid them unless absolutely necessary. For fifteen minutes I wondered if maybe I was over-reacting, rushing to judgement. And then I see this. I just give up.

  • Prairie Dog Rebellion

    definitely need to report these incidents. that’s the only way the cops will ever get the message they can’t run over people and the constitution at will.

  • Deb C.

    All cops, law enforcement, etc. are bullies. Maybe also racist but definitely “out” to get “you” — whether Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Red, Yellow, or Blue. Very few decent, trustworthy ones are out there. My son dated a girl who had BOTH parents in Law Enforcement. The Dad straight up told my son “ALL cops are Dicks. Including me. Avoid them at all costs.”

  • Zach Lyons

    I just hope people who tirelessly defend even the more heinous actions of the police realize that most of us who stand more critical also love and respect our police forces. Every conversation/encounter I’ve ever had with a COA officer has been cordial, and I always assume that the cops are doing the right thing and protecting and respecting civilians.

    That doesn’t mean their actions in this video were justified. If that man would’ve charged the officer taking his phone and presented a credible threat, I would’ve been satisfied seeing another officer knock his ass flat on the pavement. If the perimeter were more clearly defined, I would’ve completely understood a more forceful response to those crossing it. If the 15 year-old woman in McKinney would’ve swung for the face of the officer in that video or pulled out a weapon, it would’ve been perfectly justifiable to toss her to the ground.

    Most of the people critiquing the brave men and women sworn to serve and protect us aren’t saying these forces should sit back and baby everyone. Only that the people they subdue are just as human as the rest of us, and they deserve not to have their asses kicked until it’s obviously necessary. Any person with a bit of weight and muscle can knock someone on their ass, it takes a great cop to know when other responses are more appropriate.

    • Karianne Jones

      he was quoted saying we were trying to defuse the situation… the cop in McKinny… the way to defuse the issue would have been to find the POOL PARTY Throwers and ask who are the INVITED guests… and then telling the rest to get.. instead Rambo leaps out with a barrel roll.. omg dramatic much.. and starts cursing at kids and grabbing them.. ok NOT DEFUSING THERE PARTNER… then tells two black boys to sit while their obviously white friends are filming this and PASSES over them.. interesting.. then as the girl is trying to leave AS PER INSTRUCTED , she said I need my glasses.. and she was an invited guest of the homeowners… he then proceeds to manhandle and abuse this young lady for attempting to do what she was told …. had that been my daughter that man would be up on a multitude of charges such as molestation.. his had was on her bikini clad bottom for 4 straight minutes while he crushed her with his weight.. and looked around… yea … gotta lot of NO respect for the McKinney cops and Austin… wow.. I own and ride horses… even bumping someone not expecting that can seriously cause injury …. she had no reason ro reach back and take his camera other than to be snotty… bring her up on theft charges using a dangerous weapon.. a horse can kill .. not intentionally… but if she had run him down or the horse spooked and they say those are bomb proof horses … I say BULLSHIT… no such creature… they are trained yes but sometimes even the most well trained animal can lose it.. there was the potential for so much more to happen and no one sees that it was yet again a cop abusing the power of their badge to cause MORE disruption and mr pepper there… these are folks who are walking along….. if you had hit someone with god forbid copd or other breathing issues.. as the family of such a person I would demand your arrest for assault and attempted murder… NOONE thinks these days.. and I find it disgusting that our police who we used to be able to trust are now the one thing we truly have to fear in this world.

    • Derek Jude Tallman

      Um, what “perimeter” are you talking about? You know Texas, days before this, rejected a 25′ “perimeter” for cop taping, right? You know the Second Circuit, in an unopposed case (the cops don’t want to challenge, the SCOTUS is the next step, and Scalia generally sides with the Constitution, even if it upsets the cops.

      The horse cops had no right to stop people from filming, and definitely no right to take the guy’s phone (I wonder where THAT video is, and what it shows that they didn’t like, like, say, the WHOLE incident).

      So, basically, what you are saying is, as long as it’s the cops, they can beat you with impunity, and if someone stands up to them when they’re breaking the law, they can kill them with impunity.

      Glad you put them on a pedestal above “normal” people. They should be allowed to abuse us.

      • Zach Lyons

        I completely agree with you—I think either you missed some of what I said or I wasn’t clear enough. I know I certainly wasn’t clear enough in some areas.

        I in no way said cops get a free pass. And hell no, I don’t believe they should do as they please without regard for consequences—that makes them thugs and monsters. What I did say was that in case of someone presenting a *credible threat* they’d warrant being subdued. Credible meaning violent, actually dangerous…to where a reasonable person would fear for their life. Subdued meaning stopping the threat while doing the least damage to the person possible. I don’t in any way, shape, or form believe the actions of the guy in the video deserved the cops’ reaction. The police here were entirely unreasonable.

        As for my remark about the perimeter, I should’ve have been much more clear. By perimeter I meant a reasonable perimeter set up for the actual safety of the people nearby and that of the man the police were arresting, who doesn’t deserve to be trampled. In the aforementioned hypothetical, someone breaking that line and, once again, presenting a credible threat deserves a more harsh reaction.

        I never said cops can or should kill over these issues. I never once said they belong on a pedestal. They belong in a level of scrutiny far greater than the rest of us, they should be held to a stricter standard and actions like those in the video show they failed. I’ve been one among the masses calling for murder charges for the racist, cold-hearted cops who have committed the horrific killings of late and resignation and punishment for the officers involved in the McKinney incident. I hope that the the people who so callously abused their position of authority to kill members of our society—out of racism and prejudice and disrespect for life—suffer for the rest of their lives. Trust me, I’m not justifying out-of-control cops. My apologies for my lack of clarity.

        • Derek Jude Tallman

          Thanks for clearing that up. I am a little testy on this thread because I was an eye witness to the BS immediately before this incident that got everyone riled up, and I’m tired of the bootlickers defending the cops.

          • Zach Lyons

            Amen to that, I don’t blame you. I’ve really been trying to hold on to my respect for good cops amidst these crises, but more and more of these situations keep arising—I can’t even remember the last time I heard about a cop doing the right thing. I’m losing what little faith I had left in a police force that serves the people.

  • Jackel

    Watch the video again and turn up the sound as loud as it will go then imagine the sound is 10 times as loud. Now think how you would like to put up with all those drunk fowl mouth people cursing and screaming at you with no respect for the law or anything else every week.

    • AmmoAlamo

      Gee, are you saying cops should quit their jobs when they can’t stand the heat of action? I agree! Those cops were a riot, and I mean a riot, I have to laugh my ass off to see their professionalism, especially those riding Trigger into the sunset, true blue Roy Rogers and Dale Evans all the way, or HiYo Silver, Awaaay who was that masked man, well she was a cop stealing a cellphone that’s why she was wearing a mask… haha ha ha those cops are a riot, agreed? If instead of the cop stealing the citizen’s phone it had been a black guy swiping a cop’s cellphone and riding off into the sunset, in that cop riot the phone thief would have received instant conviction, sentence passed, execution and death on the spot, all on video and every cop getting off scot free no matter how egregious their actions leading to the citizen’s death, see many recent instances of citizen killing by cop without any sort of trial after. All those cops cursing and screaming at innocent citizens with no respect for the law or anything else, every day, makes the skin crawl don’t it.

    • Derek Jude Tallman

      They were screaming like that because the cops just spent fifteen minutes plowing through people with no consideration for their safety. Damn, to boots really taste that good?

  • AmmoAlamo

    Cops always escalate any situation, never try to defuse a conflict. Why? Because they are trained to ‘gain control’ and their idea of control is every other person within sight absolutely quiet and lying face-down on whatever uncomfortable or dangerous substrate they happen to be on, arms behind the back or on top of the head ready for cuffing, even if they are not under arrest or deserving of being detained or otherwise potentially guilty of anything – unless everyone in sight is on the ground with two cops sitting on them the cops are not “in control”, and even then cops might feel the need to bash heads or strangle to death to I guess get more control, what could be more in-control than several live cops sitting on cuffed dead meat at the bottom of their pile.
    USA Today Lesson One – don’t call cops to defuse a situation, they only know how to escalate a situation and to worsen conditions. Lesson Two – remove yourself from the scene before cops arrive, lest you become the innocent dead meat at the bottom of a dogpile of cops. Lesson Three – if there is a protest worthy of occurring, get permits, get people, follow the rules, have gasmasks, have lawyers onsite and on retainer, and use hired news videographers all around the sidelines.

  • Jackel

    I CAN SEE THAT AMMOALAMO IS PART OF THE PROBLEM IN THIS COUNTRY. NO RESPECT FOR THE LAW. tHE FEMALE OFFICER PROBABLY SHOULD NOT GRABED THE PHONE BUT AS OTHERS COMMENTED THERE WAS NO WILD HORSES CRASHING INTO THE CROWD. WATCH THE THING AGAIN .

    • Derek Jude Tallman

      I was there. The others weren’t there and didn’t see the fifteen minutes leading up to this. What they were doing was what the dude was trying to get on video. You see a few seconds of a fifteen minute show of power.

      You’d rather hear what fits your personal narrative, and ignore someone who saw what was going on in person. They have a word for that.

  • Char’s an idiot

    Dan Solomon…have you ever written an article that showed the police in a positive light?