Sunday, June 14, 2020

Hundreds of complaints filed against police over Austin protests

The Austin Office of Police Oversight received complaints from 606 people between May 29 and June 10, and is recommending 227 separate complaints based on those communications. The release of this information in and of itself is a victory for transparency in police oversight: Before 2018 changes to the police contract won by the Austin Justice Coalition and their allies, the city would have deep sixed this information and nobody would ever have known any complaint details. Even with names and locations redacted, the allegations are telling.

One complainant reported that a protester was "receiving medical help from a professional at protest when officers shot him in the head along with the medic that was administering help." Another decried the APD firing "chemical weapons" (read: tear gas) into crowds. Yet another lamented police "firing a foam bullet from less than 12 feet away directly at a protester that resulted in the need for limb-saving surgery."

Another suggested, “It seems 'less-lethal munition' is a name that gives the user an a false sense to release rounds with less consequences to the human being that is the target. It can''t be 'less lethal' if it's fired at close range. Please abolish the name and idea of 'less-lethal munition.'" Yet another described an incident where the "protester was standing still, hands in his pocket, posing no threat. And he was [pepper] sprayed at point-blank range. Needless, senseless use of force." 

Another complainant described how an officer "maced/sprayed [a] protester and two other women standing on either side of her, one of which was an 14-year-old girl," wondering, "Why has he not been fired already?"

The classmates of Levi Ayala filed a complaint over shooting him in the head with "less lethal" munitions. "As students, as community members, and as humans, we demand responsibility for these inhumane actions," read their letter.

“My Mother Was Shot With Bean Bag Rounds By A Firing Squad Of Officers," said yet another complaint. "She has a huge wound on her leg from the incident. Even now a week later she is feeling pain."

One protester complained not of brutality but of demeaning attitudes by officers:
I could see the smirks on some of the officers faces as they laughed at my sign when I walked by (my sign said: check the privilege & please don’t kill my son because he’s black). Some officers took 30 minutes of their time to tell me things like: “you can hold that sign all day it won’t make a difference,” “we will always have each other’s back, “my brothers in uniform die too,” “your sign doesn’t even make sense” ... oh and one officer even had the nerve to look me up and down and blow me a kiss. ... I got so angry at his insensitivity. ... those actions by OUR LOCAL PD make it hard to continue peaceful protests. 
Some complainants wondered why officers who witnessed abuse didn't intervene or report wrongdoers themselves: "I know I can report it, but why do I have to police my police? There were other police around."

One complainant wondered, "Why shouldn’t I vote to allocate funding away from the police department when they pose more threat than a benefit for the city? Austin is better than this." Yet another opined, "I find it disgusting that a city that applauds itself as diverse, safe, liberal and weird encourages wanton police violence."

Go here to read excerpts from the complaints and a list of relevant APD policies the OPO says should be reviewed. The APD Internal Affairs Division has a big job in front of them. Frankly, Grits fears they're not up to it.

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