I'd walked into an argument. Standing at a lectern upstairs at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, a seemingly uninvited-to-speak woman was lecturing roughly 200 police accountability activists on their performance last week.
Her problem (the guy sitting in front of me explained) stemmed from a Friday rally against dog shootings outside the Austin Police Department, and the fact that no one here had shown up in support. She was angry. She was heated. She was also talking out of turn.
Such was the spirit at the second annual Peaceful Streets Project Police Accountability Summit: a lot of rhetorical blood spilled, with relatively little in the way of achievable action. The summit, the brainchild of Antonio Buehler and John Bush, who founded the PSP last winter after Buehler's now-iconic New Year's Eve run-in with the APD, brought speakers and activists from all corners of the country. But aside from a few encouraging signs of legitimate organization, the event – the morning speeches and breakout groups, at least – came off as rather elementary. (Afternoon sessions included author Radley Balko and Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale; see "Seale and Balko Visit Peaceful Streets," Aug. 16.)
Take, for example, one morning breakout session: "Reining in the Police Through Legislation." It was the most action-minded session on the docket (others included "Why Do Cops Keep Killing Pet Dogs?"; a panel for victims of police brutality to tell their stories; and a session geared towards creating a memorial for deceased victims), and yet it offered few specifics. The main takeaways were that you should never take a plea deal, and that you can go to the Capitol on the first Monday of every month to voice your concerns about police activity to your district representative. But the session moderator, Heather Fazio, did little to explain how to actually obtain some sit-down time with a public official.
Which is strange, considering the detailed walk-throughs some of the other breakout sessions offered. One in particular, "Cop Watch Tactics," featured PSP organizer Harold Gray teaching staging and blocking techniques for executing proper cop surveillance – eventually instructing cop-watchers to hold their cameras sideways so as to avoid the dreaded Vertical Video Syndrome that afflicts so many homemade videos.
The summit's most polarizing session, "Abolish the Police vs. Reform the Police," was in the main conference room just before lunch, and pitted PSP organizer Pete Eyre against former cop Mike McDaniel, who carried the unenviable task of supporting police activity amid a sea of antagonists, many of whom were quite quick to contest McDaniel's claim that "90 percent of cops" are okay with civilians carrying firearms. Many of those same antagonists took issue with McDaniel's stance against marijuana-related arrests, which he summed up quite succinctly: "I don't go out seeking people smoking pot. But if you do it right in front of me, it's still illegal, and I have to arrest you."
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