Off the Desk
As of midnight on October 31, Freeport- McMoRan's $100 million risk insurance
was cancelled by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). It seems
that OPIC, the U.S. government-sponsored agency which provides financing and
insurance to American companies working overseas, may be concerned about the
pollution coming from the developer's gold mining operation in Irian Jaya,
Indonesia. (The New Orleans-based company has claimed that their mine does not
pollute local waterways. However, an Indonesian environmental organization has
reported that Freeport is dumping toxic tailings from its mining operations
into Irian Jaya rivers.)
Freeport Turns Into Pumpkin
In addition to potential environmental hazards, another concern may have been the fact that federal law requires OPIC to take into account "respect for human rights" in its insurance arrangements. Reports from Australian and Indonesian sources have documented dozens of cases of murder, torture, and human rights abuses at the Freeport mine site. OPIC and Freeport officials declined to comment.
The no-confidence vote from OPIC could have marred a dinner thrown in Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett's honor by the University of Texas on November 2 at the Hyatt Regency. Perhaps it was a good thing the Geology Foundation Advisory Council had to cancel -- Moffett had a "scheduling conflict." -- R.B.
Attempting to soothe East Austin neighborhood fears, Councilmember Eric
Mitchell told a 200-plus audience at the Metropolitan AME Church last week that
his plan to redevelop the Eastside could be accomplished without displacing
Revitalization or Relocation?
"If you own, we want to make sure you still own. If you rent, you'll continue to rent at the same price," Mitchell said.
Judging from the collective stomping and cheering at the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, which at times had all the fervor of a Southern revival, Mitchell was preaching to the converted. He also had the help of numerous speakers, many of whom he had personally hand-picked, who employed all the available microphone time to lend their support to the $75 million plan which would build new infrastructure and commercial buildings along East 11th and 12th streets. Some described the plan as a much-needed "shot in the arm" for the lagging East Austin economy. Others admitted that they'd like to get in on the action by opening their own businesses once the corridor is revamped. To them, Mitchell promised first dibs, as long as they are "first in line. We want [local businesses] there, except for the liquor store and the Quickie Pickie."
A smattering of opponents, however, refused to accept Mitchell as the neighborhood's savior. "I don't need Mr. Mitchell... or nobody to relocate me," said one senior citizen who piped up early in the meeting to decry the plan's proposed use of eminent domain. She explained that she has seen past East Austin communities wiped out by "urban renewal," and criticized the lack of neighborhood representation on the board of the proposed Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA), whose members were hand-picked by Mitchell to oversee the redevelopment process. Referring to the fact that at least eight ARA members reside outside the redevelopment area, she complained, "Not a one of them... live in East Austin."
Other ARA opponents at the meeting were members of the Guadalupe Association of Independent Neighborhoods (GAIN) and the East Austin Strategy Team (EAST). Only one other attendee, also a senior citizen, attempted to rain on Mitchell's parade. Mary Kimbles boldly seized a place on the agenda by interrupting a Mitchell-supporter. "We're not against progress, we're not against what 11th and 12th streets should be... but involve us. We live here, you live across town."
Mitchell replied that the ARA board members were considering expanding the board to allow more local appointees. But Kimbles left unconvinced -- and perhaps with good reason, if Mitchell and the ARA board manage the redevelopment the way Mitchell ran the meeting. Mitchell, who was recently named the A.M.E. Metropolitan Church "Man of the Year," took only 15 minutes of questions from the audience; all were from his supporters.
The opposition will get a greater role on a more neutral turf come November 16, when Mitchell will ask the council to accept his proposal for the ARA board, as well as the $9 mil-lion loan that will pay for the acquisition of the properties to be redeveloped. The public hearing is set for 6:30pm that Thursday. -- A.M.
The City of Austin may end up paying a high price for the Austin Police
Department's crowd-control tactics at a Valentine's Day party last February.
But as one Austin attorney sees it, the psychological damage suffered by the
young people at the party far outweighs any monetary compensation he intends to
seek from the city. "When a police officer grabs a 13-year-old kid, holds a gun
to his head and asks another officer, `Is this the nigger that did it?'... That
kind of stuff can stay with a kid a long, long time," says Austin lawyer Kelly
Evans. "That kid went home crying that night. He cried for a long time."
Cedar Avenue Fallout
So far, three attorneys say they will seek an undetermined amount of money in separate cases involving nearly 20 people -- about half of them minors -- who claim physical injuries or mental stress from the chaos that unfolded the night of Feb. 11. Witnesses say police indiscriminately sprayed mace and used their nightsticks and flashlights to quell what had otherwise been a peaceful gathering of children, teenagers, and adult chaperones, as nearly 70 officers responded to a report of an "officer down" at the Cedar Avenue address of Ira and Charmaine Bedford. The Valentine's Day party was an annual event in the Bedford household. The officer down, in this case, sustained a nasty head gash in what police say was an attack by an unknown assailant at the party. Police are still investigating the injury.
Evans represents the Bedfords, and says the Valentine's Day incident has taken an especially heavy toll on Ira Bedford. Stressed out over the turn of events, he missed several days of work and subsequently lost his job, though he has since found other employment. Bedford feels chiefly responsible for what happened, Evans says, because it was Bedford who summoned police to the scene in the first place, when he called 911 requesting a patrol car to drive through the neighborhood to make sure an armed gang member, who had been turned out of the party, wouldn't be returning to cause trouble. The melee that followed is a point of controversy that likely will go unresolved.
Meanwhile, lawyers are seeking other ways to settle the case. Evans, who also represents nearly a dozen other adults and minors who were at the party, says he's agreed to a request from the city attorney's office to try to negotiate a settlement outside of court so the city can avoid messy litigation. He is amassing a stack of medical and psychological reports to determine a dollar figure in damages.
While legal action against the city is gearing up, the APD's criminal charges against the Cedar Avenue party-goers continue to unravel. A county court judge last month found Bernie Durst, a chaperone at the party, not guilty of assaulting his brother-in-law David Jackson. A police officer had reported seeing Durst strike Jackson, but Jackson swore in an affidavit that it never happened. What is particularly galling about Durst's case, says his attorney Bobby Taylor, is that Durst, whose arrest allegedly constituted a parole violation, spent four months in jail before he was cleared of wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the misdemeanor charges against Jackson, who was arrested that night for public intoxication and failure to obey a police officer, also fell apart. A municipal court jury acquitted Jackson in August, after deliberating just 10 minutes. "The jurors introduced themselves to one another and then voted not guilty," attorney Terry Davis said of the jury's quick turnaround on his client's verdict.
Jackson's wife, Evada, has yet to stand trial on charges that she tried to interfere with police officers' arrest of another person and, in so doing, elbowed an officer in the chest. Davis is representing her and her two minor children who were at the party, one of whom required stitches after being struck with a police flashlight. Both kids are receiving twice-weekly counseling, Davis said.
In the wake of the community relations disaster stemming from the incident, APD has started trying to heal long-standing wounds with African-American residents in East Austin. APD has set out trying to build a stronger yet friendlier presence in the community, and has staged a series of forums designed to improve communications between police and minorities. Internal efforts are underway as well. In September, Mike McDonald, a career police officer recognized for his ideas on community policing, was promoted to assistant chief of the department, making him the highest-ranking black officer on the force. -- A.S.