Friday, March 18, 2005

COM: About Sixth Street, Austin

Back in the fall i was witness to a pretty surreal act on Sixth Street. After reading a series on policing in Austin in the Austin American Statesman i wrote a lengthy letter to the editor lamenting this particular event.

The Statesman didn't use the letter (you never call, you never write . . .) but my buddy Greg Moses at The Texas Civil Rights Review picked it up in its entirety, the NAACP was interested, and perhaps most interestingly (and faith reaffirmingly . . .) i was contacted by several department higher ups and the city managers office. I am convinced they did the best they could with what little additional information i could provide.

I also was contacted by Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle (that finest of Austin/Texas papers) who interviewed me at some length about the incident and the response for an article she was writing on Sixth Street. Although she didn't report on my particular scenario she nevertheless wrote quite a piece:

March 2004 was not a flattering month for the Austin Police Department, nor for Austin's image as a mecca for arts and entertainment, the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World." During a two-week period, police made two high-profile and controversial busts. About 2:30am on March 18 (first night of the annual SXSW Music Festival), officers arrested three members of the Grammy Award-winning L.A. band Ozomatli outside club Exodus on East Sixth Street, where the band was just finishing its set with a rousing, signature march outside to the street. According to the arrest report, the band refused a lawful order to stop playing, a scuffle ensued, and fearing a potential "riot," police hauled three band members to jail, charging one with felony assault on a police officer.

Thanks to the mob of journalists in town for the conference, news of the arrests made national and international news. In the aftermath, the Ozomatli bust was not only a legal mess, but a public relations disaster for the APD, in large part because the police on the scene failed to fully assess the situation before leaping to enforce the city's noise ordinance. Had they done so, they likely would've seen the Austin Fire Department marshal standing near the club door. The club was overcrowded; in an attempt to avoid a potentially deadly problem, the fire department, club management, and band had determined to use Ozomatli's signature show-closing samba line to safely lead fans out of the club.

A week later, on March 29, just down the road, on the edge of the city's Warehouse District, police arrested actor Jason Patric (in town for the premiere of the movie The Alamo), charging him with public intoxication and resisting arrest. Arresting officers said Patric defied a lawful order, "mocked" an officer, and pulled away from handcuffing. News of the arrest earned Austin a spate of unflattering headlines – one newswire report called the APD the "Blue Meanies."
Read the rest of the story here.

Update, March 31, 2005
An article from the New York Times about the Los Angeles scandal i referred to in my original letter.


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