The Peaceful Streets Project has its roots in a story of police abuse and corruption. On New Year's Day 2012, Antonio Buehler was a designated driver who pulled into a 7-11 in downtown Austin to fuel up his truck. At the gas station he pulled into, there was a DUI stop in progress. As Buehler and his passenger were about to leave, they heard a violent scream. They turned and saw one of the cops (Robert Snider) ripping the female passenger out of the car and throwing her to the ground. The other cop (Patrick Oborski) then ran over and joined in. As they twisted the victim's arms behind her in what is a torture move, she cried out more. Buehler pulled out his blackberry and attempted to take pictures. When the victim saw Buehler, she begged him to please record the incident. Buehler then began yelling at the cops, telling them that she had done nothing wrong and demanded that they stop assaulting her.
After they picked her up, cuffed her and walked her toward the rear squad car, Oborski turned and approached Buehler. Oborski got in Buehler's face and demanded to know who Buehler thought he was. Buehler said it didn't matter who he was and that he had a right to take pictures. Oborski kept moving in on Buehler, Buehler took a couple steps back, and as Oborski raised his voice, Buehler raised his. Then Oborski shoved Buehler by hitting him in the chest area. Buehler shouted at him, telling Oborski to stop touching him. Oborski pushed Buehler back until he was trapped between Oborski and the bed of the truck. Oborski continued to push on Buehler, as Buehler leaned back over the bed of the truck, and then Oborski told Buehler that he was under arrest, put him in a choke hold, took him to the ground and cuffed him. Later, Oborski would told Buehler that 'you don't f*** with the police, you f***** with the wrong cop, and now you're going to learn your f****** lesson!"
That lesson was being charged with a felony crime of spitting in a cop's face which carries 2-10 years in prison. Buehler and his passenger began a campaign to get witnesses to step forward, and thankfully several did; each one willing to testify that the cops assaulted Buehler, and that Buehler did not spit in Oborski's face. One witness then told took cell phone video of the assault, and published it on YouTube. The media ran with the story.
In Austin several people stepped forward. Pam Farley set up a legal defense fund, Harold Gray and others organized a couple of protests, and people from around the country started calling into local radio shows to demand accountability. Despite overwhelming evidence that the cops were the ones that committed the crimes that night, they did not back down. After the passenger (who was falsely arrested on a public intoxication charge) told the media her story, Austin Police came back a week later and charged her with two additional bogus crimes – resisting arrest and failure to obey a lawful order. The legal defense fund was able to cover the victims' court fees, but each still has charges pending against them.
In the month that followed the New Year's Day incident, numerous people approached Buehler to tell him their own stories of police abuse (to include being framed, violently assaulted and even raped), and none for personal gain, but just to encourage him to continue his fight. Buehler said that because of his West Point and Stanford background, his military service, his non-profit work, no criminal history, the circumstances of his arrest, the witnesses and video, and because he was not Black or Hispanic, he was building a strong base of supporters that spanned socio-economic, political and racial boundaries. He teamed with some local activists, namely John Bush, Harold Gray and Kaja Tretjak, to use his new platform to launch the Peaceful Streets Project to fight back against police abuse. The original vision for the Peaceful Streets Project was to be a non-violent, non-partisan, direct action grassroots effort to change culture so that people know their rights, stand up for their rights and the rights of others in order to curb police violence.
They organized the 1st Annual Peaceful Streets Project Police Accountability Summit, which was a big success. At the event they handed out 100 cameras to people in need so they could record interactions with the police. The Peaceful Streets Project then built on that success; they were named the Grassroots Activist Movement of the year in Central Texas, and they have since launched 14 new chapters from Honolulu to Sandusky (OH) to Manchester (NH). They have put a spotlight on criminal cop behavior, and for that they have been targeted and wrongfully arrested a couple more times, and they have even received death threats from cops. Their tactics have been innovative. In Manchester (NH) they use lasers to warn drivers about police checkpoints and they send letters to people who have been arrested for victimless crimes. In New York City they have written cops tickets and have conducted guerilla know your rights trainings in the subways. While in Austin they hold monthly corrupt cop of the month protests. Through these diverse and sustained tactics, the Peaceful Streets Project has also seen marked positive changes in the behavior of cops towards the people they interact with.
The fight for police accountability is on the verge of becoming a national social movement and the Peaceful Streets Project is leading the way. That is why the Peaceful Streets Project is hosting the 2nd Annual Police Accountability Summit in Austin. It's free to the public, with free food and childcare, so that the people most likely to become victims of police abuse can attend. The keynotes are Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, and Radley Balko of the Huffington Post who just wrote a new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop. This event will be a celebration of the success we've had over the past year, and it will be used to propel the movement onto a national stage as we spread to cities in all corners of the country (and eventually, the world).
For more about Antonio's case and the rise of the Peaceful Streets Project, check out this video, courtesy of our friends at copblock.org: