On February 20, police in Austin, Texas, arrested a young woman for the heinous crime of jaywalking. The woman, identified as Amanda Stephen, had been jogging. She apparently crossed the street against the light, and was stopped by police. Because she did not have any identification with her, they placed her in handcuffs and took her away in a police cruiser. The entire scene was captured on video by a University of Texas-Austin student who was nearby. Now, Austin’s police chief is reacting to the incident by saying that she should be glad that the police didn’t do something worse to her.
Police chief Art Acevedo says the woman was ‘lucky.’
According to Austin NPR affiliate KUT, Austin police chief Art Acevedo told reporters at a press conference regarding the incident:
This person absolutely took something that was as simple as ‘Austin Police – Stop!’ and decided to do everything you see on that video. And quite frankly she wasn’t charged with resisting. She’s lucky I wasn’t the arresting officer, because I wouldn’t have been as generous.
The video shows the woman sitting on the sidewalk, with police officers around her. She can be heard to protest, “I was doing nothing wrong. I was crossing the street.” One officer replies, “I saw you.” Later, as they help her to her feet and escort her to the police car, she begins screaming, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” To Chief Acevedo, this apparently constitutes “resisting arrest.” At no time in the video does Ms. Stephen appear to attempt to flee from the officers, nor does she appear to be uncooperative with them.
But this is what Chief Acevedo said that caused the biggest stir:
In other cities there’s cops who are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas.
So, in Austin, the police will only violate your rights a little bit, seems to be what he’s saying. After all, Austin does have the reputation of being the “liberal” area of Texas. What a great advertising promo: “Come to Austin! The police will handcuff and arrest you for jaywalking, but they won’t sexually assault you!”
Acevedo apologizes for his remark.
On February 22, Chief Acevedo issued the following apology:
Yesterday’s press conference related to the arrest of a jogger by members of the Austin Police Department (APD) was the culmination of an emotional week for the APD, our extended APD family and me personally.
During the press conference I attempted to place the arrest into context by bringing attention to the fact that law enforcement deals with many acts of serious misconduct. This includes recent instances in the news of sexual assault by police officers in other cities.
In hindsight I believe the comparison was a poor analogy, and for this I apologize. I stand committed to transparent leadership and will continue to engage the community we serve in an open, honest, and timely manner.
In the big picture of police misconduct, and police attitudes regarding misconduct, this issue is a relatively minor one. But it, like other, more serious examples of police abuses, raises questions about police tactics, as well as about the type of individuals who are being hired by police forces. Gone are the days when a minor offense such as jaywalking might get someone a lecture by a finger wagging officer. Now, even those who commit the most minor of offenses are treated as if they are hardened criminals.
Here is video of the original incident, thanks to UTA student Chris Quintero: