Austin Police Department Hassles Blogger…Is This A New Cultural Trend?

After I started this blog, a story about what I perceived to be a gross miscarriage of legitimate law enforcement work came up.

It was a story of police misusing the authority that has been given them to protect the public, they are supposed to serve. In this particular case, there was video evidence. But in the one I am about to present, there is no video. There is only the account of one man versus that of the police officers who were involved in this case and because of this, we must be careful not to pass judgment.

However, we can take a moment and take note of some things that I have observed along the way. And these things are the basis for my post, not the incident itself.

Scott Henson is a blogger in Austin,Texas.

He has a blog called Grits For Breakfast. Recently, he wrote about an incident he experienced with the local Austin Police Department and a Travis County Constable.

A few years back Grits posed the question, “Is babysitting while white reasonable suspicion for police questioning?” after my granddaughter and I were detained and questioned at length in my neighborhood on suspicion of some nefarious deed (it was never quite clear what). In that incident, the police were pretty clear I was stopped solely because Ty, like her mother (who came to live with my wife and me when she was a child) is black, while I’m an almost stereotypical looking white Texas redneck. At the time, Grits was amazed that three squad cars were dispatched to question me for walking down the street with a child of a different race, detaining me for no good reason and scaring the bejeezus out of then-two-year old Ty.

Last night, though, Ty and I got the full jump-out-boys treatment, making our earlier interaction with Austin PD seem downright quaint. It could only have been more ridiculous if they’d actually arrested me, which for a while there didn’t seem out of the question. (This is a personal tale much more than a policy analysis, so if you’re only interested in the latter, don’t bother to read further.)

It was evidently so intriguing that the Daily Mail picked it up and ran a story on it.

The result was amazing for a guy with a sleepy little blog like mine. The Daily Mail put up links to both of Mr. Henson’s stories about the APD overreacting and as you might guess, his comments are off the map. Some of those comments are why I chose to write this post. They highlight a wide gap in two different cultures, cop and non-cop.

As is the case anytime I see a story/post about police misusing their authority or just generally getting it wrong, there always seems to be a squadron of police trolls who descend upon the comment section and scatter automatic defenses for the police officers involved. No matter if the complaint has any merit or not, they will assume the citizen brought it on and the cops were simply doing their jobs. Never will they openly admit that there are punks in their ranks who use their badges as tools to harass and intimidate the people they are sworn to serve.

Here are some examples:

-Do you have ANY proof of this happening? I somehow doubt it, you’re just a f#%^ing lying troll that takes away attention from REAL race issues.

-Let’s see, we have you, a blogger who hates cops for a living or at least a past time and you are just lucky enough to get hassled by the Gestapo incarnate……. I would LOVE to hear the FULL story without the self-aggrandizement and handy story line. As a retired cop not from Texas, I have this vision of your smart mouth buying trouble so you can claim victimhood.

-Seriously. Someone ( not a cop) reported a kidnapping. When the cops responded aggressively( how do you think they should respond?) you are hostile and evasive. Persecution complex? Drama queen? Get over yourself .

Of course, there were some equally as obnoxious on the other side of the coin as well. Most of them were generic “sue the bastards” stuff.

Most intelligent people understand that police officers have a difficult job and face unknown dangers every day they go to work.

That’s why on those rare occasions I have been pulled over for having a leadfoot or rolling through a stop sign, I make sure the officer approaching can see my hands clearly, so he can not feel the need to clutch his service revolver so tightly. When he asks me questions, I do not cop an attitude or act like a jerk. Some of them have been a little condescending at first. But after they see I am not going to be uncooperative, they usually back down their stance a bit and we talk like human beings with mutual respect for each other.

On one occasion, I had just arrived home from work after a long stressful day. My mind was fried and burnt on both sides and was trying to just decompress. I hadn’t been home more than 20-30 minutes, when an authoritative knock is heard at my front door. I opened the door and some big guy was standing there in civilian clothes, asking me about running a kid on a bike off of the road. I knew nothing about it and calmly said I didn’t.

After I made my denial, he identified himself as a police officer who lived in the neighborhood. At that point, many people would have shut him down and would have become rude. What right did he have? Who does he think he is?

Turns out the kid was a 20 something year old young man that said someone in a dark colored Dodge Ram had run him off the road (it was dark out by this time, so the color was not evident). This kid knew that someone lived on my cul-de-sac had a truck like it. So naturally, this was the place to start the investigation.

I told the officer, I did not believe I ran anyone off the road. But as a measure of caution, I said I could not be a hundred percent sure because it was so dark and my mind was a bit was preoccupied. I then added if I had done this thing, I was not aware of it. On the very slim chance it was me, it would not have been on purpose and would have been an accident. I told him that I have kids that age and have no malice of that nature toward anyone.

He must have believed me, because he then told me whoever did this thing, laughed at the kid after he did it. At that point, I was sure it wasn’t me. We talked about a few things unrelated to this issue for a few minutes and he was on his way.

After he left, I began to think how the transaction had evolved from an accusatory tone to a more friendly and respectful conversation.

Certainly, I do believe someone had run this kid off the road. It scared the hell out of him enough to seek out an officer he knew lived in the neighborhood, to tell him about it. But to think that just because he knew there was a Dodge Ram in my driveway that matched his description, this was enough information for an off duty officer to bang on my door (like he would on a drug raid), was a bit concerning. To think that anyone can raise a suspicion and an officer would have a preformed judgment that I was the one, because this was a good kid that isn’t known for lying or getting into trouble, is almost a bit scary.

One thing that may have swayed the officer, I think he was taken back by my head of gray hair and my willingness not to rule anything out, a hundred percent. I was certainly sincere when I told the officer this. I would feel horribly if I found that I had caused someone to get hurt and didn’t know about it. He was able to see some sense of empathy that was genuine, and that was not hiding anything.

In the case of Scott Henson’s brush with the police, he immediately took an activist stance by refusing to give his name.

I can see how it was a bit concerning to the officers who were responding to what might have been a legitimate call of a serious nature. But on the other hand, I wasn’t there. So I cannot make a determination on how the constable (and later the other officers) approached and handled the entire situation. Knowing that there are many officers who believe they ARE the law, it is not hard to believe that mistakes were made on their end too. And would it be so much to ask for law enforcement to take the higher road and apologize sincerely when they are wrong, like I did in my recent incident. Sometimes a bit of human humility diffuses a lot of hostility.

I guess the thing that needs to be gathered from this is two-fold. The public needs to be aware that the officers have a thankless, endless, and tireless job that is dangerous and needs to be done. To some people, cops are always wrong….until someone steals their car, robs them at gunpoint, or commits some other heinous act against them. To some cops, the public is not to be trusted…….until someone assists an officer in distress or there is a wide public outpouring of support for a fallen officer’s family.

Both sides need to lighten up, both sides need to act like human beings and stop whining. If we have no cops, we have crime running rampant, we have anarchy. If cops have no public, they have no jobs and no one will be able to pay their salaries. We need each other and need to appreciate each other more than we do.

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