Arrest of jaywalker in Austin, Texas, prompts outcry

A close-up of red-man don't walk sign. An ignored "don't walk" sign becomes a much bigger story

A video of a jaywalking incident that escalated into a confrontation with police has garnered international attention - and the police chief's post-incident comments didn't help matters.

Last Thursday police in Austin, Texas, began a "pedestrian enforcement" activity near the campus of the University of Texas, where they stopped and warned or ticketed jaywalkers.

When law enforcement officers attempted to issue a jaywalking citation to a jogger, Amanda Jo Stephen, she refused to stop. Some witnesses say she didn't hear the officers, as she was wearing earphones. Police contend that the officers were clearly visible to her.

Start Quote

In other cities, cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas”

End Quote Art Acevedo Austin Chief of Police

One way or the other, according to reports, police chased her down and detained her, at which point she became unco-operative and refused to give her name. Several officers then placed her under arrest, and she was carried, screaming into a police car and taken to jail, where she was booked for jaywalking and "failure to identify".

The reason this became a national story is that a college student sitting at a coffee shop across the street recorded the whole scene and posted it to his blog. The reason it became an international story was what Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said during a press conference on Friday:

It's kind of interesting what passes for controversy in Austin, Texas. Thank you Lord that there's a controversy in Austin, Texas that we actually had the audacity to touch somebody by the arm and tell them: "Oh my goodness, Austin Police, we're trying to get your attention." Whew! In other cities, cops are actually committing sexual assaults on duty, so I thank God that this is what passes for a controversy in Austin, Texas."

At that point, the headlines pretty much wrote themselves:

"Austin Police Chief Graciously Does Not Sexually Assault Jaywalkers, Isn't That Nice?"

"Austin police chief says jaywalkers should be happy they're not sexually assaulted by cops"

"Cops DEFEND arrest of jogger who was tackled and handcuffed 'when she didn't hear cops because of headphones'"

"It's a strange bit of logic, to say the least," writes Dan Solomon on Texas Monthly's the Daily Post blog. "It is good that there aren't currently any pending sexual assault accusations against on-duty APD officers, to be certain, but the fact that the police chief went there when explaining how good people in Austin have it is troubling."

The political satire site Wonkette had a field day with the story.

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People in law-enforcement tend to identify with a motorist's perspective”

End Quote Ray Thomas Lawyer

"We're not sure the citizens of Austin should feel all that safe knowing the cops are just barely restraining themselves from sexually assaulting jaywalkers and other such dangerous criminals," writes Kaili Joy Gray. "You know, for bike and pedestrian safety."

On Saturday Mr Acevedo posted an apology online, in which he called the reference to sexual assault a "poor analogy" and the result of an "emotional week" in which an individual was found guilty of murdering a city police officer.

"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," he writes. "This includes recent instances in the news of sexual assault by police officers in other cities."

Solomon doesn't buy the explanation, however.

"If Acevedo is willing to cite heated emotions as the reason he employed that bizarre defense for his officers, we might also suggest that he consider if those same emotions may have led to an overreaction in how they handled the situation with the jaywalker," he writes.

All this calls to mind a recent article by the BBC's Aidan Lewis about the history of jaywalking. The origins of the offence, he writes, come from "a propaganda campaign by the motor industry in the 1920s" to "shift the blame for pedestrian casualties from drivers to walkers".

Lewis quotes Ray Thomas, a Portland, Oregon, lawyer who specialises in pedestrian and bicycle law:

"People in law-enforcement tend to identify with a motorist's perspective", he says. Wherever there's a push to protect the rights of pedestrians, officials feel they also need to enforce limits on them.

"It's their version of being fair," he says. "The difference is that no jaywalking pedestrian ever ran down and killed a driver, and by sheer survival strategy most pedestrians don't jaywalk in front of cars."

As long as jaywalking laws are on the books, of course, police have a responsibility to enforce them. And there clearly are valid reasons why a stopped individual should provide identification and co-operate with authorities.

In other words, everyone should act like calm, rational adults. Perhaps that's too much to ask, but in this age of social media, where the average smartphone is a sophisticated digital video recorder, the consequences of doing otherwise are painfully clear.



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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    One has to wonder just what the cops said to the woman and how it was said when they stopped. It seems this could have been better handled on both sides.

    As for the Chief's remark, ouch--but which of us hasn't said something we wished afterward we had said differently?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I never understood why such an asinine law as jaywalking was on the books or being enforced. mentally challenged so called law officers like this fellow in Texas just cleared up that conundrum

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Having worked with many police officers, I have come to the conclusion that the most serious offense is showing a bad attitude. No matter how minor the initial offense, failure to show the officer the respect he thinks he is entitled to (and may not get anywhere else) is a major offense and will almost always lead to some degree of overreaction by the officer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Re: Police Chief Art Acevedo's comment (in article) [cont'd],

    The State of Texas is part of a Republic (United States of America), that fought a war (American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)), to rid themselves of a feudal peerage. Also. the United States Constitution (First Amendment) guarantees a secular state.

    Why is a person in a position of authority spreading such ideas around?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @13 it is legal to cross the road, in designated areas, just like its legal to drive off the road, in designated areas, or ride your bike, in designated areas. Take a look at countries that don't enforce driving, walking, or biking rules and let me know how well traffic flows, and how their safety records look.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Police officer long ago became a synonym for tax collector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    If the Police spent more time catching criminals and less time harassing citizens, drivers and pedestrians alike, we would be living in a better world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    14.Guanyin: 'Last Thursday police in Austin,TX, began a "pedestrian enforcement" activity near the campus of the University of Texas, where they stopped and warned or ticketed jaywalkers.' How did the police not use discretion in this case? This is a law, the woman disobeyed the law (however minor), then refused to cooperate and the police are at fault for her psychotic behavior & stupidity?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I know that as a pedestrian, I sometimes Jaywalk -- when the crosswalk doesn't engage properly and I'm waiting 2+ signal cycles, I'll cross on a don't walk. Do I deserve to be arrested? No. I think most Jaywalking arrests are silly.

    However, I think she was in the wrong for not identifying herself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    But there is the problem. The first the jogger heard of it she was being wrestled into a car... frightening stuff. There needs to be a conversation in which the officer tells you what you did wrong... and they're not always right... Look on You Tube for police officers acting inappropriately, the responses of informed citizens: cops toe the line when they see you know your rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The problem is that, sadly, all too often, people do not become police for the right reasons.

    Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of noble men and women doing a service that they do not get the proper respect for, but they feel grossly outnumbered by bullies who want a state-sponsored excuse for their power-trips.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Almost every day we hear of a pedestrian being hit by a motor vehicle here in the Vancouver area, simply because they refuse to use a crosswalk! Better a $70 ticket than a trip to the morgue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    another way this may have played out is that the cop called to her to stop,which she did not hear because of her head set,she also did not hear the truck coming to the intersection at the same time as she,WHAM.New attack on cops for not grabbing her arm and saving her life.dambed if you do damb act,ect.most of this could have been avoided if she had given her name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I don't need the police to tell me how to cross the road. Texas is the nanny state now ? How can a state full of right wing gun toting nut jobs be so left wingy politically correct health and safety oriented? Jay walking is lazy legislation designed to make money. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Someone who ignores pedestrian crossing signals and enters traffic while wearing headphones that are allegedly loud enough to prevent them from hearing the police trying to get their attention absolutely deserves to get a ticket. They're endangering themselves and others. What did she think was going to happen when she refused to give the officers the information they needed to issue the ticket?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Add your comment...I live in austin, and TBH, Chief Acevedo is generally pretty reasonable and speaks like a human being, rather than a cliche-machine. Wasn't the greatest analogy to use, but his point was "this was no big deal" Which it wasn't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    This from the article: "As long as jaywalking laws are on the books, of course, police have a responsibility to enforce them. And there clearly are valid reasons why a stopped individual should provide identification and co-operate with authorities." I agree, and though not very eloquent, I understand what Acevedo was attempting to say. Provide your identity & get a lawyer instead of fighting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @22 & @26

    Totally agree.
    This country is full of lazy police.
    Jaywalking... give me a break!
    Easy policing, easy ticketing, easy money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Police periodically enforce these laws for reasons of public safety. They were probably at that intersection because of recent incidents/injuries. If this benighted jogger was so oblivious that she could not see or hear the police then she was basically an accident waiting to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Re: Police Chief Art Acevedo's comment (in article),

    The police chief twice makes a reference to a deity or a convicted and executed criminal (Yeshua) of the Roman Province of Judea (c. 7-2 BCE to 30-33 CE), and once equates either of them with a feudal nobleman, then thanks them.

    To which deity or person is he thanking, and why is he thanking them?


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