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 66.

    Jaywalking should be removed as an offense. Giving police an excuse to manhandle and demand ID is really bad. Nobody (police included)should have the right to demand ID from the public (in bars and airport eating areas included) unless they have been witnessed committing a felony. The cops are just bullying by physically assaulting the jogger. They should be charged for assault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    I live in a city a few hours from Austin, and it is not friendly to run or bike here. Some weeks ago four men assaulted us with ice while we were biking at 20+ miles an hour down hill. They narrowly missed my wife, but struck the front of my bike and I nearly lost control. The police told us they would do nothing because we weren't hurt. But they are happy giving tickets to Jaywalkers...?

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    23.LucyJ : The funny thing is they said the same thing about NAFTA when it was signed and it hasn't hurt the US, Canada or Mexico! Lose our sovreignty I hardly think so. As for the APD chief...he hasn't got a brain or if he does, he forgot how to use it to avoid foot-in-mouth disease!

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Another example of idiot cops, filled with a sense of their own power. At least she wasn't fatally shot, as occurred last week to a homeless person in LV who similarly resisted being arrested without clear cause. Yet, in LV, such shootings, following internal review by the police department, is always -- not almost always, but always -- found "justified." Sad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    #50 Zorro

    "We know that in the U.S., the sheriff model of law enforcement works well, and is a fairer and more balanced system"


  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    It's one thing to warn someone and another to demand their identity for an extremely petty "offense". If the police are so good at observation, then they could understand why someone listening to music with ear buds while running would not be able to hear them. In this case, they could have just given a warning. Instead, they escalated it. This is not Germany between the World Wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    To Mr. A.Zurcher: I think that you should have mentioned that the video was posted in "" or "Randomness: Speaking before thinking" not only " in a blog". The student should get credit for spreading how the Austing police waste tax dollars in trivia situations. However the worst was later with the Chief of police really blowing the whole thing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Had the poor girl been wearing a cowboy hat she'd not have been pestered by the coppers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    LucyJ 23. Your statement
    "At no time can you refuse to give your identidy to police which is illegal" is factually incorrect. You do not have to identify yourself to police unless you have been told you are are being detained. Even then the ploice have to have reasonable grounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Chris A.: Acevedo is a transplant from Los Angeles and has brought a more strong armed approach to law enforcement than has been typical of Texas police departments. Also, only nine states prohibit Open Carry. Open and Concealed Carriers are also statistically less likely to be involved in criminal altercations than the general public. Learn the difference between correlation and causation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    When there are no cars around AT ALL, it's perfectly safe to jaywalk. But in downtown traffic and across highways, it's unsafe and dumb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The police in America are simply out of control. When I tried to file a complaint at the station the officer working the desk threatened to have me arrested for trespassing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    What's more interesting is what passes for normal behavior or justice in town or city excluded! It's no secret that I hate Texas for their executions, "Get outta town" mentality and general attitudes. This Jackanapes is just an extension of those attitudes. We are now to be grateful his piglets didn't sexually assault her. Well Thanks Art...thanks a lot! I can now sleep peacefully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I attended the University of Texas (c/o 2012). Jay walking around campus is common and the cops (and campus security) rarely interfere unless someone does something particularly dangerous. The "enforcement activities" mentioned above usually followed a pedestrian getting hurt or killed, and they were always well-advertised. It seems an odd choice of times to choose not to cooperate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Texas, after all, is about as redneck as it gets (the chief's comments par for the course) - the Patriot Act emboldened authoritarian-state advocates. Also, open-carry could become law there too: and doubtless lead to more confrontations:

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    While riding my bike, I once hit a pedestrian who walked without looking, just as a bus passed. She was angry at first, but then realized if we had not collided, this bus would have hit her. Her face turned white with the understanding of how close to death she came.
    There is good reason for the marked cross walks at the corner.
    Jaywalking and distracted pedestrians does cause significant harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Isn't it time that we should consider getting rid of the authoritarian, hierarchical, militant, dictatorial 'Police': and replacing them with elected sheriffs and deputies, who are subject to recall?

    We know that in the U.S., the sheriff model of law enforcement works well, and is a fairer and more balanced system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The woman broke the law. When the officers tried to do their job, she broke some more laws. As controversy goes, this is trivial. We have a lot of people who will latch onto anything in an effort to beat the tired old drum that accuses our leaders. And we have a lot of government people, police included, who are doing their best for us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    'Jogging', is an activity that has been proven to cause more harm than benefit to humans. Humans are adapted for walking and running, not jogging.

    Why not run away from the police? Will they gun down citizens in the streets for a misdemeanor offense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I'm not sure that it's a good idea to appeal to the survival strategies of pedestrians in an article about a woman who jogs across streets while wearing headphones. If she didn't hear the police, how is she supposed to hear a car or truck?


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