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.

Start Quote

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 86.

    @84. Rob_Dahling
    I like how everyone defends the jogger in this. She's wearing headphones which makes her refusal to stop perfectly okay, yet if she was hit by a car, she'd still be entitled to sue.

    If she couldn't see the cops when checking the street before running.
    Don't be numbskull most of us look evaluate and dismiss, A policeman isn't going to run you over.
    A car would

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Failure to identify is against the law in Texas, bottom line. And jaywalking is an issue here (I live a mile from where this occurred) because it's a pedestrian-heavy area in a state where everyone drives everywhere. No one is very mindful, drivers and pedestrians both think they own the road, and people get injured. As silly as jaywalking statutes seem, they're valuable in this environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I like how everyone defends the jogger in this. She's wearing headphones which makes her refusal to stop (and avoid a ticket) perfectly okay, yet if she was hit by a car, she'd still be entitled to sue.

    If she couldn't see the cops when checking the street before running across it, she's not that observant, which makes her a danger to drivers - how many readers want her running in front of them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    'Force' implies Violence.
    Laws were enacted as Guidelines to maintain Order, definitely Not for Factory Fishing to generate Revenue. Political equation of Police = Revenue has self-perpetuated into cannibalizing the Public to justify each other. Without Revenue, half of the Police would be adequate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    The Wild Wild West.You can't even cross the road without it being a major issue. A good officer of the law wouldn't have allowed a situation like this to escalate. It's all about good man management.

    Piers Morgan would have had something to say about this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    I was hit by a Van in 1947 in the Village of Otterton, Devon while crossing the single lane road. I wound up sitting on the protruding bumper. The driver yelled at me for hitting me, I told him I had looked both ways. He still insisted he had not. There were no police in the village, so the incident was unreported and left in the my seven year old memory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I moved to Minneapolis, US from the UK in July. I walk for part of my journey to work every day. On several occasions I have nearly been ran over by drivers when I have had a walk sign in broad daylight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @ 71. twizzle1: given that there are no jaywalking laws in Britain, most of the readership has no need to visit Ho Chi Minh city to see what life would be like with no jaywalking laws. In fact, British pedestrians are less likely to be hit than US pedestrians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    jontyrees, the US has a far higher pedestrian fatality rate than a lot of other developed countries including ones without jaywalking laws (such as the UK). It is a shame you can sue for being stupid, perhaps a fundamental issue...

    Twizzle - you are comparing two completely different situations without considering countries like the UK which I think you would agree is more similar to the US?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    From Departed (the movie): "... Do you wanna be a cop, or do you wanna appear to be a cop? It's an honest question. Lot of guys want to appear to be cops. A gun, badge, pretend they're on TV. There is no one more full of shisssh than a cop. Except for a cop on TV." Maybe US TV should stop glorifying the "US-cop" attitude so the young cadets learn to respect their citizen than bullying them...

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Chris A.: 17 states are completely permissive to OC. 14 more allow it with licenses. 14 more have it under some circumstances. Only 5 states have legislation banning OC and four states technically allow OC with licenses, but not in practice. Crime stats for OC and CC citizens vs. the general population and even vs American police are freely available and are easily verified.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The police are always wrong unless you're being mugged on the street or assaulted in your home. Then it's obligatory for them to risk their lives and save your bacon, after which the saved bacon dons street theater apparel and compares the same cops to the Gestapo. The police do a dangerous job made even harder by self-righteous leftists who let others do the dirty work and then complain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    nc: 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!

    NAFTA and China trade agreement has destroyed the American economy and pretty much America ourself

    But TPP would be the final straw for American soverighnty

    That jaywalking arrest is nothing compared to TPP which is hugely controversial

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    When did our police departments become meter-maids for every silly problem. Our governemnt does everything to rob every penny from us.
    We have to remind the police, without our taxes, they would have their cozy, fat pension jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Why do you think there was a "pedestrian enforcement" initiative in that area? You probably all saw the video of a student being hit by a bus right there in 2012 It's a decent bet that had this girl been hit by a bus, she would have been suing the cops for NOT stopping her from being a fool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Anyone who believes there should be no jaywalking laws, please visit Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    "there clearly are valid reasons why a stopped individual should provide identification"
    Despite author & APD belief, there is no law in the USA that requires a pedestrian to possess and provide valid ID. A jogger wearing lycra likely would not be carrying ID. However, there is a Texas statute that states you must *verbally* give name and address when arrested. This woman was not arrested.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    57. Understand that 17 states freely permit open-carry, not 41?
    And your stats comment is pure speculation from the Missouri findings alone: correlation/causation most likely if armed, period. As the Bush Jr mantra: "keep saying it until it is so" that worked on the rednecks - good try though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Many people here assuming APD are ticketing everyone crossing a street, which is clearly not the case. This is just an isolated example of a girl who thought she owned the road, cops tried to give her a warning, she ignored them, they asked for ID, she refused, they arrested her, she resisted. In this case, the jogger was 100% at fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    More power drunk cops ramping up the "war on women." In my town (near Harpers Ferry, WV), people still talk about the time when the local cops arrested and knocked to the ground a woman whose car had a broken tail light. This was witnessed too, but you can guess the rest: town bureaucracy (run by men) left it up to the police to investigate themselves. Yup, nothing has changed.


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