In what is becoming a heated battle in Texas, Arlington police arrested two men Saturday for standing across a four-lane highway recording officers making a traffic stop, including one man who was openly carrying a handgun on his waist, refusing to abide by their orders to put it back into his car.
However, under Texas law, Kenny Lovett, was completely within his legal rights to open carry a pistol considering it was a pre-1899 black powder pistol, an antique that is not even considered a firearm under federal regulations.
And we all know, they had the right to record from across the busy thoroughfare, but that didn’t stop police from arresting Joseph Tye as well, who was not even carrying a gun, but merely a camera.
But police charged him with interference with public duties when he did not abide by their orders to “go behind the Chevy truck,” which was some arbitrary border in a parking lot they created in order to prevent the group from recording their actions, something they are trained to do, according to an internal memo.
The truth was, the cops were the ones interfering, crossing four lanes of bustling traffic to confront the cop watchers.
So this was one of those “you can beat the rap, but you won’t beat the ride” arrests that cops are so fond of making, knowing they face no penalties for purposely making unlawful arrests.
The two men were part of a larger contigency that have been actively video recording Arlington police since last year.
Also in attendance Saturday was Kory Watkins, who along with his wife, was arrested along with Tye in September. All those cases are still pending.
Watkins, the head of a group called Open Carry Tarrant County, is a vocal activist in trying to get Texas to pass an open carry law, which would allow citizens to open carry pistols of any kind. As it is now, citizens are allowed to carry the antique guns as well as long guns.
Less than two weeks ago, Watkins led a group of camera-wielding activists into the Texas Capitol and confronted a democratic politician, who plans to vote against a pending bill sponsored by a republican lawmaker that would allow the open carry of weapons, including into the capitol.
Currently, only citizens with concealed weapons permits are allowed to carry their guns into the capitol as long as they keep them concealed, which is why it’s likely the activists were packing when they confronted Representative Poncho Nevarez on January 13.
Nevarez at first humored the activists as they accused him of being a “tyrant,’ but then ordered them out.
“I’m asking you to leave my office,” Nevarez said.
“You need to leave my state because you don’t take your oath seriously,” Watkins responded.
Once the group was out of the office, Nevarez tried to shut the door, but Watkins jammed his foot in the doorway, preventing it from closing.
“Get your foot out the door,” Nevarez said.
“What are you going to do,” Watkins dared.
The following day, the Texas House approved a new rule to install “panic buttons” in the offices of politicians which they can press when finding themselves in awkward situations with citizens.
The Texas House approved rules Wednesday to be able to install panic buttons and eject hostile members of the public from their offices, after a confrontation between lawmakers and open carry advocates visiting the Capitol on the opening day of the 2015 session. “I think that public servants and members of the public ought to feel safe and secure when they come to the Capitol,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who sponsored an amendment to add the safety measures to the house housekeeping rules. “That being said, it came to my attention there was some disagreement as to whether members have to accommodate individuals or groups that are acting in a threatening or belligerent manner.”
On Tuesday, around 15 to 20 members of the group Open Carry Tarrant County visited several lawmaker offices urging them to support House Bill 195, which seeks to undo Texas’ 125-year ban on the open carry of handguns. Several House members, including Democrats Poncho Nevarez of Eagle Pass and Celia Israel of Austin, said the group hassled them or their staff.
In a video posted to Facebook by Kory Watkins, the gun group’s leader, on Tuesday, open carry activists can be heard calling Nevarez “a tyrant to the Constitution” and telling him he “won’t be here very long, bro.”
“As I understand from my staff briefing, that this very same group came to my office, I just wasn’t here,” said Martinez Fischer, saying his staff felt “uncomfortable.” The eight-term House member said he’d never experienced “advocacy that gets personal and phsycial.” “Sounds to me like it was a very hostile siutation that not only impacted the offices’ environment, but also bled out into the hallaway,” he said. “And I don’t think any of that is appropriate.”
Reached for comment Wednesday, Watkins said, “We need a panic button for people who don’t obey their oath to Constitution.”
The incident also caused the leader of another open carry group, Open Carry Texas, to distance himself from Watkins, even though they are both seeking the same result.
After video of the unfriendly confrontation emerged online, Open Carry Texas chief CJ Grisham took to Facebook to make it clear that he does not condone the way Watkins and other activists behaved in the Capitol.
“I am so pissed at the actions of people today inside the Capitol. Totally counterproductive and unprofessional. We might as well beat our heads against a wall. It’s just as effective,” he wrote.
He also vowed to clean up “the horse manure Kory Watkins dropped throughout the Capitol today instead of building support for constitutional carry.”
The bill, H.B. 195, appears poised to pass because of a republican-majority house, but one Texas political science professor said incidents like this can cause a backlash for open carry supporters, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
House Bill 195 by Stickland, R-Bedford, would let Texans who are legally allowed to posses firearms carry them in the open or concealed without a license.
Many say politicians will be under more pressure than ever to pass this, or a similar bill, since Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has said he will sign into law an open carry measure if it passes the legislature.
“This rally represents the opening salvo in the 140-day long battle by advocates to obtain the right to carry their handguns openly, either with or without a license, as is possible in a large majority of the U.S. states,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.
“One potential pitfall for open carry advocates created by this type of large rally is that they run the risk of presenting an undesirable ‘fringe’ image of the open carry movement in the court of public opinion. Even many strong supporters of Second Amendment rights are not very comfortable with large groups of men walking around in public places with assault rifles.”
Nevertheless, the Second Amendment activists have joined the First Amendment activists in cop watching with their cameras and guns, similar to what the Black Panthers did in California during their cop watching efforts in the 1960s when citizens were allowed to open carry.
But it was those very tactics that prompted then-Governor Ronald Reagan to ban the right to open carry in California, specifically an incident in which the Black Panthers entered the state capitol with their guns, sending a chill down the spines of politicians.
The terrifying incident put the invaders — the fledging Oakland-based Black Panther Party for Self Defense — on the international map. Black Panthers became a household name.
For the Capitol, it was a seminal event. It ended an era of innocence, a time when politicians regarded the domed, granite monolith as a sanctuary from the dangers of everyday violence. It ushered in the gradual tightening of security, culminating in the fortress-like building it is today, guarded by magnetometers, security cameras and vehicle-stopping steel posts ringing the park.
The Capitol never again would be quite so cozy.
Fast forward to 2015 and there’s the New Black Panthers, consisting mostly of black and brown citizens, who formed a group in Texas called the the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, named after a co-founder of the original Black Panthers.
Like Watkins’ group, these citizens roam the streets of Dallas open carrying their guns. They support open carry laws, but do not appear to be receptive to working with the other open carry groups, which consist mostly of white people, likely a result of a the sharp racial divisions that arose after the Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown.
Days after Michael Brown was shot in August, Houston’s New Black Panthers, community leaders, and Open Carry Texas leaders sat down at a folding card table by a Walgreens to attempt to discuss the proposed march through Fifth Ward. Fifteen Houston police officers, along with a detachment of New Black Panthers carrying assault rifles, stood by. The clean-cut, middle-aged, white Open Carry leadership had arrived unarmed and looked befuddled. The tone of the neighborhood leaders was openly hostile.
“You’re coming into Fifth Ward, into the black community, as an insurgence,” Krystal Muhammad, of the New Black Panthers, said.
“I beg your pardon?” replied David Amad, of Houston Open Carry.
“You are an insurgence,” Muhammad repeated.
“Let me just say, just for the record, we don’t want you here,” said Kathy Blueford-Daniels, the neighborhood president of Fifth Ward.
“Do you even care how people who live here feel?” Quanell X asked Open Carry Texas founder C. J. Grisham.
“I absolutely care,” Grisham said.
“If you’re coming to help, don’t tell us how you’re going to help us,” Quanell X said. “Ask us if we want the help.”
The negotiations quickly devolved into shouting, and the Houston police stepped in to break up an ensuing fight. Quanell X told Open Carry that if they marched, they would be matched “gun for gun.” After stomping off, Grisham paused for a post-meeting interview with a local TV station. “I still don’t understand why we’ve got to have racial division,” he said. “I don’t even understand why this is a racial issue.”
The New Black Panthers haven’t stormed the capitol yet but it would be interesting to see how quickly those panic buttons go off if they do.
Even before Watkins’ open carry group joined Texas Cop Block to record cops in public while strapping arms, the Arlington Police Department released a memo to officers, stating that “nationally, ambush attacks against officers involving persons associated with police accountability groups have occurred.”
But they didn’t mention a single incident because there hasn’t been any ambushes by groups who actively record police. If pressed, police will be sure to mention the ambush of two Las Vegas cops last year because one of the killers was one of more than a million people who liked the Cop Block Facebook page, but those killers never did any actual recording of cops.
It is my understanding that officers have been asking for guidance and clarification in briefings about how to best deal with encounters with Police Accountability Groups in the field. As with each encounter we have with any citizen we will remain courteous and professional at all times. If we lose our temper and act unprofessionally then we are only making the situation worse. As far as enforcement actions I would encourage each of you to become extremely familiar with PC 38.15 Interference with Public Duties and I have attached a copy for you to look at. There are a couple of things that we need to make sure the officers understand and put into practice: ·
Officers need to give clear directions when telling individuals where they want them to go and why.
Simply telling a person or group to “get back” is not sufficient instructions.
When giving guidance or instructions use a specific location or identified landmark (i.e. please stand behind that curb, please stand behind this car, please stand on the other side of the sidewalk.)
Do not give a distance in feet, that is arbitrary and is difficult to identify. BE SPECIFIC!Once you give CLEAR directions and guidance, if the person or group continues to interfere with your investigation, then take the appropriate enforcement action. Also, please make sure we are explaining the nature of the interference. For example instead of saying “you are interfering with my investigation” it would be more appropriate to say “your yelling at the individual I am giving instructions is causing him/her not to be able to understand my directions and is interfering with my investigation. Please stand behind this curb and do not come any closer.” Keep in mind that once you give instructions for a person or group to stay back out of an area then you cannot let anyone into that area.
But forcing cop watchers away under the guise of “interference” is unlawful if the cop watchers are just standing from a respectable distance merely recording, even if they are open carrying.
The law requires citizens to physically interfere or at least verbally distract cops while conducting an investigation.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person with criminal negligence interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with: (1) a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law;
This is a lawsuit in the making, especially after Saturday’s incident when the cops had to walk across four lanes of busy traffic to accuse the cop watchers of interference. And especially that there’s no denying the cops know exactly who these people are, so they are aware that they do not have a history of ambushing police with anything but cameras.
Below is the video of the arrest, the incident from the capitol and a video from another incident where police told them they were not allowed to record as long as they were armed.
The Arlington PD mouthpiece, Lt. Christopher Cook continually goes on record that his department has no problem with cop watchers filming his fellow officers as it’s “their first amendment right.” However, they continually violate that commitment and their respective oaths to the Constitutional of the United States.