18 August 2008

Austin Police : Fear-Mongering About the Homeless

Mr. George, 6th & Congress, Austin, September 2007. Photo by Brian K. George.

'Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke about the homeless, panhandlers and drug users being the cause of the ills of our society'
By Debbie Russell / The Rag Blog / August 18, 2008

Last Tuesday night I attended the South Central Commander's forum where Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke in fear-mongering tones about the homeless, panhandlers and drug users being the cause of the ills of our society and that Austin is a "magnet for the needy," suggesting we should deplete, rather than increase services. Meanwhile, according to sources, across town at the Northwest Commander's Forum, Command Sergeant Jim O' Leary was parroting this meme.

The Commander, though, went a bit further in his assessment...after failing to correct a participant for touting that everyone should call 911 to report panhandlers (since the act of panhandling is not illegal), he dismissed a statistic offered by an audience member: that 25% of Austin's homeless population are veterans. This has been documented,* and, in fact, Austin City Councilmember Lee Leffingwell noted such from the dais a few months ago during discussion of a panhandling survey. So is Cmdr. O'Leary calling the Councilmember a liar? He also spoke of former Councilmember Kim's "flip-flopping" on the subject of an expanded solicitation ordinance, so it seems Cmdr. O'Leary is using his position to politic and lobby. As I recall...an officer's duty, while in uniform, is to enforce the law, not seek to change it.

Who is this man? Cmdr. James O' Leary, #854, former head of the Training Division, is known to many anti-war protesters as the vindictive initiator of the massive pepper-spraying of peaceful people on the sidewalk of the Congress Ave. bridge the night the war started,** and later introduced to the general public as the officer who was briefly suspended in 2006 for a drunk driving accident*** (he was sentenced a $1000 fine and 1 year probation/no time served).

So, is this APD's official line? That we don't need to concern ourselves with the homeless population (other than by generally outlawing homelessness) because they don't believe that there are as many homeless veterans as studies say? And are we to only care about the homeless because of the percentage, whatever it is, of veterans within it? If not, then it sure seems the Chiefs need to realign their messaging on this point and properly address out-of-step Commanders who are already sullying APD with their past actions.

More to come on upside down police priorities and police-targeting of the most vulnerable and how that only perpetuates the problem.

Please see the following:

* O’Leary’s quote: "I don't believe that; we all know how wrong those surveys are." There are varying statistics, but 25% seems to be the accepted figure, and is the one the City has touted repeatedly:

Beside the Point: South by Solicitation
/ Austin Chronicle / March 14, 2008.

Homeless Veterans Facts / Community Partnership for the Homeless.

Stand Down Austin [Of 226 homeless people receiving services, 64 were vets.]

12,000 homeless vets in Austin and that’s 2006:
Nonprofit calls for better housing for homeless veterans / Daily Texas online / Sept. 13, 2006.

640 homeless vets on any given day:
CAN Community Council Meeting / Community Partnership for the homeless / March 2008.

Point Austin: Not So Smart / Austin Chronicle / Feb. 17, 2006. [Video shows a wild-eyed O'Leary, without warning or provocation, launching his pump-gun sprayer at folks including 2 disabled people, who were merely waiting for instruction since APD had been giving conflicting information to that point.]

Austin Police Department Memorandum / August 25, 2006.

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