The Texas Department of Public Safety responded to police brutality protests and public outcry for police accountability...by spending hundreds of hours investigating, finding and arresting the protesters.
The Texas Tribune reports that the DPS has arrested more than a dozen protesters said to be involved in unruly demonstrations in Austin as early as May. The arrests were made as a result of an investigation into the Capitol protests which involved special agents spending hundreds of hours over the summer looking through social media posts, surveillance footage and YouTube videos in an effort to identify protesters they suspect of committing crimes. The department has even offered rewards up to $1,000 for anyone willing to help them identify their targets.
The protesters—who DPS Director Steven McCraw described as “violent extremists”—are mostly accused of crimes that probably shouldn’t earn them the same kind of descriptor one would give the villain from a Die Hard movie, but they’re being pursued aggressively all the same.
From the Tribune:
The majority of the 14 people DPS says have been jailed as part of the investigation so far are suspected of only misdemeanor crimes, like pushing onto closed Capitol grounds or tossing water out of a bottle onto an officer, according to DPS press releases and arrest affidavits. But some are facing felony charges and years behind bars for allegedly kicking the door panel of a police SUV or hitting an officer with a tossed water bottle.
Most are accused of participating in a riot. And some were arrested multiple times for actions during the same protest, with new warrants issued weeks or months after initial arrests and police taking people from their cars and homes and putting them back into jail. Nearly half of the arrestees are Black. Almost all are in their teens or early 20s, according to DPS releases and court records. At least one other DPS case has already been rejected by prosecutors.
“Those who were arrested were not peaceful protestors; they were engaged in various types of crimes–some of them felonies–that jeopardized the safety of citizens and officers,” the DPS told the Tribune via email Wednesday. “Anyone who attacks the state Capitol or the DPS Troopers who are sworn to protect it will be investigated, charged and arrested when there is sufficient evidence to do so.”
But protesters’ attorneys are calling bullshit on the idea that the investigation is anything more than a political “witch hunt” led by people who would rather go after advocates for police accountability than...well...hold police accountable. They believe that the tactics being used to make these arrests are far more aggressive then what the suspected crimes warrant and that “the reaction is an attempt to distract the public from recently heightened criticism of American law enforcement’s use of force against Black people and instead bolster the perception of officers as protectors,” the Tribune reports.
“I think it’s completely fucking absurd that they’re wasting time and energy to be tracking down kids with petty misdemeanors to throw them back in jail during COVID,” Austin defense attorney Carl Guthrie said. “If anyone has any ideas that politics don’t affect policing, I hope that gets put away.”
Despite the objections from protesters and their attorneys, it’s expected that more arrests will be made as the investigations continue.
Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!