Cop-Watching in Austin / by Daniel Oppenheimer

Another long-simmering piece of mine, about Austin cop-watcher Antonio Buehler, went live last week with Guernica, a magazine co-founded by Joel Whitney, a Columbia MFA classmate of mine. An excerpt:

Modern cop-watching is, as the [Black] Panthers were, a movement of the marginalized—the poor, the traumatized, the underemployed, the previously incarcerated, and the ranks of assorted others who don’t give a fuck. This is in part because the marginalized are far more likely to have had traumatic encounters with the police, which is one of the primary catalysts for engaging in cop-watching. It’s also because the marginalized often have less to lose, in the conventional sense, from being arrested, having their mug shots become public record, and spending days or weeks in jail and court. Stalking the police—filming them, provoking them, challenging them not to mistreat others, daring them to arrest you—endangers full-time jobs. It’s often very late-night work, which can disrupt family and professional life. It can threaten one’s social status, if there is status to be threatened. It’s also just emotionally grueling work, in which periods of intense confrontation alternate with much longer periods of boring nothingness.