Lessons from jaywalking

So there’s been this hoopla going on about a woman arrested in Austin for jaywalking.

When I first saw the story it seemed sufficiently weird from either side, so I figured there had to be more to the story. But you know our modern media and “always connected” society… it’s not about being right, it’s about being first, “going viral”, and if we can be outraged, even better. Right? Oh, and we can be outraged at fucking pigs cops? Even better!

So I waited. More information has come out, as tends to happen.

The story (at least as it stands now) appears to be that folks from the area had been complaining to police about pedestrians not following laws in that area. So naturally after all those complaints, the police start patrolling the area and issuing warnings and citations for violations. This young woman was jogging, with earbuds in and I’m sure music loud. She violated the law right in front of the police. The police attempted to verbally contact her, she didn’t hear them. Eventually she did, used a profanity towards the officers. When they tried to grab her, she pulled away, and that was that. And yes, once you are put under arrest you do have to identify. That is the law of the land (not saying it’s right or wrong, but that is what it presently is).

Of course, everyone wants to be outraged.

Here’s the thing. And note, I’m saying this based upon what I’m reading about this event, and my reaction to all the outrage going on. I wasn’t there.

From the jogger’s perspective? She was right.

From the police’s perspective? They were right.

Yes, both were.

As a jogger, she had her earbuds in. She was jogging. She was going about her business. She couldn’t hear the police. Someone touched her, and it’s quite natural, especially when you’re oblivious to your surroundings, to pull away if someone unexpectedly grabs you. I do not blame her at all for reacting as she did, and I’m sure anyone would have done the same (even APD Police Chief Art Acevedo).

As police, they were called by citizens to come and enforce the law. They were doing so. They saw someone violate the law, they went to do something about it, because that’s their job. This person failed to comply, this person amped it up, and so they had to escalate as well.

Through their own eyes, both were in the right.

Neither are looking at it through the eyes of the other.

Should they? Well, it’s possible that could have saved a lot of grief. But in the moment, well, we’re human and it’s tough to view things through any eyes but our own as events unfold.

What gets me tho is the outrage.

People are outraged at Austin Police because they “took down an innocent jogger”, a “small defenseless woman”. She was doing nothing wrong. No, she did something wrong. Yes jaywalking isn’t the worst crime in the world, but we all know it’s still illegal — that’s the very definition of jaywalking. Furthermore, the police were in the area due to complaints about problems. If the police ignored the complaints, if they didn’t come to enforce the law and work to improve behavior, you all would be outraged at the lack of response from the police. So you’re outraged if they don’t enforce the law, and you’re outraged when they do. WTF?

Furthermore, why is there no outrage at the jogger? She was oblivious to her surroundings and activities. She violated the law right in front of a police officer. Was she not aware of the police presence? or was she just blatantly disregarding? Her ear buds were up that she couldn’t hear their commands. What else did that cause her to tune out? I mean, that area of campus has so much pedestrian traffic, so many students get hit by cars and buses. And then when someone grabs you? Geez, for all the talk about “rape prevention”, I would think you might want to be a little more aware of your surroundings! To me, this sort of obliviousness, this “condition white”, is just not a smart condition to put yourself in. Who cares about the police here, I’m talking just general personal safety!

And then the ad hominem attacks about the physiques of the officers, or how it took 4 of them to handle this one little woman. When I hear that, it demonstrates how little you know about control and situation management. You just want to be mad at the police.

It’s funny too. So many of the people who get mad about these behaviors of the police? They’re the same people who want to give more control to the government, or at least take freedom away from the citizen. Furthermore, they tend to be people that believe “only police should have guns”. What an inconsistent thesis.

Look, I am no fan of Chief Acevedo. I also think APD has a lot of problems, especially in the public relations side of things. I am not going to defend them. Could they have handled this better? Yes. Do I think Acevedo came off like an ass during the press conference about this? Yup. I think the way they are handling this could have been a good teachable moment to help the public understand what happened, why it happened, and to perhaps mend some of the public’s distrust and hatred for the police. But instead, Acevedo came off pompous and arrogant and I fear only served to further sour relations; again, folks are failing to look at this through the eyes of others. They’re failing Persuasion 101.

But ultimately, fault lies with the jogger. And to me, it has nothing to do with “avoiding arrest”. It has to do with basic personal safety. She engaged in behavior that put her in “condition white”, she was oblivious to her surroundings, and endangered her life. She’s lucky all she got was arrested, instead of hit by a bus. We go on and on about how stupid it is when people have their noses in their mobile phones and walk into fountains or walls or doors. And certainly people have had their noses down and walked into traffic or other dangerous situations (see? and from HuffPo too!). Instead of everyone being angry about this, hopefully we can find something positive from this so we can learn and grow and not make the same mistakes.


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