Guernica Magazine

How a Cop-Watcher Is Born

The citizens who patrol the borderland between our freedom and the police. The post How a Cop-Watcher Is Born appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen.

Antonio Buehler and his buddy, Ben Muñoz, were on their way home from a New Year’s Eve party, an hour or so past midnight on January 1, 2012, when they stopped to gas up at a 7-11 not far from downtown Austin, Texas. The next pump over, they soon noticed, two police officers were talking to two women by a black car. The driver was out of the car, doing a field sobriety test in her heels, with one of the cops observing.

Her friend was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, talking to a second cop, texting on her phone. It all seemed pretty civilized. Buehler (pronounced Bee-ler) even thought the backup officer might be flirting with the woman in the car. Then the energy of that interaction escalated. The officer started barking at her. “He said, ‘Get off your phone. Don’t call. Don’t text,’” Buehler remembers. “He reaches in and starts yanking her out of the car. She starts yelling.”

Muñoz, who met Buehler through Stanford alumni circles, started taking pictures. Buehler, an Iraq vet with a long history of principled insubordination, found himself intervening more assertively.

As the cop took the woman out of the car, wrestled her arms behind her back, and forced her to the ground, Buehler, who was also taking pictures, started yelling out questions to the cops. What had the woman done wrong? Why were the officers handling her so roughly?

Not long after, one of the officers turned his attention to Buehler, walked toward him, and asked him what he was doing, why he was taking pictures. Buehler didn’t back down, and kept arguing that he had a right to be there, that he had a right to take pictures.

What happened next was caught on video. A phone-equipped bystander happened to be filming from across the street.

Buehler is backed up against the front of his truck, with the cop in his face. Buehler, who was thirty-four at the time, is a tall and broad-shouldered man, with an air of tensed strength. When he throws his arms out, in response to the officer’s command, it’s both an aggressive gesture, when you see it, and also a signal that he doesn’t have any weapons and isn’t intending to move against the cop physically. Then, as the officer begins to reach for his arms, Buehler really starts yelling. The anger and indignation are audible: “What are you touching me for? What are you touching me for?”

The cop tries to grab Buehler’s arm once or twice, and then tells him to put his arms down. Buehler ignores him and keeps yelling. Then they begin to struggle, with the officer trying to wrestle Buehler to the ground, and Buehler resisting. Eventually, with the threat of a tasing and the help of the second officer, Buehler is

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