A disturbing video shot and released recently in Austin by a police watchdog group known as Peaceful Streets Project shows a Texas police officer pepper-spraying the face of a handcuffed African-American man sitting in the back of a police van at a gathering in Austin.
The video was shot during the 10-day annual music, film, and technology SXSW conference by Peaceful Streets Project, a group dedicated to watching and filming police activity for accountability. The group was founded by activist Antonio Beuhler, an advocate of law enforcement accountability.
Beuhler told Free Thought Project that, during the SXSW conference, he and members of his group observed that police officers used tasers and pepper spray on people unnecessarily. The group decided to spend time monitoring and filming police-citizen interaction at the gathering.
Beuhler said, “They’re treating pepper spray like a grand marshal treats candy at a parade, just throwing it out there like crazy.”
At the beginning of the video, which lasts about 15 minutes, a police officer warns people filming the incident to leave, but a woman standing behind a group of officers responds, saying that people filming the incident were not standing in the way of officers.
The video shows an officer, now identified as Cameron Caldwell, standing by a police van with an arrested man inside. He closes the door but opens it shortly after and orders the man inside to stop kicking the door.
He opens the door again and yells at the man, “What did I tell you about kicking the door?”
The African-American man inside the van says, “I didn’t do nothing.”
But Caldwell applies the pepper spray liberally to the man’s face and body. And as he closes the door, he yells, “What did I tell you about kicking the door? I told you.”
Because the man was handcuffed, his face was exposed, and he was unable to protect himself.
The woman who was filming the interaction protests the officer’s action, saying, “Wow, you a*****e. I saw that, I got that on film, you abusive a*****e.”
The moment the officer applies the pepper spray to the face and body of the man in the van can be seen around the 3:38 mark.
Buehler explained, “Listen, we see these cops violating policy and committing crimes all the time, but usually there is some gray area that they like to dance (in). This was just crystal clear, there is no way by law or policy that what this guy did was acceptable. There is zero gray area.”
According to Free Thought Project, Austin police have not provided further information about the incident, but they have responded to inquiries, saying they are investigating the reported incident.
Pepper spray, or OC spray (OC stands for “oleoresin capsicum”), is a chemical agent that causes irritation to the eyes of victims, along with pain, tears, and temporary blindness.
It has been used increasingly in recent years by law enforcement officers for riot and crowd control, and also for self-defense.
Despite the fact that it is not considered a lethal agent, there have been cases of deaths resulting from use of the agent. About 61 deaths have been linked to police use of pepper sprays since 1990.
This has led human rights groups to raise questions about the increasing use of the agent by law enforcement officers. Activists have cited an army report from 1993 which concluded that the pepper spray has many damaging effects, including carcinogenic and mutagenic effects. It is toxic to the cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neural systems, according to the report.
It is known, however, that the risk of death increases with asthma patients and individuals on certain types of drugs.
[Photo By Eraldo Peres/AP Photo]