Texans Are Taking a Cue From the Black Panthers On Police Harassment

It seemed like hardly a week went by last year without a mention of police brutality, protests against the police, or how to monitor the police. We’re only two weeks into the new year, and that doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon with citizens in cities across the country demanding police wear vest cameras to monitor their activity.Texans are taking a different approach, they’re taking their cue from the radical Black Panther party that dominated headlines in the 1960s.

Kory Watkins is an Olive Garden bartender by night, but by day he’s an activist in Arlington, Texas’ Open Carry Tarrant County, a group of gun owners who are self-appointed cop watchers and show up where the police are with video cameras and “FILM THE POLICE” signs. The group of “anti-law enforcement libertarian-leaners” monitor police scanners and then shows up at places like DUI checkpoints to video record and at times, heckle the cops (some cop watchers wear hats with pig ears). Needless to say, the Arlington Police Department isn’t especially thrilled about the activity.

Sgt. Jeffrey Houston told The Daily Beast both the filming of police and the open carry of firearms are “a constitutional right that the department supports”—recently, the cop-watches have been escalating in hostility and frequency and several members have been arrested.

Cop watching is nothing new though, it’s been going on for decades and was incredibly popular with Oakland’s Black Panther Party in the civil rights era. The practice of open carry was legal then as it is now, but it doesn’t mean cops are any less nervous about having a group of armed anti-police citizens patrolling them while they work. The open carry activists have been accused of baiting police into on-camera arguments over the Second Amendmant and it’s something that Tiara Richard, a spokeswoman for the Arlington Police Department views as practice that creates a threat to the safety of the public and the officer.


The practice is also raising eyebrows in the African American community, with some saying that the police would treat the protesters very differently if they weren’t white. Nick Chiles with Atlanta Black Star sees a stark contrast to how the police tolerate the white protestors compared with how they treat black males.

“In attaching themselves to this nationwide cause of race-inspired excessive force by the police, the group ironically brings into focus the very issue they are protesting: how differently police treat whites and Blacks. Indeed, in case after case, such as the killings of John Crawford and Tamir Rice in Ohio, it is the fact that these Black males were holding what police thought were weapons—though in both cases they turned out to be toys—that prompted police to open fire.”

Chiles goes on to state that the main difference between the armed Black Panther Party and the Open Carry Tarrant County group, is that the Oakland police were determined to snuff out the Black Panther Party for this very reason, whereas the Arlington Police are more tolerant. There’s probably some truth to that, too. But you’ve also got to consider the times we’re living in. Every human being in America has a cell phone with a video camera on it and any confrontation that goes down between police and protester is sure to end up on YouTube within a matter of hours. There’s also the issue of the several Black Panther members in the 1960s being connected to gunfights with police.

While the Arlington police are tolerating OCTC for the moment, that doesn’t mean they won’t slap on a pair of handcuffs. Jacob Cordova, 27 was arrested and charged with misdemeanor of interfering with public duties during an event when he was found to be in possession of a pre-1899 black powder pistol after he drove to a traffic stop, pulled up his shirt to show he was armed and began yelling at officers. (Basically, he was being a total dumbass.) “When you see somebody being aggressive, interfering with a stop, and armed with a deadly weapon, the officer can’t just ignore that,” Sgt. Houston said.

We’ll have to wait and see of the Arlington PD and OCTC can maintain a somewhat civil relationship, or if a gun is fired and all hell breaks lose in the heart of Texas. For now, Kory Watkins isn’t backing down just because one member has been arrested. He recently posted a video to his Facebook page that his group wasn’t going to back down and let the police continue to wrongfully harass Texans. “We don’t mind them cop-watching,” Lt. Christopher Cook said. ”Just leave your guns in the car. Leave your guns at home.”

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