There’s a stunning tale developing in Arlington, Texas, that makes you shake your head about the different world that whites and Blacks inhabit in this country and how differently law enforcement sees the two communities.
In Arlington, a group of so-called “cop watchers” who openly carry their own firearms follow police around the community filming all of their interactions with the public, making sure the police don’t violate anyone’s rights.
A story in the Daily Beast says the members of Open Carry Tarrant County and a local group called Cop Block actually harass the police, approaching DUI checkpoints to warn motorists of the police presence, wearing police hats with pig ears as they patrol and heckle the police with references to pigs and bacon. They regularly lift up their yellow reflector vests to show police they are carrying weapons like AK-47s.
The most amazing part of the story is this: The police don’t do a thing about it.
These are the kinds of things the police say about the armed harassment: “We don’t mind them cop-watching. Just leave your guns in the car. Leave your guns at home,” Lt. Christopher Cook told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
These white cop watchers have aligned themselves with the protesters demonstrating against the deaths of Black men like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. According to the Daily Beast, the Arlington group has adopted the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” motto of the Ferguson protests.
But 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.
The Daily Beast story makes reference to the Black Panther Party as the entity that created the phenomenon of armed cop-watching more than four decades ago. But what the writer fails to point out is that it was the idea of armed Black men roaming the neighborhoods that motivated law enforcement to set out to destroy the Black Panthers.
That doesn’t seem to be happening in Arlington. Clearly the police see them as an annoyance. But in reading the article it almost feels like they are viewed by law enforcement as a harmless group of guys getting their jollies from bothering the cops.
While there are police-watching vigilante groups all across the country, including in New York City, what separates the Texas contingent is that they are often armed.
Sgt. Jeffrey Houston told The Daily Beast that both the filming of police and the open carry of firearms are “a constitutional right that the department supports.” That’s the kind of language you hear from law enforcement in this case.
It is a source of considerable consternation in the Black community how Black men continue to be killed in states like Ohio and Texas because police fear they are armed, though citizens supposedly have the right to openly carry weapons.
The cop watchers in Arlington actually carry “Film The Police” signs while they patrol. The leader of the Open Carry Tarrant County group, Kory Watkins, described in the story as an Olive Garden bartender trainer and who often carries his AK-47 while cop-watching, said the group can make as many as 20 cop-filming stops a night.
Though the group started out more than a year ago without serious incident, things have escalated recently to the point where there have been arrests of cop-watch members. Jacob Cordova, 27, an Air Force veteran with a Ron Paul “rEVOLution” tattoo on his right arm, was arrested last Saturday and posted a two-minute video of the encounter.
In the video he says he is carrying “a pre-1899 black powder pistol, which isn’t against the law. I want them to,” he says as two cops approach. The arresting officer says, “You’re not allowed to have a firearm. I’ve asked you to put it up.”
Though the Daily Beast says that particular gun is legal in Texas, which allows the open carry of long guns and certain antique revolvers, Cordova was taken into custody and charged with the misdemeanor of interfering with public duties.