They’re polic­ing the po­lice

Self-ap­pointed watch­dogs fol­low of­fi­cers on pa­trol. Some get ar­rested.

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - Nigel.duara@latimes.com Twit­ter: @nigel­d­uara

Kenny Lovett sweated through an in­ter­sec­tion in this Dal­las sub­urb, eyes twitch­ing to ei­ther side of the high­way. He didn’t like be­ing out here ex­posed in Bike Cop Mike’s turf.

Sure enough, en­emy col­ors soon filled the rearview mir­ror of Lovett’s truck — not a bike this time, it was a full-on po­lice cruiser.

“Here we damn go,” Lovett said.

The pa­trol car and a mo­tor­cy­cle sped up and passed him. False alarm.

Lovett and his pas­sen­ger, Kory Watkins, were out on pa­trol as part of North Texas Cop Block, the lo­cal chap­ter of a po­lit­i­cal coali­tion that has sprung up across the coun­try along­side protests against po­lice vi­o­lence in Mis­souri, New York and Cleve­land.

The na­tional Cop Block cam­paign aims to po­lice the po­lice by film­ing traf­fic stops and watch­ing for po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of search laws. Here in Ar­ling­ton, the cam­paign has taken on a uniquely Texas spin.

With the two Texas ac­tivists in the cab of Lovett’s big Chevy Ta­hoe, tick­ets and fines be­come “rob­bery,” an ar­rest is “a kid­nap­ping by the state,” a con­cealed­hand­gun per­mit is “a tax on the 2nd Amend­ment.” Laws are mea­sured in in­cre­ments of the rights they take away.

Watkins and Lovett also host a reg­u­lar Fri­day night In­ter­net ra­dio show, urg­ing peo­ple to know their rights, arm them­selves and main­tain vig­i­lance against the po­lice state.

“Po­lice get cel­e­brated like rock stars when they slam some­one’s head in the pave­ment,” caller Do­minique Alexan­der re­flected one re­cent night. “We need to fix this stuff.”

“Amen, brother,” Watkins replied.

Out on pa­trol, Watkins and Lovett wait for po­lice traf­fic stops on small in­frac­tions like fail­ing to sig­nal, or vis­its to con­duct wel­fare checks, which they call a broad ex­cuse to carry out a search.

Another Cop Block chap­ter in Texas, in the town of Riesel, brought lawn mow­ers to 75-year-old Gerry Sut­tle’s house when she faced ar­rest be­cause of an over­grown lawn.

Cop Block ac­tivists around the coun­try tend to have a com­mon rou­tine. At a po­lice traf­fic stop, their first step is to pull out cell­phones and yell in­struc­tions to peo­ple who have been pulled over.

That some­times ends up with the ac­tivists get­ting ar­rested, as at­tested to dozens of times on YouTube, where po­lice ac­count­abil­ity groups glee­fully post shout­ing matches be­tween po­lice and protesters.

As in the Oc­cupy move­ment, each Cop Block chap­ter re­lies on so­cial media and bears the cul­tural mark­ers of the places that birthed them. In Berke­ley, ac­count­abil­ity groups want a demil­i­ta­rized po­lice, and the fewer guns on all sides, the bet­ter.

There’s a de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent fla­vor in Ar­ling­ton, where Watkins has a ter­rier named Glock, owns at least two edi­tions of the lib­er­tar­ian-fla­vored “Ron Paul Fam­ily Cook­book” and ar­gues that the open car­ry­ing of firearms is a civil right.

Watkins, 31, is the sur- pris­ingly thin man with the deep voice that be­came lo­cally fa­mous for shout­ing matches in the state­house; af­ter one brusque con­fronta­tion Watkins had with a House Demo­cratic leader in Jan­uary, leg­is­la­tors voted to in­stall panic but­tons in their of­fices.

“Un­der­stand, it takes a lot to scare the Leg­is­la­ture,” Fort Worth Star-Tele­gram colum­nist Bud Kennedy wrote af­ter­ward. “These are some of the huntin’-est, shootin’-est pis­tol-packin’ sidewinders who ever raised a Ruger.”

Clean-cut and fine-boned, Watkins speaks qui­etly and in­fre­quently when he’s off air, and tends to dress like some­one ly­ing low in the Caribbean: a plain navy T-shirt, wide-brimmed straw hat and wide sun­glasses that take up the mid­dle third of his face.

Lovett is his phys­i­cal op­po­site. A thick mus­tache and side­burns frame his gre­gar­i­ous, ea­ger eyes above a shirt picturing an as­sault ri­fle, a bullet and the words “Come and Take It.” He laughs of­ten, es­pe­cially at him­self.

“When po­lice pull me over, I turn into a Demo­crat then,” Lovett said. “I an­swer a ques­tion with a ques­tion.”

Watkins made news in Fe­bru­ary when he re­leased a video, since taken down, af­ter the dust-up with the Demo­cratic leader. In it, Watkins de­clares that op­po­si­tion to guns rights amounts to trea­son, and “it’s pun­ish­able by death.”

The Ar­ling­ton po­lice have been cast­ing a wary eye. “As they have be­come bolder and more con­fronta­tional, group mem­bers have in­creas­ingly en­croached upon of­fi­cers at scenes of law en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity,” Ar­ling­ton Deputy Po­lice Chief Le­land Strickland wrote in a depart­ment memo last year ad­vis­ing of­fi­cers on in­ter­ac­tions with Watkins’ group.

North Texas Cop Block ac­tivists have also drawn at­ten­tion in the lo­cal media for hours-long protests in shop­ping cen­ters in which they carry an­tique guns or other firearms that are le­gal to openly dis­play.

“Fox [News] says we’re scar­ing soc­cer moms in shop­ping malls,” Lovett said with a grin.

But Watkins has a dif­fer­ent take: “We are nor­mal­iz­ing peo­ple walk­ing around with guns.”

Through a crackle of static, a call came across Lovett’s ra­dio. It was one they’re at­tuned to, a driver stopped for fail­ing to sig­nal when turn­ing at a well­known in­ter­sec­tion.

“They’ll use that to turn it into a search,” Lovett said.

Lovett wheeled his truck around and skimmed the edge of the speed limit en route to the in­ter­sec­tion. They were too slow.

Both cop and driver were gone.

To­ward the end of a rather dis­ap­point­ing Satur­day af­ter­noon watch­ing Ar­ling­ton po­lice, Lovett passed a flash­ing road sign that read, “Pro­tect your car, se­cure your valu­ables.”

Al­ter­na­tives came to them quickly. “Se­cure the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Lovett shouted.

“Be wary,” Watkins coun­tered. “Of ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing.”

Laura Buck­man AFP/Getty Im­ages

DAL­LAS PO­LICE close off a street af­ter a shoot­ing. Cit­i­zens with the Cop Block cam­paign film traf­fic stops and watch of­fi­cers for po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of search laws. The Ar­ling­ton chap­ter does so with a Texas f lair.

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