Truthout: Film the Police!
In August people filled the streets in Ferguson, Missouri, following black teenager Michael Brown’s death by police shooting in the city. Hundreds of protestors in New York and across the country gathered to show solidarity with protesters in St. Louis and to demand justice for Brown. There is no footage of Brown’s murder, and many wonder—would events be unfolding differently if there were?
Police abuse in low-income communities of color is not a new phenomenon, but widespread access to technology with which to record and share such abuses is. When Eric Garner died in Staten Island after a police officer put him in a chokehold this July, a bystander filmed Garner’s death with his phone. The resulting video was later published by the New York Daily News, and arguably contributed to the national outrage over police violence this summer.
Using camera phones and social media, it’s now easier to document and publicize police brutality cases. More importantly, such recordings provide accounts of incidents that were once simply the word of a witness against that of an officer. In the neighborhood where Brown was killed, residents have started wearing cameras around their necks to document police activity. Other recordings of the NYPD, including a surveillance video preceding Ramarley Graham’s death in the Bronx in February 2012 and a teenager’s audio recording of an officer’s racial slurs during a stop-and-frisk, have been released in recent years and have contributed to public understanding of police violence.
Cop Watch is an initiative to encourage people to document police abuses. Aidge Patterson, a coordinator at Peoples’ Justice, whose work was recently featured in the New Yorker, told me the trainings were designed to spread the culture of cop watching. “We hope more and more people start watching the police, communities feel empowered to assert their rights, police understand that they can’t get away with misconduct without us holding them accountable, and definitely with the hope that less people will face police violence,” he said.
“Peacefully documenting police activity makes communities safer,” said Robin Steinberg, executive director of the Bronx Defenders. “In recent incidents like Eric Garner’s death in an NYPD chokehold, video footage helped bring the truth to light.” Without the video, a completely different story about what happened that day may have become the accepted one—indeed, we may never have heard Garner’s name.
By Lucy McKeon, Dissent
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