There are a lot of reasons why you should always film the police, and citizenrootsmagazine.com’s editor Chad Hankins has an article all about just that. Chad submitted this post, via the CopBlock.org submissions page.
This is an op-ed piece I wrote about the importance of filming the police, and I have some aggressive sarcasm in there, so it’s not like every other article on the subject. I hope you guys like it and find it worthwhile.
The first time that I saw a camera on a phone I thought it was a stupid idea that would never last. In my defense, those first little camera phones were pretty terrible. The early models had resolution that was less than a megapixel and they cost about $400 (which used to be a lot for a phone for you little bastards who weren’t there, with your internets and your non-VHS porn). I couldn’t imagine how this technology could possibly catch on. What were the benefits of dropping a week’s paycheck on a shitty camera that could call people? I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.
Now we have great cameras placed in high tech phones and they’re both having a threesome with the internet, so we’ve seen a societal vicissitude that has started to level the playing field for ordinary citizens. For those of us who don’t have a badge or a sofa made of hundred dollar bills, this is an amazing thing.
For decades we’ve heard stories coming out of black neighborhoods that seemed like they couldn’t possibly be true. At least not on the scale that they were portrayed. These schoolyard tales seemed like some kind of alternate reality that could only exist in a universe where the Gestapo made it’s way into an Orwellian America. The idea that the police would just harass, beat, and even kill citizens who had done nothing wrong was a pill that was too hard for most of us to swallow. The only window that most people had into this world was the incredibly popular show ‘Cops’ on FOX.
There are a couple of reasons why this is an inaccurate and very foggy window into other people’s interactions with the police. The first is that all of those cops knew that they were going to be filmed, so they could modify their habits accordingly. The scary part is that a lot of them still acted like total dicks, despite this knowledge. Another issue with treating that show as if it was an accurate account of police/civilian interactions is the editing room. They probably weren’t interested in showing officers stopping people illegally, searching them without cause, treating them like criminals, and then letting them go because they hadn’t done anything wrong. Television 101: Only show a cop tazing a shirtless black guy if the tazed guy has actually committed a crime. It makes the whole thing a lot easier for the public to digest if the guy convulsing in the dirt has a .38 in one pocket, and an unlabeled pill bottle full of crack in the other.
Just as ‘Cops’ was starting to take off in the early 90’s, there was a slightly different video of police that got international attention.
On March 3rd, 1991, the LAPD apprehended California resident and local black driver Rodney King after a high speed chase, and four officers proceeded to beat the living shit out of him. An amateur cameraman named George Holliday caught the whole thing on video, and the officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. With the video, which shows King lying on the ground while all four officers cracked him with night sticks and kicked him repeatedly, it seemed that these guys would have to face justice. After all, everyone was seeing the video on a loop on every major news network across the country. How could these guys possibly get away with it?
After they got away with it, the historic LA riots started and things got ugly. People were pissed. This kind of video had never gotten this scale of attention. It brought the racial disparity of police interactions to the forefront of everyone’s dinner conversations.
Now we have videos like this all the time. It’s impossible to keep up with the flood of “Unarmed black man shot in back by police!” videos that pop up on the internet every day. It’s a wonderful thing that we all have video cameras in our pockets and we can record cops shooting unarmed people in the back. This kind of full scale civilian surveillance is the only hope that we have to change the narrative on police brutality. The indictments of these uniformed criminals have been far less consistent than the videos of their atrocities, but we’re getting there. We just need to do away with paid leave, and we may see a decrease in these incidents. Getting a paid vacation for shooting someone is a sadist’s wet dream.
It’s not only important to film cops, but it’s 100% legal. Cops can tell you to stop recording. Not legally, they’re just verbally capable of it. You can’t interfere with an investigation, but you can stand clear and film the crap out of them. If they ask you to back up, you have to, but you can do it one step at a time, making sure you don’t lose your shot. That is, if you have the wherewithal and cool as a cucumber disposition required to deal with an agitated cop who wants to mace your ballbag. That’s a personal choice.
Another thing that the police like to do is try to confiscate your phone or tell you that you have to delete the video. Neither of those things are legal. In fact, without a warrant they can’t even force you to show them the video.
An honest cop with a clear conscience won’t ask you to do these things and probably won’t care that you’re filming him. If you do get a cop on the business end of your camera who’s pissed about it, then you’ve just caught yourself a crooked bastard. Don’t underestimate him. He probably wants to take the family to Yellowstone and a bullet in your face has been a proven method for getting the time and the money to make that dream vacation a reality.
The vast social awakening that’s come as a result of videos of police killings (Grey, Garner, Brown, and most recently DuBose) is a direct result of technology that we all have now. Hell, even the AARP flip phone with the giant buttons that your grandma is still learning how to use probably has some form of a camera on it. Now we just need to understand and exercise our rights to use our cameras to keep police accountable. While police are still rarely indicted and barely ever convicted, the message is becoming clear. The judicial system is starting to understand that we have no interest in quietly tolerating the kind of over reaching bullshit that many police officers have gotten away with throughout their entire careers. Filming cops is a scary activity, there’s no doubt about that. They yell, they threaten, they intimidate, but they can’t stop you from doing it. And frankly, there isn’t a damn thing else in our fight. As average citizens we can’t indict, arrest, or fire them. We can just film. With everything that we’ve seen in the last couple of years, it’d be stupid not to.
– Chad Hankins