Filming the Police Is a Potent Tactic for Justice as Well as Community Building

The following post was shared with the CopBlock Network  by Justin Oliver, via the CopBlock.org submissions page.

Within the post, Justin describes some experiences he and others within the Dallas have had while out filming the police. Not only have they found it to be a good way to document any potential abuses by the police, but also an effective method interacting with and connecting to the people within their community. It can also act as a deterrent to those abuses, which is another valuable contribution to community.

If you have a video, personal story involving police misconduct and/or abuse, or commentary about a law enforcement related news story, we would be happy to have you submit it. You can find some advice on how to get your submission published on the CopBlock Network within this post.

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There are few instances where I recall being personally thanked by complete strangers for my community activism. When it happened earlier in May, as an elderly woman riding along side me on a DART train in Dallas leaned over and smiled when she understood the reason I was holding a camera, I felt overwhelmed.

“You can do that?” she wondered. We were just two seats apart, but four others also boarded at the Akard Station after walking several blocks of the downtown streets. As copwatchers, we had camera equipment in hand ready to film any police encounters we saw. When the woman asked what the cameras were for, one of the more experienced members of the group spoke up and explained that we film the police. “We’ve got to make them accountable,” he said, pointing to his camera.

She wasn’t convinced. “Are you sure you can do that?” she repeated. That’s a sensible question, I thought, especially for those of us regularly bullied into submission by police officers and others in a position of authority. Filming police encounters creates an independent record of what happened. We’re fostering an environment where accountability from public officials is an everyday expectation rather than an occasional accommodation made by those wielding power.

Despite what is commonly believed, people with deeply held convictions engaging in conventional forms of political activism such as running for office are making less of an individual impact than they could with more direct forms of activism, such as recording and documenting police activity. Conventional politics is often more about intra-party squabbles and strategizing than attracting more supporters to our ideas and challenging objectionable practices. The time-consuming trappings of conventional political activism blunts people’s enthusiasm and exhausts their time on less productive political pursuits.

Direct forms of activism involve building cooperative relationships, utilizing the resources at hand, and peacefully circumventing the arbitrary controls of government and other institutions. Even in small numbers, our presence was felt. That night, we filmed two police encounters in full view. There were pedestrians who witnessed us, and the police were aware of our filming. In the future, that might make an officer think again before committing misconduct or encourage someone to document the public activity of government officials. With the proliferation of the internet, the scope of our activism can spread nationwide as people across the country can view our content — and not just those who already support our ideas.

People from across the political spectrum appreciate when corruption or misconduct is highlighted. We’re tapping into a sentiment most everyone already shares. We’re educating people as to why the essential character of arbitrary power is its inherent unaccountability. Those who would abuse it are the ones most attracted to it, which is all the more reason to limit the reach of the government’s grip.

In only a moment, the passenger we met on the bus had come to realize the potential that regular people have in standing up for justice. A smile passed over her face. She expressed how much she would like more people filming the police in her neighborhood. She thanked us and smiled in appreciation. Before we could exit at our stop, the man behind her said to keep it up and wished us good luck. It felt good to know I could help.

– Justin Oliver


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Kelly W. Patterson

a lifelong resident of Las Vegas, who's been very active in local grassroots activism, as well as on a national level during his extensive travels. He's also the founder/main contributor of Nevada CopBlock, Editor/contributor at CopBlock.org and designed the Official CopBlock Press Passes. ____________________________________________________________________________ If you appreciate Kelly's contributions to CopBlock, consider donating to the CopBlock Network and/or visiting the CopBlock Store. ____________________________________________________________________________ Connect with Kelly at these social networks; Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.