This article originally appeared at the heroic CopBlock.org March 9, 2012
Thanks very much to John Kurtz for having me on his great radio show to discuss the article
Anyone who has ever filmed a police encounter and put it on YouTube has received some, or a lot, of negative comments for their actions. This is mostly due to a lack of understanding among the general public as to why someone would want to film police as they are detaining or arresting someone.
To explain, here are nine things that are achieved by filming police:
1. You’re exercising your right to film police. You do have the right to film cops. This right is codified in the Constitution under the First Amendment. In the past year, New England’s highest Federal court ruled that filming cops is protected by the First Amendment. You don’t need any special reason for doing so. You don’t need permission from any bureaucrat. You don’t have to work for a big media outlet. Get a camera and a YouTube channel and you are officially media. Congratulations and film away. If you don’t exercise your rights, they atrophy. Exercise them.
2. In the case where you are recording someone else’s police encounter, like a neighbor or friend, you are significantly reducing their chances of being the victim of police misconduct. Police will be less likely to perform unwarranted searches, plant drugs, beat the person, rape the person, murder the person, or arrest them on trumped up charges if they know there are cameras around recording their every move. You’re reducing the extent to which the predatory armed enforcers are likely to harass their prey. Police-accountability activist Antonio Buehler was possibly facing years in prison for allegedly assaulting an officer until he later obtained video evidence from bystanders that refuted the claims of the cop.
3. In the case where you are recording your own police encounter, you could be saving yourself from a potentially life-destroying event. You could be preventing yourself from going to prison. Anyone who thinks they are not at risk of being arrested is quite oblivious to the number of “laws” on the books, as well as the vagueness of those laws and the ability of the state to interpret those laws however they want in order to put you in a cage. Every American is now at a palpable risk of being arrested and jailed at some point – unless you’re a cop.
My friend Tj was pulled over by police a year and half ago over a malfunctioning tag light. Immediately the gang of cops went into overkill mode and began ordering him out of the vehicle, were pulling on his door handle, and suspiciously claiming he dropped something out of the car window. Eventually the police began threatening to pull TJ out of the vehicle and claiming that he might be a danger to the officers (cop language for “get out or we can kill you”) – all over a tag light. You can see the video for yourself to see how Tj recording the encounter with his cell phone quickly deterred the cops from perpetrating further harassment.
4. You inspire others to stand up to cops and demand accountability. Standing up to cops is scary. They can quite literally kill you and get away with it, as well as everything below killing. When you film cops and deter them from engaging in misconduct you become a beacon of peaceful resistance to the police-state for other people to emulate.
5. You remind the cops (allow me to put on my minarchist hat) that they are our servants and we are their masters. We pay the police with our tax dollars to provide security and protect our rights. We are the employers and the police are the employees. We have every right to monitor our employees to make sure they’re doing their job right. This is especially essential now that police have become routine rights violators and are far more likely to violate people’s rights than private criminals are.
The state watches us, reads our emails, listens in our phone conversations, and is putting more and more cameras around to surveil us in public places – is it really that unreasonable for us to watch the watchers a little bit, especially when they are actively looking for ways to put anyone they can into cages?
6. You are exercising the only real check we have on the police-state besides civil disobedience (which is becoming more appealing everyday) and armed rebellion.
Police investigate themselves and are the arbiters of disputes involving themselves. How does the average person stand a chance against that? Bad cops are very rarely found guilty for their crimes and when they are found guilty the punishment they often receive is a modicum of what the average American would receive.
In the fall of 2010, Orlando Copwatch did a lengthy investigation of an incident where OPD officer Travis Lamont body-slammed an 84-year-old man onto pavement and broke his neck – simply because the old man committed the heinous crime of touching Lamont’s shoulder. Despite the fact that numerous witnesses called the police station in outrage and spoke to the media about the horrific behavior of Lamont, Orlando Police Chief Val Demings and six other senior officials cleared Lamont of any wrong doing and he lurks the streets of Orlando to this day.
The only effective method we have for dealing with bad cops is filming them in the act and putting it on YouTube so they can receive the shame and ostracism they deserve. If someone had been able to capture footage of Officer Lamont’s actions that night and put in on YouTube for it to go viral Lamont may have ended up in prison where he truly belongs.
7. You are preparing cops to get used to being filmed. Every year the price of cameras goes down, the quality goes up, the size of cameras goes down, the ability to conceal cameras increases, we now have the ability to upload live footage to websites like Qik.com, and there is a growing movement of people happily willing to use these tools to keep police accountable. There is nothing the cops can do about it. The bureaucrats can write whatever laws they want to stop us, but the market will help us get around them. When you get out there and start filming cops you’re giving police a friendly reminder that soon every cop’s every move will be monitored by the tax payers and that they better start acting more civilized. You’re stimulating a feeling among police that they are being watched.
8. You’re standing up for your rights and your fellow citizen’s rights and will feel damn good about it. You’ll be able to look back and know that you didn’t submit to the police-state like some slave. The preservation of your dignity and spirit is worth the risks of filming cops.
9. You are reducing the amount of tyranny that your kids will live under.
Yes, filming police is dangerous, but day-to-day life in the totalitarian Amerika that will develop as a result of our apathy will be far more dangerous. Now is the time to film cops; not later. The police-state will only get more severe if we don’t act now, which means it will only get harder to keep police accountable if we back down.