Staying safe while recording police activity requires different tactics depending on the situation. Spectators witnessing police violence in a public space should keep their distance, advises Kelley-Chung – that way you cannot be accused of being a participant. What if you get arrested? Have a passenger start filming immediately, before the officer approaches your window (reaching into your pocket for your phone can also be extremely dangerous, especially for people of color). If it’s legal in your area, a dash cam might be an alternative, suggests Wandt.
While a cell phone camera offers protection, says Wandt, it’s also important to keep in mind that “once someone pulls out a camera and starts filming an arrest, it absolutely changes the nature of the situation. for everyone, from the victim to the suspect to the police officer.
“There’s the law, there’s the Constitution, and then there’s what you do when you’re face to face with the police,” says Sykes, the lawyer for the ACLU. Figuring out exactly how much to push against a police officer giving an illegal order is “difficult,” he says, especially in certain circumstances – for example, during a demonstration.
“There is a special flavor of risk when you are protesting the police and the police are armed and stand a few feet away from you,” says Sykes.
Experience on the ground is really the only way to know if a situation at an event is safe. But one thing Kelley-Chung observed is that the presence of a camera filming an officer can protect others from wrongdoing.
“When you see people having a verbal argument with the police, get as close as possible,” he says. “This camera can be more protective than a tactical vest.”
In all situations, everyone we spoke to had the same caveats: stay out of law enforcement operations. Comply when the police tell you you have to move, but you don’t have to stop filming from a new location, even if they claim you have to, as long as you register an officer in a public space in the exercise of its functions.
Police watchers typically advise others to collect police credentials at the scene and note the time and location. You can request a badge number; Parriott says most agents actually only carry business cards.
A mine of disinformation
No video will change the behavior of the police, and experts say even a large number of videos cannot change the culture of many police departments. Rather, police have found ways to use video, especially body camera footage, to reinforce and control their own narrative in the event of possible violence or misconduct.
People like to think of video as just a neutral tool for capturing information, says Jennifer Grygiel, assistant professor of communication at Syracuse University – but that’s not the case, and how it’s delivered, and in what context, requires additional control.
“They get to define the story when it is published, which controls the initial public sentiment around it and opinion. They also post it on their social media, and their accounts are like everyone else in that they expand their audience. So they make people follow them there because they’re the first to post information, ”Grygiel says. Her own research focuses on how police departments use social media to bypass journalist fact-checking: it started after she noticed how police were posting photos on local Facebook pages. “People would come in there, like an old public square, and harass people who had been arrested,” she said.
As police improve their ability to produce their own media, find audiences outside of journalism, and make the most of accountability measures such as body cameras, Grygiel argues, independent documentation of police officers working in public can be used. counterbalance to this message. Sometimes, as was the case with Floyd’s murder, this documentation occurs spontaneously, and often in the midst of great distress, when overt cases of police violence or misconduct unfold in real time.
But the ability of police and police-affiliated organizations to spread disinformation was evident during the protests in the summer of 2020, when police services promoted several times inaccurate information. Some of this misinformation has gone viral, aided by sympathetic media and right-wing internet coverage, determined to reinforce the belief that anti-racist protests are only a channel for a violent war on the cops.
Police unions have promoted an alarming claim that Shake Shack employees “intentionally poisoned” a group of police officers in Manhattan. The story was dispelled the next morning: NYPD investigators said the foul-tasting substance in the three officers’ milkshakes was not “bleach,” as the unions had speculated, and that it had not been added to drinks on purpose. Although the Police Benevolent Association and the Detectives’ Endowment Association both ultimately deleted their tweets bearing the accusation, they had tens of thousands of retweets and sparked a wave of gullible coverage in the conservative and mainstream press. The media articles on the tweets garnered tens of thousands of shares on Facebook and continued to circulate even after the story was debunked.
And that was just one example. Last summer, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea repost a video police removing bins of bricks from a south Brooklyn sidewalk, claiming they were the work of “organized looters” providing protesters with materials to use for violence, despite little evidence that was really true. The NYPD also issued an alert to officers with images of coffee cups filled with concrete, which closely resemble concrete samples. used on construction sites. In Columbus, Ohio, police tweeted a photo of a colorful bus they said was supply of hazardous equipment to the “rioters”, fueling the already rampant national rumors of “antifa buses” descending on the cities. In fact, the bus belonged to a group of circus artists, who said equipment that police cited as riot supplies included juggling clubs and cooking utensils.
In short, the police are still lying despite being watched more closely than ever. There are hundreds of videos of police misconduct during the summer protests alone, some from body cameras introduced in reforms intended to make them more accountable. But Kelley-Chung thinks there’s only so much of a difference that just one video can make.
“I saw people filming officers with their cameras at the time and then being attacked by the police,” he says. “They know they’re in front of the camera… and yet they continue to abuse.”
And even after reaching his settlement with the DC Police, there is one aspect of this day that he can’t help but think about. Kelley-Chung is black and her film partner Andrew Jasiura is white. They both wore the same T-shirt, wearing the same type of photographic equipment. The officers also saw Jasiura: “They took him out so that they could talk to him,” Kelley-Chung said.
It was then that Jasiura told police that his partner was also a journalist. They still continued to arrest him.