April V. Taylor
As America continues to look like a hypocrite to the world for how fundamentally corrupt and flawed its worldview is when compared with the suffering caused by the racism and injustice of the country’s criminal justice systems, many Americans are realizing that the power to help end police brutality and killings is right in the palm of their hands. As protests in Ferguson, Missouri have continued since the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown two months ago, citizens have taken the power to hold officers accountable into their own hands by recording their interactions with police.
The never ending stream of stories of those killed by police has the entire country on edge with many feeling as though the country is reaching a boiling point. When one looks back at American history, black people have repeatedly been abused and killed by police with many of the worst race riots in history resulting from police abuse that fanned the flames of racial tension. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the Justice Department to complete their endless investigations that now amount to more incidences of illegal police misconduct that at any point in history, America’s must exercise their own ability to protect each other and hold police accountable by using cellphone cameras to record police.
Officers are intimidating citizens at higher and higher rates to not record police interactions, but citizens are standing strong in exercising their perfectly legal right to film police despite some facing illegal assault and arrest for their actions. As New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman points out, “When police wrongdoing is captured on videotape, it makes the public understand what has happened and why we need to hold the police accountable, and that we need to change in the way police to business.” If citizens and journalists had not recorded the militarized police response to peaceful protesters in Ferguson, the United Nations, the ACLU and many countries would not have known that American streets looked more like war zones than the “land of the free.”
Some may worry about police who challenge a citizen’s legal right to film police, but the ACLU points out that, “Taking photographs of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is a constitutional right – and that includes federal buildings, transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.” The ACLU also points out that police officers are not legally allowed to confiscate footage or equipment or demand to view digital information that has been collected on them.
The video captured of police brutality and violence is essential to helping put an end to racialized and militarized policing. Visual images make it harder for people to ignore the violence and aggression experienced by so many. Recordings also remind officers that they are being watched by a global audience. In Rialto, California, where police were required to where body cameras, use of force by police officers dropped by 60 percent in just one year with complaints against the department dropping by 88 percent. Accountability is clearly essential to changing violent and aggressive police behavior.