Thursday, June 28, 2007

Do Cameras Makes Us Safer?

Of all the youtube videos I have seen in the last two years, the one that shook me the most was the one that captured UCLA police officers repeatedly tasering a student in their library last November. In part, my response to that video was conditioned by witnessing a similar scene of police brutality six months previous, when four friends of mine were pepper sprayed and arrested (one was tased twice) because they were verbally confrontational with a cop who had pinned a man down , handcuffed him, and then pepper sprayed him. Naturally, all four were acquitted of the piddly little crimes there were supposedly arrested for. At least in Albuquerque, such behavior by police is a form a crowd control since it is virtually impossible to hold an officer responsible for wrongful arrest, use of excessive force, or any other type of misconduct.

So when I saw this morning that skateboarders in Arkansas got photos of a cop strangling one of their friends, and video of the same cop brutalizing and arresting a few more, my heart beat immediately began to quicken. What were the skateboarders doing? Well, you know, skateboarding. And being a worried about their friend who had just been strangled by a law enforcement officer. That's a crime, you see.

This video is not nearly as brutal as the UCLA one, and I'm glad for that. But it's a good reminder for me about the potential good cell phone cameras contain. I have a general ambivalence about the proliferation of cameras in public and the extreme ease with which we are all potentially broadcast. Ambivalent because such a proliferation could portend an Orwellian surveillance state (it's not as hyperbolic as it may sound), and yet the power seems to swing both ways, since the ability to capture true acts of injustice can, and does, happen. I don't know, ultimately, whether we are better off with this technology, but I am glad that it helps keep people who brutalize others human beings in check.

Since the UCLA incident, I have been feeling the need to acquire a camera phone. I see it as a way to protect myself, and my friends, from the police, odd as that sounds. I wonder now how things would have been different if I had had one last year when my friends were arrested.


Gerry Canavan said...

Of course, there's a slight Catch-22 here, as the sort of cop who is likely to use unnecessary force is the the same sort who view brandishing a camera phone as provocation.

As long as the general public refuses to hold bad cops responsible for their brutality and bad departments responsible for shielding them, I'm not sure what can be done beyond brave people using their cameras to record this stuff and hoping for the best.

inquisitive said...

Apparently, the cops had nothing better to do that day. Damn...

Tim Wientzen said...

It is extremely hard to hold cops accountable for acting like they do because it is often their word against an eye witness'. When a cop arrests you for "disorderly conduct" (or some other vague crime), it's really a matter of discretion on their part. If they feel you are being a public nuisance or endangering people, you are committing a crime. I think cell phone cameras level the playing field considerably because they allow people to demonstrate that they were doing nothing of the sort, and that often they are being punished for being conscientious and good citizens.