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Retaliation a Risk When Video Recording Police Brutality

by Kevin Bliss

With current technology, filming incidents of police brutality has become more common, yet many of those responsible for capturing events on film claim retaliation by the same police they film.

Kevin Moore was filming the day Freddie Gray was beaten by Baltimore police. That film was immediately taken to the police department’s Internal Affairs Division with the offer of Moore’s testimony. For his efforts, Moore stated, he was harassed and intimidated by the same police department. Moore said he was threatened, detained at gunpoint, and had a surveillance video of him released on social media asking for help identifying him as a witness. He said the police did this to make him look like a “rat” and to put his life in jeopardy.

A similar video showed the same intimidation tactic used on an anonymous bystander. He suggested that Gray appeared to need medical assistance, and the police responded by threatening the bystander with a stun gun if he did not leave.

Ramsey Orta filmed a cop with the NYPD pinning Eric Garner to the ground with a chokehold as he gasped for breath pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Garner asphyxiated to death. Orta shared this video with millions on Facebook. He stated that since then he has been unlawfully arrested and physically intimidated. He currently is serving four years on weapons and drug charges that he insists are retaliatory.

Motherboard, a multimedia publication, released an article that listed several tactics to help avoid retaliation when reporting police brutality, such as delaying the release of video.

That’s what Abdullah Muflahi did after he witnessed Baton Rouge police shooting Allen Sterling in front of Muflahi’s store. Muflahi filmed this incident on his phone but did not inform the police that he did so. They detained him in the back of a patrol car for four hours. He said he was treated like a criminal. They confiscated Muflahi’s store surveillance tapes as well as his phone. His phone was returned, and he was surprised to find the video still on it.

Muflahi waited until the police made the statement that Sterling posed an imminent danger to the officers by reaching for a weapon. They also claimed that they lost footage because their body cams became dislodged. Muflahi’s video showed otherwise. In it, Sterling had his hands raised during the entire confrontation, never once reaching for anything. It also appeared as if the police officer threw off his body cam.

Charges were filed against the two police officers but later dropped due to insufficient evidence.

Feidin Santana also delayed releasing a video of Michael Slager with the North Charleston Police Department in South Carolina shooting Walter Scott in the back five times. At first, Santana stated he was not planning on sharing the video for his own safety, but when Slager said Scott was reaching for Slager’s Taser, which prompted the shooting, Santana gave the video to Scott’s family, refuting these facts. The video shows Slager tossing his Taser down beside Scott after he had been shot. Slager was found guilty on federal charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Another suggested tactic to help ensure the safety of those who video police misconduct is to release the video through a proxy or anonymously. Many organizations, such as Stop the Killing and the ACLU, have apps that allow an individual to post video without revealing his or her identity. According to Daniel Kahn Gillmor, senior staff technologist at the ACLU, Mobile Justice App has been downloaded over 600,000 times since its release in 2012.

Lastly, Motherboard explains that live streaming creates instant witnesses to an event. Diamond Reynolds streamed the aftermath of her boyfriend Philando Castille’s fatal shooting during a routine traffic stop by a St. Anthony police officer in Minnesota. She said she wanted to make sure that if she died in front of her daughter that people would know the truth.

The considerable risk involved in filming instances of police brutality is strongly and palpably felt in many communities, but Arthur Reed, founder of Stop the Killing, believes it is necessary. He warned, “Video isn’t going to make us safer, but it will tell our story.” 


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