The Power of Video

A remarkably uncritical article [bugmenot login] in today’s New York Times notes the role of video in the dimissal and acquittal of hundreds of people arrested during last year’s RNC. Simply put, the videos contradict police accounts of protestor actions:

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.

Of course, NYPD had their own camcorders, too, and in one case apparently didn’t feel shy about editing out parts where an arresstee acted peacefully and calmly submitted to arrest. That case was dismissed when a second citizen tape came to light that showed the missing pieced. The police response? Oops. Yeah, right.

The police try to spin it that the video record only shows their “professional handling of the protest” — whatever that means. But doesn’t a “professional” police department have a little less than 90% of their arrests dismissed?

As we saw even in little old Champaign, IL last year, keeping a video eye on cops, especially in protest situations, is very important and valuable. The thing we have to watch out for is a police backlash against camcorders, either through direct violence, or through pushing to get laws passed against their use.

In Champaign last year our slimy former state’s attorney tried to say that videotaping police in public was criminal eavesdropping under Illinois law. Even our conservative daily newspaper saw through that, and I believe the publQic response to his persecution of two African-American copwatchers contributed to his overwhelming defeat in elections last November. His successor has since dropped all eavesdropping charges.

It makes me think that one should never be out an about without a camera or camcorder in your bag at all times.

Update:I found out today that the National Lawyer’s Guild has just asked for footage shot by Urbana-Champaign IMC reporters during the RNC. They were arrested, too, and their footage directly contradicts police claims, and may also be helpful for other cases. Initially NLG told them that they already had more than enough video footage. I guess now that they’ve had some months to sift through their pile they’re ready for more.