Twenty-nine years ago, officers of the Los Angeles Police Department beat Rodney King nearly to death. It was filmed by George Holliday, a bystander with a Sony Video8 Handycam, and the resulting footage, broadcast by news stations nationwide, was graphically violent and shocking. When the four officers were later acquitted, LA descended into riots.
Today, videos of police attacking unarmed people have become commonplace, due to the ubiquity of smartphone cameras and the rise of social media. And the protests against police violence have become one of the largest movements in American history — itself fueled by access to cameras, social media distribution, and organizing tools across the internet.
The images produced by ordinary people in 2020 rhyme with those captured by the media in the late 1950s and mid-’60s during the Civil Rights Movement, when police brutalized unarmed Black protesters with dogs, fire hoses, and tear gas. It isn’t hard to see the parallels between what was called unrest then and what is called an uprising now.
But for the people shooting these videos of protest and police brutality, using a camera and sharing a video isn’t passive — it is itself an act of protest. The Verge spoke to 11 people who’d filmed videos of police violence across the country, to understand how and why they’d pressed record, what happened afterwards, and whether they would do it again.
The Peace Reporters
The police dressed for war.
The people showed up with cameras.
The material presented here can feel overwhelming or triggering. Take breaks if you need them.
“I literally could not put my phone down. Whether I got shot or not, this needed to be documented”
Austin, TX | 6/1/2020
Twitter | 10.7m views
David Frost thought he saw someone die right in front of him. At a protest in downtown Austin just before midnight on May 31st, police shot 20-year-old college student Justin Howell in the back of the head with a “nonlethal” bean bag round, one week after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. Frost, a 22-year-old assembly line technician, says the first time he attended a protest in his life was just two days earlier.
“He hit the ground like dead weight,” Frost tells me. “That’s why I started recording. I thought, ‘In the midst of a peaceful protest, here we have another George Floyd incident.” Fellow protesters swarmed Howell, his body limp following a seizure. Blood pooled on the concrete below his head. “I knew I needed to document what was happening,” says Frost. “I literally could not put my phone down. Whether I got shot or not, this needed to be documented.”
Frost’s video showed Austin transformed into a surreal landscape: a city street corner had suddenly turned into a warzone. Protesters and volunteer medics carried Howell toward the line of militarized law enforcement. Frost recalls the officers explicitly instructing the group to bring the bleeding college student past the police line for medical treatment. But a separate line of officers saw the group advancing and began to fire on them.
The protesters struggled to keep Howell afloat. You can hear someone shout “what the fuck” off-camera several times, and Frost’s video caught protesters scattering for cover. (Frost says he suspects a miscommunication was responsible for the second wave of shooting.)
Frost didn’t know Howell’s name for days, until well after his video went viral. He was eventually contacted by Howell’s older brother, Joshua, who told him that the Texas State University student was in the hospital with a fractured skull and brain damage. Howell remains in recovery, and a GoFundMe for his medical bills has raised more than $200,000.
Frost is a relatively new Austin resident. He moved to the city from Mississippi two years ago, where he says he spent his first two decades surrounded by the racism woven into the fabric of daily life in the American South. Only in Austin, and only after witnessing George Floyd’s death on video, did Frost feel compelled to join people in the streets to fight for change.
Since the incident he recorded went viral, Frost says he’s become more aware of the power of video. It was only by spamming every news station he could and wracking up millions of views that he was able to help identify Howell as the victim in his 45-second clip.
And it’s because of videos like his that Frost feels like things are changing for the better. In the days after Howell was shot, Austin banned nonlethal rounds like rubber bullets and bean bags, and a new draft of the city budget calls for a $100 million cut to the Austin Police Department.
“We all thought we saw a gentleman be killed,” Frost says. “The moment he fell to the ground… we’re at a peaceful protest, and we see another person of color be potentially killed. Nobody needs to be killed for just believing in something.”
Reported by Nick Statt
Description of following video: Protesters and volunteer medics carry Howell toward the line of militarized law enforcement. A separate line of officers sees the group advancing and fires beanbag rounds at them with speeds of up to 184 miles per hour. The protesters struggle to carry Howell. There is a second wave of shooting. During this second round of shots the group carrying the wounded protester is lost on camera.
“How do you show this to the world when you’re worried that the very people on the frontline protesting might become the target?”
Seattle, WA | 5/29/2020
Twitter | 334.2k views
Bryan started filming after the police shoved a man to the ground. It was the early hours of May 29th, and it had been a long, tense night of peaceful protests. He was part of a smaller group, headed home, when they stumbled across a police barricade.
In the video he shot, two police officers can be seen kneeling on top of the man. His arm moves upward, almost like he’s trying to reposition himself against the concrete sidewalk or like he’s trying to protect himself from two men in riot gear. As he’s moving, the officers on top of the man begin to beat him.
“It was some of the most excessive force I’d ever seen, on a man who wasn’t doing anything but trying to get home from a protest,” says Bryan. He posted the video on Twitter, where it quickly went viral.
Having the recording changed how Bryan feels when he remembers the incident. “It was this moment that was pretty traumatic to witness and be a part of, and the adrenaline was sky-high,” he says. But after seeing the footage so many times, the memory is more muted, and less emotionally intense. He says that adjusting in the aftermath has been surreal.
For the most part, Bryan is happy with how things turned out. He’s glad he was able to show how the Seattle police behave. “The video is egregious enough that it’s pretty hard to defend it,” he says. Even so, he worries about the people he recorded.
“It’s really this feeling of needing to get this out there and show people, but also wanting to protect the people in this video and protect myself,” Bryan says. “I know I’m not the only person struggling with this hard thing: how do you show this to the world when you’re worried that the very people on the frontline protesting might become the target?”
Reported by Nicole Wetsman
“It didn’t matter to them that I was wearing a stupid bike helmet that had the word ‘press’ in a large font taped all over it”
Portland, OR | 7/21/2020
By mid-July, taking a photo at the Portland protests became next to impossible unless you were resigned to taking a photo of 10 live-streamers crowding in for a good shot. It feels like every inch of the downtown federal courthouse is surveilled by people documenting the protests on social media, footage that police sift through to identify protesters to arrest later on.
Every moment, a hundred cameras are focused on the police. But for some cursed reason, I cannot find a video of the moment they tossed me down the steps of the federal courthouse. To be clear, it was only a few steps. But hey, hot take: a few is a few too many.
It didn’t matter to them that I was wearing a stupid bike helmet that had the word “PRESS” in a large font taped all over it; it didn’t matter that I was wearing the stupid badge that had an equally large “PRESS” on it. I am 5’4” and mindful not to make any sudden movements if a group of officers in full camouflage begins storming toward me. That didn’t matter either.
I faced them with my badge in one hand and my cellphone held high in the other, walking backward slowly and deliberately. I knew where the few stairs leading down to the sidewalk were. Don’t trip, I told myself. My thoughts cut off abruptly when camo overwhelmed my field of vision, and I went flying in the air. I landed hard on the ground at the bottom of the steps, cushioned slightly by my backpack, which is also marked with a stupid little sign that says “PRESS.”
The first thing I saw after falling was a woman breaking from a shield phalanx to pull me up to my feet. She looked frightened; when someone’s lying on the ground, it’s a prelude to an arrest. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” I repeated, as though I were in any position to convince anyone of anything.
I recorded the moment I was shoved. The camera’s vision whirls as my phone clatters to the ground. After I pick it up again and the image resolves once more, the camera shows the courthouse as I back away trying to regroup. My heart is pounding. I try not to breathe too heavily, at least not while tear gas canisters were still being shot into the crowd.
The next day, I looked for other videos of when the police pushed through, other videos taken by other protesters, hoping for another perspective on the moment they attacked me.
I had some luck. I found one where me and my stupid helmet bob into view for a few seconds. The camera looks away, perhaps so the filmer can turn and run, and then it flips back and I appear again for a second, still walking backward. I disappear from view when a fuzzy blur of protesters flees the oncoming wave of cops. When the image refocuses, the police have someone pinned to the ground — probably someone who had been standing near me — and are macing nearby protesters.
And as for me and my dumb bike helmet? I’m gone. There’s no sign of me. Despite the sea of cameras, that moment vanished into the ether, like a thousand other far more violent indignities wrought on other vulnerable bodies. All I really have left are my scrapes and bruises.
Reported by Sarah Jeong
Description of following video: Police advance on a group of protesters. Several officers focus on one protester, pushing them to the ground, as the main group backs away. The rest of the officers begin walking toward the protesters. In the background, the fallen protester shuffles backwards and eventually runs away off camera. The camera then wildly moves around. Eventually we see an arm and hear, “get up, get up, get up”.
“There is no one truth we share anymore”
Los Angeles, CA | 5/31/2020
Twitter | 2.1m views
Sophia Lee was on her honeymoon in the LA wilderness when the protests began, calling her back to her home city. “As a reporter, I couldn’t just be in the mountains, hiding, when all this chaos was happening,” she says. So she cut her trip short. On May 31st, she returned to LA, dumped her luggage in her room, and headed for the streets.
That day, reporting for her employer, the Christian news magazine World, she joined the crowds near LA’s Pershing Square. People had been trying to get into City Hall, but the police had blocked them off. The protesters were angry, shouting and swearing at an impassive line of tooled-up officers. A number of demonstrators convinced the crowd to turn back down the street, which is when they came upon the lone police cruiser.
Even though she taped the incident that followed, Lee says she still isn’t quite sure what happened. In the footage, a woman is standing in front of the police car, giving its driver the finger. The officer tries to swerve around her and accelerates hard into the crowd. A man scrambles to move out of the way but falls down in front of the vehicle as people scream. The crowd rushes forward to surround the police car, which reverses and spins around just as hastily. It exits the scene as the protesters chase it, hurling objects and expletives.
Lee shared the video on Twitter right away. “I thought it was just a good scene to show how violence erupts in protests because of all these charged emotions and rash moves,” she says. As the video went viral, though, Lee found that people interpreted the footage in very different ways.
“There was one side that said, ‘This is brutality, this is the police intentionally trying to run over protesters.’ And then the other side says, ‘These protesters are stage actors. Look at the guy who fell, he did it on purpose,’” says Lee. “It was just a reflection to me of how divided our country is where we can look at the same facts and come to different truths.”
The reason people can view the same video so differently, she thinks, is because they come from separate realities. In one, the police are helpful, polite, and reassuring; in the other, they are a threat. “That’s why there’s Black Lives Matter protests, because a lot of Black Americans in our country don’t feel like the America they live in is the same as a white American or even an Asian American might experience,” Lee says. “There is no one truth we share anymore.”
Reported by James Vincent
“I hope that people understand the need to be out of their homes and into the streets”
Seattle, WA | 7/20/2020
Twitter | 486k views
“How else could people know exactly how terrible this is unless it was documented like this?” asks the person who shot this video, who we’ll call Daley. (They asked to be kept anonymous for fear of retaliation from the police.) “It is a traumatic experience to watch people being brutalized by the police,” Daley says. “You ask yourself, ‘why is this happening? What action — during a peaceful protest that the police then chose to escalate — could deserve this?”
Around 10 seconds into the clip, one protester can be seen standing still in shock after being doused in pepper spray. Then they’re dragged to the ground and crushed by a police officer. Daley maintained their focus on the scene until the protester appeared to fall unconscious behind a wall of officers. “I feel more strongly about this now, more than ever,” they say, “and [I] hope that people understand the need to be out of their homes and into the streets.”
“Please don’t be like me!” Daley says. “It’s not everyone’s role in the protest to document police brutality, and I put myself as a very, very large risk in doing so. I’m like 5 feet away from the police, maybe less, while they’re assaulting these people,” they say. “Please do show up in support of the movement. Bring a few friends.”
Reported By Cameron Faulkner
Description of following video: Two police officers already have a man on the ground and are trying to subdue him. Protesters begin running up to the officers around the man on the ground. They are pepper sprayed by officers. One protester retreats and the other is stunned. An officer grabs the stunned protester and drags them to the ground. The officers use pepper spray on approaching protesters and shout “back up” repeatedly. Eventually the officers take the man they subdued on the ground and walk him toward a building. Shortly after, two more officers pick up another protester, carrying them off by the arms and legs.
“I’m definitely going out there for sure because that is what I believe in and what I’m passionate about”
Seattle, WA | 7/26/2020
Twitter | 301.8k views
Dae Shik Kim Jr. only just started recovering from the Mace burns on his neck he got while covering the protests in Portland this July. He’s been documenting and protesting police brutality in Seattle and Portland for the past couple of months; it’s taken a toll. “I’m happy that it’s mostly started healing pretty well now, but there was a couple of days where I’m just like, ‘This is fucking insane, like I don’t know why I have to be dealing with this right now,’” he says.
Although his main priority during the protests as an independent journalist is to document what’s happening around him, he, too, has been a victim of both emotional and physical trauma. Beyond the burns, he takes more frequent breaks between protests now as he evens his mental and emotional keel. His phone is filled with videos of what he’s seen at protests: there are peaceful scenes, like protesters on the steps of Seattle City Hall, as well as marches featuring signs that say “#Decriminalize Seattle” and “#Free Them All.” Other videos, which he shares on Twitter and live on Instagram, are more terrifying.
One of those scarier videos shows Seattle police officers marching at protesters, then macing and shoving them. Kim says he recognized one officer wearing a Blue Lives Matter mask with his name prominently written out on a strip of yellow duct tape across his chest. That stuck with him more than anything else: the officer’s apparent willingness to be identified.
“Police officers behave the way that they [do] at these protests while dozens of cameras are streaming live, and thousands of eyes are on them, and millions more are watching through clips on Twitter and Instagram later,” Kim says. “They 100 percent believe what they are doing is justified.” He says seeing officers, who live in the same communities they police, violently attacking protesters disturbed him the most. “That night definitely shook me up.”
Still, Kim says he’s fortunate to have documented the exchange; many people have since reached out to him to use his footage in lawsuits they’re bringing against the police.
Since he and others began posting and documenting the protests, Seattle’s police chief has stepped down, and a video Kim took earlier this summer even led to an internal investigation. Now, he’s most interested in the conversation about reducing the Seattle Police Department’s budget in 2021.
Until then, Kim says he’ll keep documenting, even if it upsets his mother, who he’s barred from seeing what he shoots. “I’m definitely going out there for sure because that is what I believe in and [what] I’m passionate about,” he says, “but I can’t lie and say I’m not tired and scared.”
Reported by Ashley Carman
Description of following video: Police advance on a group of protesters and douse them with pepper spray. One protester is hit with a baton and falls to the ground. Other protesters rush in to help them up while others shout “get him up” repeatedly. The group trying to help the fallen protester is pepper sprayed again.
“I wasn’t scared enough to not do something, even if it was just filming the incident”
Colorado Springs, CO | 6/2/2020
Facebook | 181.6k views
“It was clear something was about to happen,” says Camille, who asked that we withhold her surname to protect her privacy. “I wanted to make sure to have footage in case the victim or his family needed proof. I had no doubt the cops were going to use unnecessary force.”
It was 1AM on June 2nd, and Camille was stopped at a red light at the corner of Costilla Street and Nevada Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs. She saw police officers shouting at a suspect. She put her car in park and clipped her phone, which was recording, onto the dashboard.
In Camille’s three-minute video, police fire rubber bullets at a victim, which knock him to the pavement of the intersection he’s standing in. “Sir, get on the ground,” an officer orders through a megaphone. He tries to stand, but a horde of cops surrounds him, keeping him pinned. Officers appear to hold his head down while he continues shouting. Two punch him repeatedly. You can hear Camille shout “This is not okay!” from her car.
For Camille, filming the incident was nerve-wracking. She’d attended several protests in the days before and had witnessed the Colorado Springs Police Department’s violent treatment of protesters. She was scared of becoming a target herself. “But I wasn’t scared enough to not do something, even if it was just filming the incident,” she says. “I just stayed as calm as I could and did what I was told.”
The next day, Camille shared the video on Facebook and Instagram. Friends sent the posts to reporters — all told, they received over 90,000 combined views. Seeing her footage in the news only added to her stress. Afterward, Camille says, she felt like she was constantly watching her back. Even so, she doesn’t regret filming. “I still feel like it was the right thing to do,” she says.
The evening of that same day, the Colorado Springs Police Department issued a statement in response to Camille’s video. “This incident will be reviewed to determine if any laws or department policies were broken,” they wrote. And then: “The suspect seems to be resisting, which is when officers use force.”
Reported by Monica Chin
“I was in a cloud of tear gas, I was choking. I was coughing”
Buffalo, NY | 6/1/2020
WIVB News 4
Myles Carter stood with his hands up as he spoke to a cameraman for an interview on June 1st with a local news station in Buffalo, New York. Some 30 feet behind him stood a line of police officers in riot gear. Carter introduced himself on camera. He doesn’t live in Buffalo, but his mosque is nearby, he said with his hands still up. The interview ended there, as a group of police officers rushed him from behind. A bystander shooting video from a nearby building caught the rest of the scene from above, filming as officers tackled Carter to the ground and zip-tied his hands behind his back.
Less than 40 seconds later, the bystander captured a black Ford Explorer driving through the police line and striking some nearby officers. Carter was on the ground when it happened. “I was in a cloud of tear gas, I was choking. I was coughing … I was begging the police officers to get me off the ground,” Carter says. Smoke of some kind can be seen wafting up from the street in both videos. “Obviously I’m scared, I’m thinking I’m in the middle of a warzone at this point.”
Carter was arrested and charged with second-degree obstruction of governmental administration and disorderly conduct, and he spent the night at a police precinct. (Ironically, Carter had previously served as his mosque’s liaison with the Buffalo police.)
Meanwhile, footage of the event — both from the news crew and the bystander — went viral. It led to support for Carter but perhaps some retaliation: the night after his arrest, his car’s tires were slashed. The imam of Carter’s mosque, concerned about Carter’s safety and his legal fees, set up a fundraiser to pay for security cameras for Carter’s home and a good lawyer. The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the US, held a press conference on June 5th demanding that the charges against Carter be dropped. About a month and a half later, the charges were dismissed. “Those videos have been amazing,” Carter says, because they triggered an outpouring of support.
The videos could also play a crucial role in the case of Deyanna Davis, who drove her SUV through the police line on June 1st. She wasn’t protesting, at least not that night. Davis was driving home from a funeral. Her defense lawyer says the tear gas the police used on Carter impaired her driving. Davis is facing the violence of the state in a different way: she has been charged with state and federal charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault of a police officer, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon.
Reported by Justine Calma
Description of following video: A man stands with his hands up speaking to someone just off camera for an interview. Behind him is a line of police officers in riot gear. As he is introducing himself on camera a group of police officers rush him from behind. The camera begins to turn away and then moves toward the sidewalk.
“I started telling people that they should, under no circumstances, go downtown without a respirator”
Portland, OR | 7/19/2020
Twitter | 101.9k views
Tuck Woodstock has been on the ground almost every night since May covering the ongoing protests in Portland. They’re a prominent local journalist, and they had just left a full-time staff position at a local publication in January in order to go freelance. “It was really easy for me to just jump in and start going every single day,” Woodstock tells me, “because I didn’t have another job that I absolutely should be doing. So I went out there for the majority of the last 70 days.”
Woodstock says they think instances of police brutality have lately begun to climb, after the emergence of federal troops at the courthouse. “Instead of being like, ‘Oh, maybe we’ll get tear-gassed tonight,’ it was an expectation that you will be tear-gassed all day, every night,” Woodstock says. “I started telling people that they should, under no circumstances, go downtown without a respirator.”
After covering the protests for so long, Woodstock has had a front-row seat to a lot of police brutality, which means they’ve gotten in the habit of filming everything they see. One video that got a lot of attention happened on a night when police officers tried to disperse a group of protesters by chasing them down a dark residential street. Police told protesters they’d be arrested if they remained in the road, Woodstock says, but the protesters couldn’t find a safe way out.
That’s when a group of officers grabbed one man, Michael Weisdorf, and threw him to the ground multiple times. (Weisdorf did not respond to an interview request.) “I didn’t get the first shove — or possibly more — on camera, but I happened to get the last one or two shoves on camera as he was being told to run, and then thrown back on the ground,” Woodstock says. They jogged after Weisdorf to let him know about the footage.
Woodstock says the victim wasn’t able to fully process what had just happened. “He was bleeding all over his face. He clearly needed medical attention, but he couldn’t get medical attention because we’re all being pushed out by the police,” they say. After posting the video, Weisdorf’s friend reached out to Woodstock. The police had fractured his elbow.
“I mean, it’s completely surreal to watch people get assaulted, shot at with munitions, flash-banged, arrested, tackled, shoved, screamed at for no discernible reason,” Woodstock says. They say it gets hard to watch, but they’ll continue to document what’s going on in Portland as long as they’re able to.
Reported by Loren Grush
Description of following video: Protesters run away from an approaching group of police officers. The police announce that the event has been deemed a riot and directs the group to move East. The officers say that protesters will be subject to arrest or use of force if they do not move. A group of officers throws a man to the ground multiple times. Another protester comes to help him up, but is also grabbed by the police. Eventually both protesters are able to move away from the police.
“A lot of people have died already trying to do what we did”
Baytown, TX | 6/2/2020
Twitter | 2.7m views
Isaiah Benavides and his friends had just left a barbecue on June 2nd when a police officer pulled over his friend, Jostin Moore, who was driving one car ahead. Benavides got out his phone. “In the eyes of the law, we could always be wrong — especially if there’s no video,” Benavides says. “The only thing that the cop was pulling him over for is the fact that he was a Black male in a nice car.” Benavides, who was in the car with Isaiah Phillips and Skylar Gilmore, watched the arrest from nearby.
The police officer arresting Moore, Nathaniel Brown, can be seen in the video walking toward Gilmore, who he throws against a wall and then to the ground. Brown knees Gilmore in the face and rips off his shirt, then presses his head against the asphalt. After cuffing Gilmore, Brown thrusts Phillips onto the hood of a vehicle and cuffs him.
“If you don’t get back, I’m going to break your shit,” Officer Brown said to Benavides, after seeing him recording. Benavides says he was afraid he would be arrested, too.
But Brown left him alone. Benavides went back to the barbecue and uploaded the video to Facebook, where it went viral and triggered a chain of events that would lead the Baytown Police Department to launch an investigation into Brown’s actions.
It also led to Benavides, Gilmore, Phillips, and their friends protesting outside the police department two days later, on June 4th; they began a fundraiser for their legal fees and then started a petition to terminate Brown — one that gained over 9,000 signatures. As it happens, Brown had been in the news last year over a bodycam video of another arrest when he allegedly repeatedly sicced a police dog on a Black man. (Brown did not respond to a request for comment.)
Though Gilmore was initially charged with “interfering with public duties” after his arrest, the charge was dropped on the same day as the protest. On July 23rd, Brown was relieved of duty. “The actions of Officer Brown did not align with the professional standards and values, to which we hold all of our officers,” a statement from the Baytown Police Department said.
Even though Brown has been held accountable, Benavides says the incident has changed his life. Benavides worries about police following him, and he says now he tries to avoid going out alone. “I get nervous,” he says. “A lot of people have died already trying to do what we did, and if you don’t stand up, who’s going to stand up?”
Reported by Justine Calma
Description of following video: An officer approaches a man on the phone. The officer grabs the man’s arm and instructs him to put his hands behind his back. His partner arrives to help as the first officer throws the man against a wall and then to the ground. The officer knees his face and rips off his shirt, then presses his head against the asphalt. After cuffing the man on the ground, the two officers thrust a friend of the first man onto the hood of a vehicle and cuff him. One of the officers turns to the camera and says, “If you don’t get back, I’m going to break your shit.”
“It just didn’t make sense that they would be doing that to the medic station if they’re a neutral party who’s allowed to be there”
Asheville, NC | 6/2/2020
It was another evening of protests in North Carolina on June 2nd, a little over a week after the murder of George Floyd. While she was out covering the event, Asheville Citizen-Times photojournalist Angela Wilhelm caught a group of police officers dressed for a riot stabbing crates of bottled water. One burly cop jumped up and down on the containers like a little kid playing with bubble wrap. Then a man’s voice boomed over the scene: “We will be enforcing the law. Please leave the area peacefully, and you will not be harmed.” The camera pulled out slightly to include a large wooden sign stamped with a black cross; the letters “M-E-D” are clearly visible.
Wilhelm described the demonstration as peaceful, but police took it upon themselves to destroy a makeshift medic station, flipping tables, crushing food and water, and tossing medical supplies like gauze and tampons onto the ground. As she filmed, cops stabbed water bottles — “squeezing them like accordions” to empty them — and slashed milk jugs, which protesters use to rinse away tear gas. Wilhelm says she was shocked. “I just didn’t know why it was happening,” she says. “It just didn’t make sense that they would be doing that to the medic station if they’re a neutral party who’s allowed to be there.”
Wilhelm’s confusion is mirrored by off-camera observers who can be heard shouting at the police as they continue their destruction. “People in the background were yelling, ‘Why are you doing that? That’s good water,’” Wilhelm says. The cops, unfazed, had no response. A lone bottle rolled slowly down the street as more than a dozen heavily geared officers ensured no water escaped their jurisdiction.
Before police showed up, Wilhelm says the area was relatively empty and quiet, with just a few people posted up at the station. “It was just so wasteful,” she says. “And then the whole mess was just left there. They just carried on, the police, just carried on up the street afterward.”
She remembers being awake until 5AM as night bled into the morning of June 3rd. “It just felt like my veins were shaking,” she says. When Wilhelm thinks about the video now, she envisions places like Flint, Michigan, where clean water is a luxury: “Water is life.”
The street stands out in her mind: water was running down the sidewalk as though it had just rained very hard in a single spot. “People were very upset after seeing the video, and the mayor wanted an explanation because they were allowed to be there,” she says. “It felt like our coverage made a difference.”
Reported by Megan Farokhmanesh
Description of following video: A large group of police officers stands around a sidewalk full of cases of broken and leaking water bottles. One officer jumps up and down on a case, as another behind them kneels and punctures bottle after bottle.
Remember, it’s legal to record the police
As a general rule, the First Amendment guarantees citizens’ right to record on-duty police officers in public, and higher courts have consistently upheld this right.
Make sure you’re not interfering with the officer’s ability to do their job. (That’s illegal.) You should also make sure you’re standing a respectful distance away and not trying to hide your camera. But the bottom line, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is that “you have the right to record police officers exercising their official duties in public.” Police may ask you to move while recording, but they are not allowed to ask you to move because you are recording.
The most significant exceptions are the 11 states with all-party recording laws, which require consent from everyone present in a recording. The laws were written with audio recordings of private citizens in mind, but police sometimes use them as a de facto ban on recording officers. (This has been challenged in court, but it’s something of a legal gray area.)
But just about everywhere, the biggest threat is that police may retaliate — regardless of the broader legal precedent. Even if what you’re doing is entirely legal, officers have a lot of discretion in how they handle situations. For example, if a cop decides to detain you on specious grounds or physically attack you for filming, there’s not much you can do about it. As such, those who would film the police are generally advised to use appropriate caution.
About this feature
The Peace Reporters is part of Capturing the Police, a Verge-wide editorial project that’s meant to both examine the experience of civilians who document and share police violence and to record the larger political moment we find ourselves in.
Read and watch more here.
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Still frame from Rodney King video footage by George Holliday.
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