Capturing police violence against people of color on video changed everything. Yet the police don’t seem to understand that.
The technology that is changing society
I live in Rochester, NY and, as anyone who watches the news knows, we have a police problem and a massive Black Lives Matter movement that exploded after the release of a detailed video of a mentally ill, naked black man dying at the hands of police. It was a body cam video from the police.
George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police was also captured on video, this time by bystanders. Protests across the country all have something in common: virtually every protester and observer holding up their phones and recording every minute, from every angle.
These videos, and hundreds more, have brought the light of day to the often murky world of corrupt and racist policing. They cut through the barriers to transparency that police unions, prosecutors, and politicians have erected to keep the public from knowing about these crimes committed by bad cops. Yet the cops don’t seem to understand that their wall of silence has been taken down.
As I’ve watched the news, a bit obsessively, these past months, I can’t help but think that this is a massive change in our society that has not been addressed by the media. The fact that every one of us carries a high resolution video camera in our pockets and bags means that there is an entirely new media format that is everywhere and always on. But it isn’t just mobile phones and police body cams.
If you look around in any public place there are cameras everywhere. On buses, on businesses, on traffic lights, and on and on. My favorite bar, an upscale steakhouse near my house, has discrete video cameras mounted all over the place, both to counter employee theft and to capture customer behavior for legal purposes. Even my apartment building has cameras to deter package theft.
Basically, we are all on digital video whenever we are in public in any urban area, and many non-urban areas. And this has changed everything. Not so long ago people worried about these ubiquitous cameras, seeing them as a massive invasion of privacy and a path to an Orwellian Big Brother government. But we have gradually become complacent and even grateful for these digital overseers.
The gratitude is evident in the BLM movement that has largely activated a previously disengaged public by revealing the bitter and terrifying reality behind the stories of racial police violence. Stories we have heard about, but not seen in the past. The incontrovertible evidence these videos offer has changed our society.
I think the odd thing about this very obvious driver of a major civil rights movement, is that a lot of bad cops don’t seem to realize that they are not operating under the cover of a system designed to keep police violence out of the news. It is very difficult to deny video records, especially the high quality ones nearly all of us are capable of recording. I really would have thought this would change racist behavior, but I guess old ways are hard to change.
But the change is here whether offenders understand it or not. And it is significant and lasting.