New developments in modern technology, coupled with a burgeoning social media network and a 24/7 news cycle, have combined to create a cottage industry of amateur videos that are shedding much-needed light on everything from politicians’ gaffes to police abuses. And law enforcement officers especially are not taking kindly to the unwanted scrutiny.
Perhaps the most well known example of this is an incident that took place on a rail platform in Oakland, California on New Year’s Day in 2009. Transit officers were responding to a fight and while attempting to detain one of the suspects, who was unarmed; an officer pulled his weapon and fatally shot the man in the back. The incident was captured on video by witnesses, and later was used to convict the officer of involuntary manslaughter.
It may also be that the same video evidence saved the officer from a more serious charge, as experts in the trial testified he mistakenly thought he was pulling his taser, not his firearm.
Police irritation at being videoed when they don’t want to be, has led to a number of incidents where officers improperly have bullied citizen camera operators to stop recording. This was the case earlier this year when United States Park Police stopped reporters from recording a protest against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, where six members of the military handcuffed themselves to a gate in front of the White House.
Police offered no explanation to reporters as they hurried them away from the scene other than saying that Lafayette Park, a public area directly across the street from the White House, was “closed.”
So long as private citizens record what takes place in public, and do not in so doing actually interfere with an arrest or other legitimate law enforcement activity, they have every right to do so. If the police or politicians have a problem with that because it might cause them embarrassment, then they probably shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing that prompted the recording in the first place.
Thankfully, there is something called the “First Amendment” that guarantees the citizen’s right to record what happens in public. And, unfortunately, things have reached the point at which politicians and law enforcement alike need to be reminded of that.