Holding police officers accountable with video before, during and after the BLM protests

“Justice for George”

#BLM Protests

What lessons can we learn from videos that have been used to hold police officers to account?

Overview

In late May 2020, video emerged of George Floyd, a 46 year old black man, being arrested and subsequently choked to death by Minneapolis PD officer Derek Chauvin.

The video sparked a wave of protests across the US, which were often met with a violent response. More videos captured incidents of police brutality, and as protesters called for justice for George, they also called for accountability in the many new cases of violence and brutality that had been documented.

Police violence is not new, but the ability to capture it on camera is. Increasingly, this is leading to greater accountability for police officers using excessive force, in situations where previously they had been able to act with impunity.

The list of case studies in this page charts some of the incidents in which officers have faced disciplinary action, or even criminal charges, for behavior captured on film. For each case we identify some key filming points that helped to bring accountability to those involved, and extract some general tips for anyone who has captured an incident of police violence on camera.

See other case studies and resources for how you can use video to expose police violence on our Filming the Police project page

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Case Study Timeline

Warning: contains graphic footage of police violence. Viewers may want to consult the DART Center’s advice for dealing with vicarious trauma.

         Last updated October 2020.

Key takeaways

While the cases described above took place in very different circumstances, and footage was recorded and released in different ways, we can extract some commonalities to inform the way police accountability video should be filmed:

    • Keep rolling. You never now when a significant event will take place, and your case will always be stronger if you’re able to document the before and after.
    • Collect details from bystanders to corroborate video. Footage from multiple perspectives is better than just one, but once you leave the scene it’s hard to know who was there. If possible share contact details with anyone else who captured the event at the time.
    • Release to local media for amplification. Usually local news stations will have a bigger platform than individuals, and can put resources towards following up on a story weeks or months later. Sympathetic reporters make good allies in keeping scrutiny on police.
    • Wait for police to make a statement first. In many cases, initial statements from police departments will conceal the facts or flat out lie. Your video will be more powerful if it shows that police are not just at fault, but tried to cover it up too.
    • Strategically re-share when relevant. Sometimes videos fail to make a splash at the time of recording, but could find an audience in a different moment. Don’t be afraid to re-share evidence of police violence at a time when you know more people are paying attention.

    Learn more

    For more WITNESS guides and resources on this topic, see our project page on filming police violence in the U.S., or these individual pages:

PODCAST

One of the most frequent questions we got from protesters this summer is “What should I do after filming a video of police violence?” One strategy is to share your video with a journalist, but it’s not always clear how to do that.

We spoke with journalist Nick Pinto, who writes about police misconduct, to get tips on what journalists look for in eyewitness videos and how to safely and effectively collaborate with media. Listen to the podcast here.

TRIGGER WARNING

This report contains depictions of war, abuse, examples of, or links to content that features, hate speech.

Trigger Warning

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