Excessive Force Is Dangerous — To View on YouTube

Since Rodney King, we've been told that citizens with video cameras will deter excessive force by law enforcement. As video cameras have miniaturized until they're just one app on a smartphone, we're told the same thing, only more emphatically. Patrick highlighted the possibilities here years ago, though sounding a note of caution that a mechanism for reporting what you've taped to a powerful entity is as important as the recording itself.

But you really didn't think that it was going to be that easy, did you?

A certain segment of law enforcement has always viewed the use of force against citizens not as an ugly necessity in extreme circumstances but as a perquisite of the job. Those cops are not going to change their spots just because everyone's got an iPhone. So now we have pushback. Radley Balko documented it at Reason, Carlos Miller documents it tirelessly at Photography Is Not A Crime, and Injustice Everywhere frequently has pertinent stories.

Sometimes the pushback is cloaked in shameless OMG-9/11-CHANGED-EVERYTHING rhetoric, and sometimes it's straight-up thuggery. Cops arrest people for filming police conduct — whether it's out in public or from the photographer's own lawn. Cops profess not to recognize cameras and pretend they are potential weapons, sending the not-too-subtle message that pointing a camera might get your ass shot. When they think they can get away with it, they destroy cameras wholesale. Prosecutors back the cops up: they prosecute citizens for things like "wiretapping" or "disorderly conduct" when they record encounters with cops (even — or perhaps especially — angry and abusive cops), and they abuse governmental power in an effort to keep government-created recordings secret.

So, how is this relevant today? Well, a link on Reddit led me to a disturbing but entirely consistent-with-this trend discovery: Google's Transparency Report, in which Google describes the number and type of take-down demands it receives. Did you think that the New Professionals would be content arresting photographers in the street? Hell, no. If we've gone digital, so have they. And they know how to work the system. Google reports:

We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove. Separately, we received requests from a different local law enforcement agency for removal of videos allegedly defaming law enforcement officials. We did not comply with those requests, which we have categorized in this Report as defamation requests.

Click that link and see the statistics for various six-month periods. Note that Google records not just take-down demands (including categories for executive and police demands premised on "national security" and "criticism," among others), but demands for user identifying information. Police would never abuse the system by demanding the identity of photographers who posted videos documenting their conduct, would they? Heaven forfend.

So: bear in mind, when you consider measures like SOPA, that giving the government increased power over internet posts and increased ability to seek out user information may not just impact talking about music and movies — it might impact our ability to talk about, and document, police misconduct. Think the police would never seek to abuse such power? Then you're a damned fool.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. b says

    I probably recognized each story you linked without needing to click on the link.

    And it's heartbreaking.

    I've never had, at least in the U.S., a negative encounter with a law-enforcement officer. But I don't ignore the possibility that, one day, I will end up on the uglier end of a state-sanctioned fist, boot, club, taser, macing, bullet, or patrol car for no crime at all.

    And a prosecutor will be happy to fabricate a charge to justify it.

    And a judge will take their word for it, whatever the evidence.

  2. Scott Jacobs says

    Well THIS story certainly leaves me feeling all safe and secure…

    I'm gonna go cry and drink now.

  3. says

    The quickest litmus test of a cop's ethics is how they feel about video, in much the same way that the quickest litmus test of a cashier's honesty is how they feel about a camera pointed at the cash drawer.

    If they demur, you have to wonder why.

  4. says

    I'm a prosecutor by profession. Since the day I started the job I have been a missionary for cameras everywhere my police officers go and tried to get them to film everything they do.

    Tam is right, honest people are proud to be seen.

  5. marco73 says

    The various shows with police videos have been around for what, 25 years? Generally the voiceover is done with a grave, authoritarian tone. Heros in blue and all that.
    Now that just about any ignorant clod can push a couple buttons and post just about every action of the police in public, all of a sudden the public is "wiretapping" and invading privacy.
    Please – you let the genie out of the bottle when you starting releasing dash cam videos, and what local newscast is complete without accident, rescue, or fire footage.
    Sure there are bad cops out there. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

  6. Bergman says

    If it's defamatory to show a video of cops actually committing crimes or behaving improperly, then it is also defamatory that police provide press releases to news media prior to an actual conviction of the suspect.

  7. nrasmuss13 says


    Can we say "perp walk"? Last refuge of a prosecutorial scoundrel it would seem. Case in point well illustrated by the recent DSK matter, I think — a misogynistic s***head the man may be, but a strong case for rape? Apparently not one that couldn't be made stronger by a public display of the disgraced "rapist" in cuffs on his way to meet his supposedly well deserved desserts…

    Given your former work as a federal prosecutor, Ken, I'm curious about your thoughts: given the rather grotesque nature of the modern perp-walk, how is this squared with either the constitutional mandate of "innocent until proven guilty" or the canons of ethics? (besides a lame claim that it's all done at the discretion of the police without prosecutorial oversight or authority?). I can understand why a driven-to-win prosecutor might overlook this; why do judges? Have we really sunk so low?

  8. says

    honest people are proud to be seen.

    I dunno. Would I want a video camera following me around? No.

    I still say (like I have for years) that cops should be walking video stations, both for their protection and ours, because of the nature of their job. They get to initiate force, which is a huge responsibility. But I object to this "if you have nothing to hide then why do you object to being recorded?" argument, even if being applied to cops.

    all of a sudden the public is "wiretapping" and invading privacy.

    Consent is a critical component of this.

  9. says

    I want to alter a car so that it has 360° photo coverage and audio. Both would automatically upload to servers both within and outside the US. Control of the functions would be beyond the driver's control.

    A notice that all interactions with the car are being recorded would be mounted above the front doors of the car. A more detailed description of the recording and distribution would be available.

    What sort of notice is required in states like IL to avoid their narrow 'evesdropping' laws?

  10. Scott Jacobs says

    More than you can possibly perform, since it is a duel-consent state.

    Which is where they try to get people when they tape the cops – they neither inform the police, nor gain their consent. However, I would love to try it some time.

    Me: "Officer, I will be recording, via video and audio, our interaction, if that is alright with you."

    Officer: "It is not…"

    Me: "Well then, I guess you don't need to talk to me then, do you. I'll just be on my way then…"

  11. Rrr says

    … a duel-consent state

    must be a pretty hard challenge to meet … back to the Old West, eh?

  12. Krioni says

    Pro-Tip: Want to gain the experience of being assaulted by the police? Walk near an Occupy Wall Street march (even on the sidewalk and moving along).

  13. Scott Jacobs says

    Yeah, because people who didn't actively antagonize the cops got assaulted by the police all the time at those things.

    Fucking dipshit.

    While most of us here have a healthy dislike of the police (and authority in general), we also understand that such a dislike doesn't mean we should go around pissing the cops off for giggles.

    You feckless bumble-fucking assclown.

  14. says

    I hate to stop you in the middle of a quality rant, Scott, but I have read reports of non-OWS people claiming they were abused by police merely for being near OWS protests.

    I don't believe it simply because they say it, but nothing in what I have learned about police conduct makes me view it as inherently incredible.

  15. Scott Jacobs says

    Though what I have observed of the OWS crowd makes me even more suspicious that these "non-OWS" people were a) not just "minding their own business" and b) probably were actually OWS.

    The very carefully edited and staged videos they have out make me more suspicious of the "anti-cop claims" around OWS than I am of most anything else.

  16. Krioni says

    Here you go, Scott. A legal observer from the NLG was arrested for talking on his cell phone while observing police activity from across the street. They throw him onto the hood of a car, zip-tie his hands, then take him away.

    Now, instead of being "suspicious" and lazy, please educate yourself by going out and looking this stuff up for yourself. Video is all over the place that shows police targeting people who are merely exercising their First Amendment rights. I posted a single video for you – you have to do the rest yourself, or be revealed as someone no one here should listen to.

  17. Scott Jacobs says

    First off, cock-monger, I don't consider the NLG to be "non-OWS" since they are regarded as the free legal advice arm or the OWS movement, going so far as having tables and workshops at many of the protest sites.

    Again, the video's that OWS has put out "proving" police excesses are carefully staged and edited to remove the actions of the protestors prior to the police acting.

    As for the video you linked, you failed to mention that the lawyer had – just moments prior – had some interaction with the police.

    The fact that the video-taker feels the need to run and hide every time the cops start to walk towards him suggests his interaction wasn't due to littering either.

    As I said, I am skeptical of the propaganda put out by OWS, and for plenty of good reasons.

  18. Scott Jacobs says

    As for which one of us the folks around here will listen too, I leave that up to them…

    But since you're the fucking new guy, I wouldn't go wagering money, were I you.

  19. Krioni says

    Wow, Scott.
    1) Here's a link to an unedited video showing what happened leading up to that attack. http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/19508535
    I'll summarize, but watch it for yourself if you refuse to listen. Protestors walking on sidewalk – some of the few sober pedestrians on New Year's Eve. Police completely surround them so they can't go anywhere. Police announce: "You are blocking the sidewalk. If you don't disperse you will be arrested." They then arrest people who try to disperse. They push away legal observers and citizen journalists who are watching their mistreatment of protestors. Then, the video segment I linked to previously.

    2) The NLG has a long history of supporting First Amendment rights.

    3) I'd like to know what interaction the legal observer could possibly have had that justified the way he was thrown around and arrested. "Put down the phone!" Seriously, you can think of something we didn't get to see that excuses that kind of abuse of authority?

    4) I addressed you with evidence backing up what I said originally after you threw out baseless accusations of doctored footage. You responded with childish insults. If you comment here regularly, I can only assume everyone else already is familiar with your behavior. You're right, as the new guy, I didn't realize I was feeding the troll.


  1. […] PS: there is an alternate theory going around as to SOPA's real ends that I think has some weight, but for reasons I'll explain I think my theory is the more "dominant". The other line of thinking is that "the powers that be" don't like how much exposure of government abuses are being played on Youtube and the like. […]

  2. […] PS: there is an alternate theory going around as to SOPA’s real ends that I think has some weight, but for reasons I’ll explain I think my theory is the more “dominant”. The other line of thinking is that “the powers that be” don’t like how much exposure of government abuses are being played on Youtube and the like. […]