Mega PixelsCitizen videos have played a considerable role in the fight against racism and police brutality. Sometimes at the cost of deep trauma for the families of victims and their communities.
If Darnella Frazier, on her way to a grocery store in Minneapolis (Minnesota), had not filmed the scene using her mobile phone on May 26, the death of George Floyd would most likely have gone unnoticed among those of a thousand people killed annually by police in the United States.
In the absence of videos, challenging the use of force by the police is reduced to speaking out. This situation is most often unfavorable to citizens, whose comments are more easily questioned than those of the depositaries of public order. Especially when the victims are no longer there to testify. We obviously think of Michael Brown, killed by Darren Wilson in Ferguson in 2014, or of Freddie Gray, descended from a police van with ripped necks, in Baltimore in 2015.
Watching a video means – in theory – having a factual, objective, indisputable story. The American Civil Liberties Association recalls that filming or photographing scenes taking place in a public space is a constitutional right in the United States and, faced with frequent intimidation by law enforcement officers, it encourages citizens to do so .
It is also a recommendation of “Campaign Zero”, an initiative carried out by activists of Black Lives Matter, whose objective is to reduce to zero the number of victims of the police, or of Colin Kaepernick who, since his ouster of the National League of American football for having put a knee on the ground, leads its campaign “Know Your Rights” (“Know your rights”) across the country.
Historically, violence against African Americans in the United States has often emerged in public debate through images. In 1955, a photograph of Emmett Till’s disfigured face was released on the day of his funeral. If it took half a century for the white woman responsible for the lynching of this 14-year-old black teenager, whom she had accused of making advances to him, admits to lying, this photograph nevertheless constituted a trigger for the civil rights movement and has long embodied the brutal reality of racism in American society.
Considerable role of witnesses
In the case of police violence, the most emblematic example remains, of course, the case of Rodney King, filmed by George Holliday, a civilian, when he was beaten in 1991 by Los Angeles police. But witnesses continued to play a considerable role. As in the case of Oscar Grant, shot in the back while handcuffed on the subway in Oakland, California in 2009, a scene filmed by a passenger. Or that of Eric Garner, smothered on Staten Island (New York) in 2014, filmed by his friend Ramsey Orta. Or in the case of Philando Castile, who was shot in his car during a traffic stop in Saint Anthony (Minnesota) – an altercation broadcast live by his partner on Facebook.
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