Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hey officer, we're watching you

You've heard all about it by now. Early in the morning on New Year's Day, police in Oakland, California, had a man down on his belly on a BART platform -- a suspect in a fight with other passengers. Suddenly, in full view of other holiday revelers traveling home, Officer Johannes Mehserle draws his pistol and shoots 22-year-old Oscar Grant III in the back. Camera-equipped cell phones on the scene captured the incident as it happened, putting the telling of the tale on YouTube and beyond the power of official spin.

Oakland broke out in rioting as a result, and we have yet to see the last of the fallout. That's happened in the past in the aftermath of apparent police misconduct, whether negligent or malicious (we don't yet know in this case). But rarely, if ever, before has the public been so motivated by a story driven less by professional media reports than by raw footage taken and distributed by citizens bypassing formal channels.

Fast as the media was to respond, it relied on the amateur video captured at the scene --and even professional reports were then edited and repurposed by citizen journalists dedicated to telling their own version of the tale. When speaking to the jaded pros, police spokespeople have found themselves chasing a story driven by grassroots outrage -- one that couldn't be put to rest by stroking a few familiar faces.

Citizen journalism is coming into its own. Video cameras, cell-phone camers, PDAs and the Internet are handing tools to regular people that allow them to communicate and distribute information as never before. The stories they tell are often unpolished, but they're real, they can tell unpleasant truths, and they can reach vast audiences in unfiltered form.

Authorities are starting to clue in -- and to respond in ham-handed form. After Grant was shot, police tried to confiscate cell phones on the scene that had recorded the incident.

But almost everybody has a cell phone these days. They're small, and easy to conceal.

The revolution in journalism can't bring back the dead. But it can help to ensure that the guilty are held accountable and that the truth is widely known.



Blogger Kent McManigal said...

This was a disgusting murder. Even more disgusting are the comments I have heard from the tyranny-deniers who say "well, we don't really know the whole story.... he must have done something...".

January 11, 2009 2:48 PM  
Anonymous MacK said...

Kent isn't it amazing. If there is video of Joe citizen doing something the first thing cops say "it clear as day by the video", but when it is a cop they quickly warn "that the video does not tell all".

January 11, 2009 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three more interesting reads on this event.

January 12, 2009 5:32 AM  
Anonymous fsilber said...

I saw a fairly clear video on youtube. It looked to me like the cop who shot wasn't even looking at the victim at that moment and was surprised by the sound. If it was a negligent discharge, the victim's survivors can sue for lots of money.

It also seems to me much more likely that a cop would shoot someone accidently than that he'd murder someone in cold blood before a dozen other cops and even more witnesses. That's not to say that cops don't cover up their goofs by making up stories if they can get away with doing so.

January 13, 2009 4:44 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

I agree. Looks like a tragic accident. I understand the victim's relatives already filed a lawsuit for $25,000,000.

An an aside, I found it interesting that the best videos of the incident were taken by passersby. I understand that BART had surveillance cameras covering that area but they supposedly weren't working for some reason. Especially ironic in light of a recent study of surveillance cameras in San Francisco that showed those cameras had no effect on violent crime:

January 13, 2009 7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cameras of THE PEOPLE seem to work when the cops goof, but the cameras of THE STATE never seen to capture their THUGS in a bad situation...interesting how that seems to always happen? Conspiracy, or just a simple case of CYA (cover your azz)?

January 13, 2009 7:12 AM  
Blogger triptyx said...

FSLiber: I'd agree except for one thing. The subject was subdued and on the ground cuffed, while surrounded by four police officers.

What point is there to stand up after you just finished cuffing him and draw your weapon? There are other officers handling crowd control, there are officers surrounding the subject, and he's cuffed on his face on the ground.

This wasn't an accident. There was zero reason to draw the service weapon at that time except with the idea he was going to shoot something. Since he is facing the edge of the platform, and surrounded by officers, the only remaining thing to shoot is - you got it, the guy in cuffs on the ground.

Yes, we're still waiting on facts, and I don't support trying someone in the court of public opinion, I just can't honestly see *any* purpose to drawing a weapon in that situation, except with a mind to shoot the suspect.

January 13, 2009 10:01 AM  
Blogger Ayn R. Key said...

I predicted the day when the police would try to forbid recording their actions.

January 13, 2009 1:30 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

"...There was zero reason to draw the service weapon at that time except with the idea he was going to shoot something...".

So, you're saying the police guy shot him, in front of everybody, out of malice? I think not.

January 13, 2009 6:10 PM  
Blogger Kent McManigal said...

Nah, the cop murdered the guy out of selfless love.

January 13, 2009 6:43 PM  

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