Academic journal article Framework

Criminalizing Dissent: Western State Repression, Video Activism, and Counter-Summit Protests 1

Academic journal article Framework

Criminalizing Dissent: Western State Repression, Video Activism, and Counter-Summit Protests 1

Article excerpt

George Holliday's grainy nighttime footage ofthe beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers on March 3, 1991, became one of the most famous harbingers of the immense impact that the growing availability of video technology to consumers would have upon the commercial mediascape and government authority. It marked how video would become a central terrain of struggle between everyday people and those in power. KTLA's airing of this amateur-shot video signaled how citizen journalism gradually challenged and became integrated into the bastions of commercial media. It also brutally and economically exposed an instance oframpant abuse that the LAPD routinely delivered upon poor people of color-something well known by those communities under assault but generally ignored by the rest of the populace.

Yet, despite the seeming self-evidence of the abuse the video documented, its meaning was rerouted by the defense attorneys during the trial of the four officers to suggest that it actually and counterintuitively revealed King's noncompliance and need to be beaten.2 All four officers were acquitted.

In a condensed form, the trajectory ofthe video's first appearance on network news to its frame-by-frame analysis during court proceedings expose the struggles over video by different interests. Meaning is always deeply contested with different actors trying to lay sole claim to the truth. The video's circuitous route illustrates Stuart Hall's observation of how "popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged: it is also the stake to be won or lost in the struggle. It is the area of consent and resistance. It is partly where hegemony arises, and where it is secured."3

With its increasing availability to Western consumers, video technology has played an important role in activism. This can be most recently seen in the Black Lives Matter movement that has used video to catalyze debates regarding the prison-industrial complex and racism in general. Similarly, WeCopWatch, an umbrella group that has assisted in fostering cop watch groups in local communities nationwide across the United States, shows the vital importance in employing video to make police more accountable and assist in community building. But these recent developments are a part of a longer history ofvideo activism. In order to better contextualize this recent emergence of video activism, which in part has its own own unique historical conditions, one must sketch its links to earlier forms of video activism in exposing state violence and organizing collective action.

This essay looks at two major developments regarding activist uses of video during street protests in Western industrialized countries, which can help historically frame more recent uses ofvideo activism by groups like WeCopWatch and Black Lives Matter: (1) how video and digital media-making has become a central activist tactic especially in exposing state violence through alternative frameworks and distribution networks, providing evidence in court to clear protesters of inflated charges of criminal conduct, and offering material support for those charged; and (2) how the state has increasingly criminalized dissent by extending the definition of "domestic terrorism" to include many forms of civil disobedience and direct action protest, which has legitimated the police in attacking and arresting media-makers attending such protests. I place particular emphasis upon the 2003 FTAA (Free Trade of the Americas) protests in Miami and the 2008 RNC (Republican National Convention) protests in St. Paul since they represent turning points with regard to Western state repression against protesters and independent media as well as indicate some of the innovative strategies video activists have utilized to counter such repression.

Neoliberal Influences

Both the escalation of police repression against protesters and the rise of video activism have their origins in neoliberal developments. …

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