Shafiq Abdussabur: Citizen Journalism Videos Reshaping Police Use of Deadly Force

By Abdussabur, Shafiq | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), May 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Shafiq Abdussabur: Citizen Journalism Videos Reshaping Police Use of Deadly Force


Abdussabur, Shafiq, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


On July 17, 2014, New York citizen Ramsey Orta recorded, via cellphone, the incident of NYPD officers putting Eric Garner in a chokehold, which led to Garner's death. During the raw video footage, police can be heard threatening to arrest Orta for his filming of the incident.

Though Orta's video was not the only footage of the incident, it would become a part of a revolution of amateur videos hitting social media networks that greatly influence the public's opinion on police behaviors towards civilians. Orta's statement as to why he filmed this account was recorded in his testimony on the incident to the New York grand jury.

It was clear that when Orta filmed the incident, he had no idea that Garner would die, or that his video would perpetuate the already existing social unrest between the police and urban America.

And surely he did not know his video would serve as the foundation to a series of police-related deaths involving unarmed black males captured by everyday citizens seeking to establish social change.

Citizen reporting is not a new concept to the age of the Internet or introduction of the cellphone.

Though many Americans attribute the development of social media to the saturation and rise of citizen reporting, the behavior could be better linked to the development of handheld digital recorders. On March 3, 1991, California citizen George Holliday used his digital camera to film the beating of a black male motorist by a group of white Los Angeles police officers.

This account would become most known as "the Rodney King beating" and as the most infamous civilian-made video footage. Holliday's video created two dynamic changes to the way the media networks reported the news. Before the Rodney King video, such footage would have had to go through a strict editing process, which would take into account the reporter's liability to the network.

Because Holliday was not an employee of a news network, there was little repercussion to the network for showing the video. It now fell under a legal loophole that kept it from claiming any social responsibility.

More importantly, Holliday's video had an impact that shocked the public consciousness by exposing the police brutality of black people, whose claims had gone unrecorded for decades. Despite millions of dollars spent by news agencies deploying professional reporters in the field, the most provocative and socially impacting video was produced for free by an average man who wanted to document what he believed to be an act of injustice. Holliday would not be the last citizen to capture shocking video footage, though he would be best known as having done so.

The age of the "camera-phone" has now capitalized on the five senses of the news consumers and online social justice seekers.

In 2002, cellphone technology would introduce built-in cameras creating a new chapter to a citizen's ability to engage in on-the- spot amateur reporting. In January 2007, Apple launched its first iPhone, improving on its rival, the Blackberry, by including video- recording capability.

These were more than cellphones; they were "smart" phones. In addition, these phones were also equipped with a high-resolution camera and Internet capability. As several "smart" phones were entering the market, social media was also evolving and developing. Expediting and accommodating images and videos via cellphone became as easy as downloading an application, better known as an "app" that would put the functionality of your desktop in the palm of your hand.

This advancement in technology could have been viewed as a driving force of reducing a citizen's danger. It could also be viewed as the deciding factor in a citizen's role in reporting.

But as this advancement sweeps the world, we have to question the responsibility of those civilian reporters. …

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