We may have reached the point where video technology is producing a full-fledged revolution in policing. That revolution has been crystalized, or at least revealed by, the events in Ferguson.

The first element of that revolution is a growing expectation among Americans that any dramatic event that takes place in public will be recorded on video. As I argued last January:

We are currently transitioning toward a new set of societal expectations surrounding video surveillance. Under the old expectation, the default expectation was that any given event would not be photographed. In this mindset we hear people exclaim in wonderment when an incident "happens to" get caught on camera. That is rapidly being replaced by a new mindset in which the default expectation is that something taking place in public will be recorded.

Sure enough, in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, we saw much discussion of video, or the lack of it. The result of this trend is that, like it or not, the actions of police officers will increasingly be photographed. Officers or departments can fight mandates to wear body cameras, they can try turning them off when they don’t want their actions recorded, they can refuse to release video to the public, they may allow mysterious technical “accidents” to swallow up video that has been captured, they can try to intimidate citizens into not photographing them, they can even try to steal cameras or memory chips (or seize them as “evidence”) in an effort to prevent video from coming to light. But as the police (along with the rest of us) become increasingly enveloped by video cameras, none of these measures will ultimately withstand the pressure of public expectation. “Something bad has happened? Well let’s see the video!”

If there is no video, that in itself will increasingly come to be viewed as suspicious, and the police will find their credibility weakened.

That dimension of the video revolution in policing will in turn have an even more significant effect. To illustrate how, consider the following passage from Graham Greene’s darkly comic 1958 spy novel, Our Man in Havana:

        ‘How are you certain that Cifuentes is not my agent?’
        ‘By the way you play checkers, Mr. Wormold, and because I interrogated Cifuentes.’
        ‘Did you torture him?’
        Captain Segura laughed. ‘No. He doesn’t belong to the torturable class.’
        ‘I didn’t know there were class-distinctions in torture.’
        ‘Dear Mr Wormold, surely you realize there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea. One never tortures except by a kind of mutual agreement. . . . Dr Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable class.’
        ‘Who does?’
        ‘The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with emigres from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants….
        ‘One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don’t recognize class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or the prisons of Lisbon or Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress.’
        ‘We’re not shocked by that any longer.’
        ‘It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.’

Although the cynicism of Greene’s police captain is exaggerated, there is certainly a core truth here: that as “an instinctive matter” the police know whom they can torture—let us broaden the concept and say “mistreat”—and whom they cannot.

In America, African-Americans, especially but not exclusively those in poor inner-cities, are part of the mistreatable class. Take for example a video like this one, in which a St. Paul man is Tasered (Tasers often being used for punitive torture in response to the act of “dissing a cop”) and arrested for no legitimate reason after he had questioned why he was being ordered to leave an apparently public seating area while waiting to pick up his children from school. It is very hard to imagine that this would have happened to an otherwise identical man who was white.

What about the point Greene’s character makes about “mutual agreement”? The St. Paul man, and most other victims, certainly don’t seem to consent to their mistreatment. Perhaps Greene refers to the fact that oppressed people in some times and places, when their oppression is bad enough, quite rationally recognize that any protest would be futile—a helplessness that contributes to a broader social reality that the authorities are “allowed” to mistreat certain people.

Invisibile or not believed

If police have generally been able to get away with abusing people, then much of the problem lies in the fact that judges, juries, prosecutors, and the public have too often deemed police officers more credible than abuse victims—especially black and poor victims. Part of the power that police have wielded comes from knowing that, should their victims complain, they will experience the nightmare of not being believed.

I give the American public enough credit to believe that if police have had wide latitude to abuse black people (and others in Greene’s “torturable classes”), it is only because such abuse is either invisible or not believed. There may be a segment of the population that, out of fear and prejudice, would like to give the police license to abuse African-Americans, but I think the public at large wouldn’t tolerate it—if nothing else, because it does not comport with the story we tell ourselves about who we are.

So that is the other part of the video revolution in policing: increasingly, abuse of this kind will no longer be hidden, and the victims will be believed. Without his cellphone camera, the St. Paul man may well have received jail time, or at best have just been sent along to stew in his own anger. Instead, he’s at least had the satisfaction of seeing his situation become a controversy, sparking press coverage and forcing a response from the police. And his formal complaint may or may not be satisfactorily addressed, but it will certainly not be buried.

If the police find it increasingly hard to abuse citizens, that will be true not only because there will often be video (or hard questions about its absence), but also because, as Conor Friedersdorf summed up nicely in the headline of a recent piece, “Video Killed Trust in Police Officers.” The antecedent of course was the Rodney King beating, but in the past several years the combination of a video camera in every pocket and YouTube has generated an increasingly regular supply of videos showing civilians being abused by officers. This has opened a broader spectrum of people’s eyes to these realities, and that spectrum will only grow wider over time.

That Ferguson may represent a watershed moment in this dynamic is somewhat ironic since the shooting of Michael Brown was not caught on video. But the very lack of a video record of Brown’s shooting has only confirmed the dynamic I discussed above, sparking widespread calls for mandatory police body cameras (and prompting the Ferguson police to adopt the technology several weeks after the shooting). And the video-driven “death of trust” in police probably played a role in amplifying the situation in Ferguson—drawing the interest of reporters and the national public, influencing the balance of opinion about how likely it was that the police officer was in the wrong, and generally changing how the situation was perceived.

The Ferguson uprising may be forgotten in a year, but there’s also a chance that it will come to be seen as a significant inflection point—the moment when awareness crystalized among both African Americans and police officers that there is no longer a "torturable class" in the United States.

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Anonymous paramedic

Well, I don't like it when they do it in violation of HIPAA. People have a right to not be videotaped by press members while they're being placed into the ambulance. Why don't you people mind your own damn business - or GET some business for yourself to mind.
You have no idea how distressed it makes some patients to have their every action recorded by people they most of the time rightly believe are those who care more about a sensational story than the actual victims living out the story as a personal nightmare.
I've had people call up the fire department and directly ask to "ride with" us "on the next really gory call you get."
I told him he has to ask that to the Captain, or at least the Unit Commander, of which I'm neither. But someone asking you that and the person's not EVEN a reporter is too weird indeed and feels like nothing more than a sick fascination with human suffering.
So when does it go from being genuine interest in people as a whole to sick fascination with watching OTHER people's pain?
I don't know but I know HIPAA's not too damn subtle. They've gone way over to the other side, probably on purpose just to weed out REALLY crazy people whose desire seems way more to do with enjoying human suffering than showing an interest in improving public relations.

Anonymous

J.K Rowling HATES that attitude of being in the class of being torturable or untorturable class of people. She's demonstrating it in Harry Potter by talking about House Elves, who expect to be treated like crap by wizards and wizards who are okay with someone's acceptance of being in a torturable class.

She discusses this concept so freely in all of her books that I think it's the REAL reason they get banned and not that sorcery reference bull crap Christians are always pulling out of their butts to excuse why they hate her.

JB Smith

The brain initiative and Obama Care are the great deceptions and two of the worst deceptions perpetrated on the citizens of the United States of America. State and Local law enforcement are implanting innocent citizens with a biochip. According to "A Note on Uberveillance" by MG & Katina Michael, it's "like big brother on the inside looking out." "Safeguards in a World of Ambient Intelligence" by Springer page 9 states, "law enforcement would have us believe that we can only be safe as long as they know where we are at all times, what we’re doing and what we are 'thinking'". It is such an invasion of privacy. They use the active denial system to make you think you are hearing voices - it has technology like the audio spotlight and attempt to put you into a state of what the NIJ calls “excited delirium”. Next they use Psyops like stalking, drugs, kidnapping, whatever they can to either 1) put you in a "crisis stabilization ward" (to take away your 2nd Amendment rights) or 2) a prison or 3) give you an infectious disease. It is a plan for law enforcement to confiscate all guns so they can torture you without fear for their lives. They are targeting female Christians and military veterans. Go to Rutherford Institute and check out Brandon Raub. His lawyers uncovered the plot against our veterans and made it public in court papers. They take you to crisis stabilization wards even if you're not a danger to yourself or others and show no sign of mental illness. Why? Because there is a Supreme Court Case by Justice Cardoza - Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital,105 N.E. 92 (1914 ) that says anyone of sound mind and not a criminal has a right to say what goes in their body or on their body. They want to ensure there is no way you can get this off. No one in America wants this level of privacy invasion. In addition, it allows law enforcement the opportunity to torture you at will with sleep deprivation, heart attacks and other pains. The active denial system can murder without leaving a mark! The Bio Initiative Report with 2014 additions details all the cancers, diseases and disabilities it causes. Hence, the need for Obama Care and to open all American’s medical records for law enforcement to altar. The Joint Non-lethal Weapons Directorate used untested military applications on me! Police are using Police Foundations to purchase military technology that is unconstitutional. Who is overseeing what the foundations are purchasing. In Newport News, Virginia it is hand held active denial systems, pain rays, MED USA units and hand held tera hertz scanners. They got caught by the Daily Press trolling the local university complaining over their scanner they only see fat chicks. Perverts.

Anonymous

The arrogance of the boys in blue will eventually cause a reaction with the American public. The culture of our LEOs that encourages loyalty to each other before the obligations to the people and their job descriptions encourages abuse of power and corruption. But it's going to take a near uprising for Joe Sixpack and Suzy Soapopera's involvement in reform.
More than 50% of Americans own smart phones. Recording incidents on the street and then posting on social media is becoming more common every day. When the public's tolerance for brutal abuse of anyone questioning the authority of our police reaches the tipping point and an incident goes viral on the internet we will see serious efforts to change things. If anyone doesn't think this scenario is almost a given then skip Vegas and send me your money.

Anthony Endres

F you are a minority, poor, or just a regular common person in "America" you should be videotaping in public the Police with a smart-phone app.
Since you are co-responsible for the safety of everyone around, including that of the the police from a safe distance. No guns nor lawyers needed that way to prove deadly crimes, police brutality or organized hate-crime, including hate crime murders.

jim heffner

I thought after Rodney King that Kelly Thomas would be the tipping point.
I wonder how many major media sources gave full coverage to the Fullerton debacle. Hopefully the major players in news coverage will take some hints from our social media and realize that their old censorship method, the 'If we don't print it , it didn't happen' method, will be trumped by the internet.

Bruce Goldstein

This article is insane! Do you really think that having cameras everywhere is going to INCREASE civil liberties? What you're proposing is an Orwellian nightmare. Your argument that this level of surveillance increases the security of the under-privileged is thin indeed. Actually downright suspicious from the standpoint of someone from the street looking up! Do we want a "Web of Steel" as the chief of London described his security system here in MY country?! I am amazed to see this article by the ACLU. You've been extreme in your criticism of our Intel agencies...and now this? No personal privacy whatsoever is your prescription for society? It leads me to wonder why so little of YOUR organization is transparent.

Anonymous

Why can't we run the new psych test for Narcissists with all new police hires and simply screen a room full of them by asking: "Who puts themselves first?" Anyone who stands up won't see what's wrong with that and likely has selfishness, lack of empathy and a great potential for sociopathy along with that gun at their side. Time for more screening to avoid the cowboy cops from the get-go, then more afterwards to ensure our social media-obsessed world of "selfie-ists" don't creep into our police forces. Police should be community-driven, law-abiding (of the utmost caliber, no pun), and believe in the ability of people to overcome, to change and have people who love them. In short - they should value our lives, sometimes above their own - that, to me, is what a hero is. All you ever hear police saying is how they have to come home alive since a criminals life is worth nil. They always, always, always call suspects criminals. Just look on YouTube at any officer-involved shooting (for ex. Vallejo, CA) in which the suspect is trashed in the comments below. What kind of people would trash the dead in such a brutal, selfish, disgusting manner? I have some ideas. Fact is, it's wrong to victimize the decedents loved ones after they've already been victimized so horribly already - in my opinion.

Anonymous

I like the first commentators response. I had never even considered that argument of civilians having the right to be videotaped or not! Wow! What a touchy subject. Well I personally feel that there is NO WAY of ever fully knowing who will flip out, beat a civilian when arrested or racially profile anyone they come in contact with. This really has gotten ridiculous and I personally feel that the police are being generalized and stereotyped like these people claim they are as well! Does it seem like instead of demonizing them that maybe some of the "empathy" blacks are requesting could be shared with cops also? Imagine everyday of your career getting up to go in for your shift and knowing you will definetly encounter a shooting, deaths, robberies, arson, stabbings, domestic violence.... How would YOU favor mentally and emotionally? Would they know they were getting more intolerant of criminals to the point of harming someone? Who is in charge in the department of knowing this cops normal and routine police behaviour and in doing so, being able to distinguish between normal and something's out of whack? They should be really backing eachother up within the department and being able to get them help if needed PRIOR to these incidents. Believe me, they know eachother very well. I hear that their are cops involved in cults, and child molestation rings! But that is not ALL of them. If cops end up having to wear recorders, then please for gods sake, push and rally for pedophiles to do the same upon release! And childcare workers! And teachers!! It cannot just be about THEM you know! Get over yourselves and try to do something for the rest of society if you want to be having your argument successful! Give and get!

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