B. With or Without You, Government
“When wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.”
- Thomas Jefferson
As Jefferson foreshadowed, our moral duty has become resistance. Irrespective of whether the American government sanctions the acts of police officers who choose to prevent, suppress, or destroy video evidence of their misconduct, it is self-evident that such acts are wrong. Police departments cannot be allowed to continue condoning clear abuses of power at the expense of innocent civilians, and officers cannot continue committing them under color of law. Therefore, our duty to engage in peaceful civil disobedience through recording police misconduct is clear. Thankfully, our greatest weapon is now within reach for hundreds of millions of Americans at any time, notwithstanding the deep-seated police culture that actively works to impede its use.
As common experience and social science have demonstrated, the perception of oversight can have a positive effect on ethical behavior. If the officers who beat Rodney King had known that their conduct would be televised nationwide and become topics of political discourse for decades, they would undoubtedly have altered their behavior for the better. In light of this knowledge, every officer must believe that his or her misconduct can and will be recorded and played back endlessly on the internet, by media outlets, and in courtrooms. Further, to the best of our ability, we must work to make that belief true.
Students should pair with organizations--such as the National Lawyers' Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Copwatch--that have already begun to take up the cause. The National Lawyers' Guild (NLG) has created a program to train and disseminate legal observers--individuals who attend and record protests and other events likely to produce conflicts between the public and the police. The ACLU of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) has released an application for mobile phones running the Android operating system called “Police Tape,” which allows users to record video and audio discreetly. First, the application disappears from the phone's screen when recording begins. Second, the application can send a copy of the recording to the ACLU for backup and storage so that a recording remains intact even if the police attempt to delete the video or destroy the phone. Discussing the ACLU-NJ's motivation for developing this application, Executive Director Deborah Jacobs said, “Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don't feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.” Copwatch, a network of individual organizations dedicated to monitoring the police, has taken this newfound capability very seriously. For example, the primary aim of Oakland Copwatch is to ensure that “incidents of police brutality will never go undocumented, unreported, and that the cop will never go free from prosecution.” The founder of Orlando Copwatch, John Kurtz, was recently convicted of resisting arrest for pointing his camera at police and saying, “Calm down, I am filming you.” Such organizations and their courageous members are the natural allies of law students as we move forward.