I can’t remember the last time we went a solid week without a news story chronicling an unfortunate collision of cops and cameras. Every time I scan my feeds, there’s either a think piece on the legality of American citizens recording the police in public, or a specific report in which a confrontation between officers and a smartphone-wielding bystander turns either ugly or tragic.
Let’s set aside for a moment that A) recording the possible misconduct of a public servant occurring in public is not only perfectly justifiable but to be encouraged; B) the police must be held to a higher standard than most other citizens and “policed” accordingly; and C) making the recording of police officers doing their jobs in public illegal will do absolutely nothing to deter the practice. Let’s instead focus on the question each new story inspires in my mind:
Knowing at least half the people on the streets have a video camera in their pockets, why the fuck do some police officers continue to not only use excessive force, but also to accost, threaten and even assault the people capturing it — in front of other people, and other cameras?
The standard, cynical answer seems to be hubris, that some officers think they’re untouchable. I tend to think that it’s simple habit, combined with a type of group denial. Like all entrenched institutions, the law enforcement industry is, at its core, deeply conservative. And the thing any conservative entity fears above all else is change, the upsetting of the status quo. When faced with change, the conservative entity’s natural reaction is to ignore it, to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Some authorities respond to any and all questions regarding their authority with wholly unwarranted force because some authorities have always done it that way, that’s all. It’s always worked out, and a few gawkers with iPhones aren’t going to change that. It is as it was, and ever it shall be, forever and ever, amen.
Except change happens all the time, despite the best efforts of pretty much all of history’s conservative entities. Around the world, the universal, wonderful, terrible, inevitable thing about change is this: it doesn’t give a shit about approval.
There will be more smartphones in more pockets. There will be more and bolder documentarians. We like to think there won’t be plenty of American folks walking around in the real world with a Google Glass on their mugs, douchecasting their existence, but there definitely will. There will be more overzealous police officers too focused on “subduing” a homeless schizophrenic to notice they’re being recorded until the only options left to them are (possibly career-ending) acceptance or (illegal) intimidation.
And there will be a flashpoint. Here in America, as it does elsewhere, change will find an opportunistic incident, and exert the pivotal force of its influence.
Which leads me to the second question that immediately comes to mind every time I read a news story about cops putting someone in the hospital for the crime of capturing an instance of authoritarian misconduct:
When that flashpoint is finally reached in this nation, how costly will it be?
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