How to Film Cops the Right Way | Activist Playbook

published on July 2, 2020

you know a lot of the footage that we're

seeing come to light now this has been

happening in over police black and brown

communities for decades and I'm always

taken back to a quote that says the

violence isn't new it's the cameras that

are new now that we all basically have

cameras in our pockets there's a huge

potential here to put power back in the

hands of communities that are so often

discredited or not believe I know that a

lot of folks out there are feeling

helpless right now and don't know how

you can contribute and documentation is

a way that you can help so it's

important to know that there are small

things that you can do to make your

footage more effective to make it more

reliable to make sure that it has a

bigger impact you have the power you

have the right to exercise your First

Amendment and film the police in public


so I'm just going through Twitter right

now I'm searching a caps that I trust to

see where people are at it also looks

like protesters are moving towards the

Brooklyn Bridge

my name is Palika mahkum I'm a media

activist living in Brooklyn New York

I'm also the senior us program

coordinator at witness we support

communities journalists lawyers to use

video to document abuses and advocate

for human rights it's important to know

how to prepare your phone before you

actually go out to a protest or film so

a few of the kind of basic type things

is you know making sure I don't have

touch or face ID on I never do

I might actually set it up right now so

that my photos and my video back up to

the cloud so police are not allowed to

confiscate your phone or look through

your phone without a court order or a

warrant and under no circumstances are

they allowed to delete footage from your

phone in the United States you have a

Fifth Amendment right to not give up any

pass codes or PIN numbers during a legal

proceeding as the law currently stands

it's unclear whether that applies to

face ID or touch ID that's why I

generally tell people that it's safest

to have at least a six digit code on

your phone

sanitizer medication extra mass


if you are going out to protest it's

really helpful to prepare to keep

yourself safe as well if you do have any

large identifiable scars or tattoos it

can also be helpful to cover that up so

you might want to wear long sleeves or

you know a turtleneck even if you don't

know that not telling people to

wear a turtleneck it can also be helpful

to have a legal number written on your

arm or even memorize just because if

it's in your phone and your phone is

lost or stolen or confiscated you still

need that information so I'm going to do

Brooklyn defender services I'm using a

silver sharpie I took like three showers

to get it off me last time and the

silver like really shows up on her skin

so when I went to a protest last week

just completely on a whim I was like

what if I just shoot a quick video on my

cell phone sharing some of the

documentation tips that I'm already

applying right now it was crazy to see

people's reaction it made me realize

that people are thirsty for this

information right now and if that's

something that I can do through

resources or videos or impromptu

trainings that's a role that I'm going

to play and that's a way that I can add

value to my community

so if you're at a protest and you decide

to document police the first thing to

consider is safety both your safety and

the safety of the person that you're

filming whipping out your cell phone can

escalate the situation so it's really

important to think about all these

potential risks to you before you even

press record and start to film there's

other really important ways that you can

stand in solidarity you can bear witness

with your eyes you can take notes

basically no footage is ever worth your

safety so safety is paramount when it

comes to filming police interactions so

the second most important thing to be

aware of are your rights in the United

States you have a First Amendment

constitutional right to film law

enforcement in public spaces you can't

get arrested for filming the police but

you can get arrested for interfering or

obstructing justice which is what we see

more often if police tell you to back up

it's best to just comply with their

orders you can even take your phone and

tilt it down and film your feet as

you're backing up we're seeing a lot of

instances right now where protesters are

being villainized in the media and so

having some sort of documentation that

showed that you're complying with orders

is really helpful if police tell you to

stop filming if you feel comfortable

doing so you can assert your right to

record but of course understand that

this could make things more tense in the

moment you know what your rights are and

how they play out in the street are

often not aligned so the next thing to

think about is what should you actually

film you want to kind of tell a story

with your footage think about the who

where what why when you know ask

yourself if I wasn't here what would I

need to see in order to understand what

happened you want to film details like

badge numbers or if badge numbers are

being hidden by black bands you want to

get those deeds

uniforms you want to show what different

agencies are working together is ice

present our police wearing protective

masks and gloves to keep people safe

from Kovas what weapons do they have do

they have zip ties these are all kind of

details that can show a full picture of

what was happening it's also helpful to

think of your phone as a monitoring

device and be rolling on the police and

monitoring the situation the entire time

so that you can capture some of the

context of what happens before a

situation escalates the next thing you

want to think about is how can you make

sure that your footage is verifiable you

want to show that you were where you

said you were when you said you were

there so some really easy details to

film are landmarks street signs

exteriors of buildings or the home

screen of someone's cell phones you can

see the the time and date it's also

helpful to film continuously you don't

want to keep starting and stopping

because this can fight against the

people claiming that your footage was

manipulated or edited so the next thing

you want to consider is narration do you

want to add your voice to the footage

but if you do narrate it's important to

stick to unbiased facts you want to kind

of think like a sports commentator just

talk about the the who where what why


blocking the bridge entrance but we

continue talking

if violence does occur it is best to

stay quiet because a journalist or

lawyer and in for investigator they'll

need to be able to hear what's happening

in that moment so just staying quiet is

also really powerful and letting your

footage speak for itself so we're gonna

just do like a mini filming the police

at a protest training you can film

horizontally or vertically it's just

about what which way is gonna capture

the most valuable content for example if

I'm filming a burning building that's

tall a skyscraper I might want to film

vertically if I'm trying to get the full

protest scene I might want to film

horizontally another really good tools

to take your elbows sit them above your

hips it's kind of like a little mini

tripod also if you're filming for

evidence if you're filming something

that's like a human right to do so you

want people to see it later you want to

actually hang on the footage for ten

seconds before you pan

to the next stick I think we're super

used to kind of like filming like this

to get the whole scene but it's helpful

if a journalist or a lawyer is gonna see

this later they want to actually be able

to see what's happening in the frame so

stick on a shot for ten seconds before

you pan to the next thing

so the last step is you've filmed a

video of police violence what do you do

with it now the first thing you do is

pause take a deep breath you may have

just witnessed something traumatic you

may have just witnessed something

violent before you share there's a few

questions that are helpful to ask

yourself the first thing to consider is

whether or not you have consent from the

person you just filmed it's helpful just

from a community standpoint to check in

with that person maybe you can check in

with their friends or family and offer

to give them the footage so that they

can decide what to do with it

the next thing to consider is you know

do you need to blur anyone's faces

before you upload this footage YouTube

has a free blurring tool that is super

easy to use you can use it to blur out

people's faces license plates addresses

just in case you need to keep someone's

identity safe we want to use our cameras

to expose police violence and keep our

communities safe you also want to ask

yourself do I want my name associated

with this footage

you know we've seen in the past with

high-profile police violence incidents

that the person filming ended up

becoming the target of police violence

themselves you don't have to share

footage on your personal social media

handles you can share it with a

journalist you can share it with an

advocacy organization and have them

share the footage without tying it back

to you in case you're worried about

retaliation it's helpful to have a

completely unedited version of the

footage to share directly with a lawyer

if you make any edits you need to do so

from a copy you don't want to change

anything about the original footage not

even the name of it so the next thing to

consider is timing sharing your footage

right away immediately doesn't always

yield the biggest impact actually

waiting until the police put out an

official report and then sharing your

video can help highlight any

discrepancies or any lies in their

report if you were to release your

footage beforehand it could give the

police a chance to change around their

story beyond just the safety reasons I

think that it's super important to pause

and think through the ethics of why

you're sharing footage you know as a

general rule of thumb for myself I

personally don't share and reshare

footage of high-profile police violence

on my social media pages I know that

there's other effective ways that I can

inform people without forcing them to be

retry Mathai z'd by that footage even

with the George Floyd footage I actually

hadn't watched the footage up until a

few days ago I read all the description

I'd read about all the different camera

angles the surveillance footage

but personally for my personal mental

health and to be able to do this work I

decided not to watch it up until

recently when I had to analyze the

footage for a case study and it was

horrific it's it's one of the most

devastating things I've ever seen and I

would like to live in a world where we

don't have to see that footage to care

about black or brown bodies video alone

can't make change video might spark

people but the sustained change you know

that we're seeing from Minneapolis to

New York to all over the country that

happens because of local advocates and

local organizers who've been doing this

work on the ground for years and it's

important that we face this it's

important that we expose it and even if

video doesn't lead to justice in or out

of a courtroom having video

documentation makes it harder for people

to deny what's happening to us and deny

what's happening to people in this

country and it's really important to us

that this information is democratized

and and shared with communities around

the world so that people out there have

the power and feel empowered and

reinforced to be able to do this filming


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