What do you do if you see police brutality? Like I know stand back and film it if you can but then what? What do you do with the film? Is there anything else you can do?
Alright I’m going to answer this for people who document police brutality against themselves and what someone who observes this violence can do.
1. DO NOT start telling the officer(s) what you are going to do to them. If you start telling them that you know your rights have been violated and you’re going to sue, they aren’t going to cower in fear. Instead, they’re more likely going to arrest you as a means to cover the violations and work to cover up what they did/build their case to WHY they needed to use violence against you. If you were injured and need medical attention tell them “I am in need of medical assistance,” but don’t mention you are recording and documenting with plans to bring this abuse to light.
2. To people who are victims of police violence and those who witness it: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. When cops are exposed for their misconduct one of their defenses will be that the victims cannot clearly remember the details of the event and therefore the narrative is untrustworthy. If you are the victim, try to remember exactly what happened and document it ASAP. Try to remember important details as much as possible and write it down before you forget everything. Try to answer the place where the abuse happened, who witnessed the abuse, what did the cop(s) do, what did the cop(s) say, and try to timeline the events. Even if you don’t know the names of people who might have witnessed it, try to write down any detailed descriptions about the person.
If you are a bystander try to film and/or document the incident. Again, don’t try to draw attention to the fact you are filming because cops will go into cover up mode. Also make sure to install and app and set up your phone so that the footage is automatically uploaded to your cloud. This is so you for sure have the footage and if any cop does try to stop you or unlawfully confiscates your phone/deletes your video it’s still there. And try to make sure you get the cop’s name and number.
Tips for recording the police:
- Keep calm but prepare yourself if you are confronted by a police officer.
If a police officer asks if or why you are recording you have the right to remain silent. The police might tell you that you are “interfering” with the scene, they might demand you move back, they might try to lower your camera down or block it. Remember that you ARE allowed to record police officers and as long as you are not being detained you can walk away.
- As long as you, the recorder, are not suspected of a crime you do not have to show ID or give them any information. They might try to get your device handed to them or get you to show ID but you can ask “What crime am I suspected of,” and “Am I being detained.” If they say “no,” then you don’t have to give over any of this.
- If you have a smartphone, consider downloading an app that will stream and store the recordings offsite. For both Android and iOS you can use apps like Bambuser, Fi-Vo Film, Justin.TV, Ustream, and Vimeo. These live streaming apps will capture both audio and video and (as long as you’re able to get an Internet signal) push the content offsite. If you are in a location with no Internet access, many apps will save the streaming data to your phone, and upload once the device has signal.Here’s some other apps that might come in handy in this situation.
- Understand the laws in your state when it comes to recording an officer. It’s legal in every state to film the police, they might try to tell you it’s not but it is. However, there are some state with restrictions related to the recording of audio. Some states require two-party consent, and some states aren’t explicitly clear on this so if you are in one of these states or the legislation isn’t clear in your state inform the other parties present that you are recording.
3. Now what do you do with this documentation? Collect yourself, calm down and then organize your case. When you’re still in a state of shock you might miss crucial information or sound confusing. Use all your documents and notes and thoughts to organize a refined summary of events. If you are taking this to a lawyer they want to see that you can sell this case. By the time you give these notes to a lawyer, your information should include a chronological story or what happened, what you saw, and any potential witnesses. Answer those who, what, when, where, why questions.
Now, don’t just go to any lawyer. They are already hesitant to pick up cases regarding police violence so be prepared for some rejection. Also, try not to find a lawyer that works with cops or does cases for them - find ones in your state that specialize in handling police misconduct. This will require some questions and research. Here’s a small list of some to help you out, but there are many more out there. Even if you weren’t arrested by the police but experienced abuse, it’s recommended that you report the cop(s).
4. Another option is to file police complaints. Internal police divisions will RARELY find that their officers did anything wrong but there are other ways you can file complaints. After criminal charges and civil actions have been resolved you can start filing police misconduct reports, if you weren’t charged of a crime and you’re not suing then you can file ASAP. Your area will usually have a citizen review board, an office within your local police department that accepts them, or you can find what your options are by Googling “police complaint [name of town/city].“
Look at what the various options are and send the complaint to all of the ones you find within your area. Make sure to see what you have to do when filing a complaint, you might need to fill out certain forms or send over the information you have. Pay attention to what’s needed so your complaint isn’t outright rejected. Note, some areas might require you obtain some forms through the police department. Avoid discussing your case and who is involved at all costs, they might try to convince you that your case has no merit, they might intimidate you, and they might warn the officers involved.
5. You probably won’t get a quick response from the police department or civilian monitoring agency but it DOES create an official record of the incident and it could become relevant in future cases against the same officer. You can also send the complaints and documentation to your local ACLU and other civil rights groups in your area. Some might even deal exclusively with police abuse.
6. Go public. Note, if you have an attorney, this might not be recommended so talk to them about it but if you’ve filed your complaints or don’t want to do that you can just bring the incident to light. There are websites that take your stories, photos, videos, etc. like Cop Block. Cop Block also has local organizations and they might have websites that direct you how to file complaints specifically in your area. (Here’s the list)