Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Who Watches the Watchmen? Now, Everybody.

Good Morning All!

Jackson here.

Just saw a very interesting post on boingboing.net

NYPD cops videoed illegally warring on photographers

"In March 2007, a free speech and free assembly rally was held in Union Square to protest a new NYPD rule of dubious constitutionality instituting a permit requirement for any assembly of 50+ people on foot or on bike in NYC.

While the restriction would apply to any assembly of 50 or more people, it was enacted as transparent attempt shut down, harass or frustrate the Critical Mass bicycle rides that have occured monthly in Manhattan for at least ten years.

After the rally proper, a Critical Mass ride (accompanied by citizen videographers from the Glass Bead Collective and other groups) set out north from Union Square, only to be subjected to outrageous and illegal treatment by NYPD officers in Times Square under the supervision and instigation of Sgt. Timothy Horhoe.

Despite the numerous video-verified complaints of unlawful arrest and the numerous provably false sworn statements in police reports documenting the incident, the Civilian Complaint Review Board said in March of this year that they cannot act to punish the officers involved for their willful perjury."

So, to distill: bunch of bicyclists were exercising their right to ride around and snap pictures of stuff. The NYPD, apparently under orders to do so, were knocking cats off of their bikes and arresting those who dared photograph or videotape the arrest proceedings.

The arrests did not go smoothly. But the NYPD couldn't arrest everybody, and so there is much video evidence of the arrests. Lots of screaming and flailing, you get the picture.

Not surprisingly, the videos tell a tale much different than the arrest reports.

So now we have an interesting conjunction of forces. The police doing their job, and citizens filming them doing it. What it boils down to is transparency and accountability. Video evidence provides us with both.

As history has shown us time and time again, put a person in a position of power over others and they will abuse that power. They will do it because they can. This doesn't mean that they're bad people, it just speaks to the intoxicating nature of power.

John F. Kennedy once said: "Secrecy is the enemy of Democracy." (I paraphrase)

For a true democracy to exist, the watchers must be watched, and allow themselves to be watched, for the good of both the state and society.

The rumblings of the people's wishes for an accountable and transparent society have begun, and that rumbling is getting louder.

Sites like RateMyCop, and PoliceWatch allow users rate their local police and upload videotapes of questionable police activity. While this is currently viewed as radical and incendiary, it is well within our constitutional rights and an absolute necessity to ensure a democratic and free society. (Does it not speak volumes about the way we currently live that transparency and accountability should be considered incendiary?)

Why should this be an issue?

If a policeman or woman is acting within the letter of the law, acting truly as a Peace Officer, then they should have no qualms about being taped while carrying out their duty. It is only when the rights of citizens are being trampled in order for the police to "control the situation" that being filmed becomes an issue.

In a world where everyone is a cameraman, this issue is not going away anytime soon.

This little issue is going to force us to reevaluate our stance toward Control and Power.
Who should have control or power over another?
Why should they have it?
What manner of accountability should those doing the controlling have to those who are controlled?

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I am deeply compassionate to the job the NYPD do. The insanity of what they are required to do on a day to day just boggles my mind. Imagine spending your morning talking to a group of schoolchildren about drug safety and your evening having bullets flying by your head. That's an incredible disparity of function, and quite a thing to ask of someone. The police are good and necessary, as long as they are acting with peace and the public good in mind.

Here's a beautiful (paraphrased) quote that I think sums things up nicely:

"In an era when everything can be observed, all we have left is politeness."
-Neal Stephenson

We the citizenry must treat those entrusted with the act of controlling us with compassion and manners, and they must treat us exactly the same way.

Improve your environment. Treat those around you with compassion and respect.
When tempers flare and things get intense, that's when you need manners and respect the most.

Love to all,


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