Leaning against the wall of a vacant rowhouse on Mosher Street, Devonte Smith fiddled with a palm-size video camera. A few blocks away, men and boys offered drugs for sale. Calls for “Redline” and “Ray Charles” – names for competing heroin products – echoed in the streets. But Smith wasn’t focusing the camera on the dealers. He was looking for the enforcers. Smith is part of a loosely formed group of Baltimore men who decided over the summer to keep video cameras with them so that they could monitor what they call overly aggressive police behavior.
The videographers’ decision to point lenses at the police is causing a subtle shift in the murky power balance between the police and those who are policed. A group of people who might otherwise lack credibility suddenly might find that they have proof to back up claims of police harassment. For the Police Department, a few seconds of tape, shown out of context, can give them a black eye. Officially, the Police Department has no objection to the men carrying camcorders.