Tension-filled encounters are playing out across the nation as camera-toting residents seek to document examples of police brutality or other misconduct, says the Baltimore Sun. Activists are linking with residents in Baltimore, Charleston S.C., and other cities to create a network that can expose problems with lightning speed through social media. Among those who have signed on is Kevin Moore, who gained nationwide attention capturing the arrest of Freddie Gray on a cellphone video. After Gray’s death, Moore created WeCopwatch Baltimore and has accumulated dozens of hours of police footage and begun “Know your Rights” discussions with fellow residents of West Baltimore. Similar groups around the nation go by various names, including Cop Block, Peaceful Streets Project and Communities United Against Police Brutality. They have a common weapon: candid video that can capture police violating regulations.
The power of such video clips is clear, even when they do not originate from cop-watching groups. In North Charleston, S.C., an officer was charged with murder after he was filmed shooting a fleeing suspect in the back. In McKinney, Tx., an officer quit after he was filmed slamming a bikini-wearing teenager to the ground. In Baltimore, at least two officers have been suspended in the past year after surveillance video raised questions about brutality. Policing experts say such cop-watchers can go too far. “I think law enforcement by and large understands and respects the bounds of the First Amendment,” said Ron Hosko, a former assistant FBI director and president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. “The friction develops when those folks step beyond simply being passive observers to encouraging action criticizing police. To me, that is where the line is between observing and interference.”