Over the past year-and-a-half, police violence in places like New York, Baltimore, and Ferguson grabbed headlines, sparked mass protest, and drove down public confidence in law enforcement to a 22 year low. In response, reports Vice, people across the U.S. in a movement called Copwatch have been fashioning makeshift uniforms, arming themselves with cameras, and patrolling streets to document police misconduct. More than 15 years ago, long before YouTube and camera phones, Jacob Crawford began filming cops in Northern California. Over the past few years, Crawford has seen Copwatch morph from a small cadre of hardcore activists to a national movement.
In 2012, he helped found We Copwatch, a coalition that has trained Copwatchers in several dozen cities. “We’re about Copwatch finding its way into the communities that need it most,” he said. When Michael Brown was shot by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson last year, Crawford flew to the scene. Amid the protests, Crawford organized Copwatch training sessions and helped raise thousands of dollars to buy cameras for people living in Brown’s neighborhood. “It’s a way for people to have a moment to breathe and keep each other safe,” Crawford said. The group Crawford helped train in Ferguson now calls itself the Canfield Watchmen, named after the apartment complex where Brown lived. Since Brown’s death, Watchmen have come to think of themselves as a shield, protecting their neighborhood from the authorities. When police show up on their block, the team quickly shows up, armed with cameras.