Film and photography have been around for a long while, since the 1800s. Smart phones are a new development but the genius who linked cameras with phones started a social revolution which is going to change the face of justice. Most of us use our phones to send pictures of ourselves to friends and family or to post selfies on social network pages. In my case, when someone points their smart phone camera in my direction, I duck, having never found one that makes me look like Angelina Jolie.
But where justice is concerned, those little cameras may serve a purpose. As Forrest Stuart points out in Wired, studies of scenes captured by phones continue to show that when African Americans and white Americans behave in identical ways, “blacks’ movements are seen as more threatening and more criminal.” (“Watching The Police” by Forrest Stuart, Wired, October 2016, pg. 24.) The perceived difference helps explain why police respond with greater force to one segment of the population than another.
Defenders of Law enforcement argue that footage captured on smart phones fail to give a full picture of events, which is a fair point. That’s why citizen groups like Stop the Killing have begun monitoring police scanners, hoping to arrive early at an altercation between a citizen and law enforcement.
Another activist group in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), has become especially successful in their vigilance of Skid Row. Working with the ACLU, they have won a federal injunction that prohibits police from handcuffing and searching people guilty of minor offenses, like jaywalking.” (Ibid pg. 24.) As part of that continued cooperation, the ACLU offers “a free Mobile Justice app that instantly uploads videos in case the police confiscate the cameras.” (Ibid pg. 24.)
This marriage of old technology with new may strengthen our system of justice for communities and the law enforcement agencies who serve those communities. Let’s hope so, at least.