The Citizen Witness As Video Journalist

After reading this, I fiddled around with my cell phone until I learned how to use the video camera.

The videotaped shooting death of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer on New Year’s Day marks how far technology has advanced since the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King. The cell phone video recorded by BART rider Katrina Vargas shows that Grant was unarmed, and that he apparently was not acting in a manner that would compel an officer to consider using a firearm. Grant’s death was recorded by several other cell phone video cameras, and may have been recorded by BART security cameras. The videos were posted immediately on the Internet, where they were seen by thousands, if not millions of people before being picked up by the Mainstream News Media.

Here's the video. BART's Board of Directors personally apologized for the senseless killing. Protests in Oakland have taken a misguidedly violent turn. The officer (who may have mistaken his Glock for a Taser, although that seems unlikely) has not yet been arrested or charged with a crime.

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    Tasers Should Be Made Illegal (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by squeaky on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:39:21 PM EST
    It was an out for the officer, imo. There was a shortage of tasers so he got confused and wound up shooting someone with bullets  because he thought is was a taser.

    Once you normalize torture by taser, accidental shooting has a built in alibi.

    I saw about 4 videos on this last night because (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by andrys on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 03:30:28 AM EST
    this happened in the east bay here.  What was clear from the several videoclips was that the boy was sitting against the wall with his hands up and others said he was telling others of them to calm down and not to do anything.

      Maybe the police didn't like that he was making noise.  

    But they pulled him down and he was on his stomach, with another policeman more or less sitting on him when the other officer took out his weapon (and you can see he felt it was something he should do despite the guy being no threat!).  

      If he truly believed it was a taser he would not want to use it if another police officer was touching the guy (not to mention they're dangerous and Grant was not said to be putting up a fight).  People say Grant asked that he not be hurt, that he had a young child.  Any taser effect on the boy would have been also felt by an officer touching him.

      My impression is he reached for his gun but did not mean for it to go off but if you look at how he's holding it at the time it goes off, one can wonder.  He looked panicked when there was no reason we can see for it, with all the other officers around and the guy down on the ground.

      Then they dragged the guy around (who was conscious enough to say they had shot him and he had a 4-year old) some more on that floor.  

      There are openings for BART police jobs so they may not be well trained but he was with them for 2 years.

      One video showed a female officer at the scene (shortly afterwards) and she tried to get the cell phone but the person wouldn't give it up.

    tasering (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by rea on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 04:17:16 AM EST
    may have mistaken his Glock for a Taser

    If you watch the video, you'll see there was absolutely no reason for the officer to draw a taser in this situation (unless you think administration of field punishment by police is acceptable).

    I am helpless to understand what (none / 0) (#1)
    by hairspray on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 09:21:27 PM EST
    can be done in Oakland to make it the "All American city" it once was. I was a commissioner  for one of its citizen committees for 6 years and know that until recently the city put a lot of resources into the community for its children and elders and has been trying to address violence with its young for a decade at least. During the '90's when employment was up, crime was down.  But problems of black on black violence and citizen reticence in speaking out has been going on for a long time.  The affluent citizens have consistently taxed themselves for programs for libraries, schools, art, music, childrens care, elderly bus shuttles, health care, etc. There are very large and well organized volunteer programs throughout the city. Oakland has many amenities both in its neighborhoods and under "social supports" that I know do not exist in other cities.  And yet the fabric of that city is always under siege by the lawlessness of the youth particularly in certain neighborhoods. What happened on BART was a tragedy, but the violence is nothing new.

    This is sad and tragic. (none / 0) (#2)
    by EL seattle on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 10:09:12 PM EST
    I'd like to think that the citizen witness impulse would also get engaged whenever a mugging is taking place.  Or a public beating or sexual assault.  

    Unfortunately, a natural personal safety concern probably provides a strong disincentive against that.  While it's probably pretty safe top take video of cops acting criminally, I'd imagine that taking video of criminals acting criminally is not something that most citizen witnesses are inclined to take a chance with.

    Here in liberal Portland (none / 0) (#4)
    by caseyOR on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:41:16 PM EST
    we had a bit of a legal tussle when the police arrested a man who was videotaping them making an arrest. The police claimed it was illegal for anyone to tape a police officer without her/his permission. They claimed it was just like taping a phone conversation. The charges were dropped, but the police continued to insist they were right.

    The department agreed to review the policy on citizens videotaping the police, but the department cautioned (or threatened depending on your point of view) that if citizens could tape the police, the police could tape the citizens. It was delivered in a very "be careful what you wish for" manner.

    let's assume, for the sake (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:58:39 PM EST
    of discussion, that the officer did, in fact, mistake his gun for his taser. for that reason alone, he should be fired and charged with a criminal act.

    he's the licensed, trained professional, not the guy lying face down on the ground. he wasn't being shot at, nor was anyone attempting to assault him. under those fairly mild circumstances, he wasn't able to tell the difference?

    based on the videos i've seen, it isn't even clear to me why he should have been even drawing his taser?

    Jesus! (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bored3L on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 12:44:24 AM EST
    Okay, first of all, I have held (not fired because tasers are expensive) a handgun and a taser and how do you not know the difference?!?!?  I understand that it was a crazy situation, and I normally side with the police (it's a family thing).  Nonetheless, there is no way you can mistake one for the other.  Or at least, if you do mistake one for the other, you have no business being a cop.  There is no way you can mistake one for the other if you have even a minimum of sense and skill.

    This guy deserves whatever he gets, which in my opinion is at least criminal charges.  At least.  Wow.

    snuff films (none / 0) (#9)
    by DFLer on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 06:46:06 AM EST

    Its so easy to understand why... (none / 0) (#10)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 10:36:10 AM EST
    Huey Newton and the boys took up arms back in the day...apparently much hasn't changed since then.

    Sad that it doesn't even shock or phase me anymore...cops murdering the unarmed.  Maybe we need to follow Huey's lead....

    When they kick out your front door
    How you gonna come?
    With your hands on your head
    Or on the trigger of your gun

    When the law break in
    How you gonna go?
    Shot down on the pavement
    Or waiting in death row

    - The Clash, "Guns of Brixton"

    The video makes me want to vomit. (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 12:57:13 PM EST
    Lying that he thought he was shooting a taser makes me want to strangle him.

    Did he say that? (none / 0) (#12)
    by hairspray on Thu Jan 15, 2009 at 05:05:24 PM EST
    Sarc (none / 0) (#13)
    by Patrick on Thu Jan 15, 2009 at 06:13:33 PM EST
    Just to clarify, he has NOT made a statement.  Perhaps your comment is a bit premature.  I suspect that will be his defense.  

    This is not how they should be dealt with