Crowdsourcing Copwatch

By Michelle Chen Jul 15, 2009

Your mobile device could be your most effective weapon against police brutality. The NAACP’s “rapid response” system, unveiled at the group’s annual convention this week, retools the Copwatch concept for the Digital Age. Through your mobile device, you can upload images and video footage of police misconduct incidents, enabling witnesses to broadcast local news about abusive cops to the NAACP’s central database and information network. Some of the documentation could be aired instantly to raise awareness and mobilize the public. The system also allows witnesses to feed background information to the organization, which could inform investigations into patterns of civil rights violations. Announcing the launch of the program, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said:

Research has shown that there are many barriers to reporting incidents of police misconduct, including intimidation at police departments and a lack of trust in the integrity of the system, among other reasons. This breakdown leads to an absence of public safety and a deterioration of the quality of life in many communities of color. But public safety is a civil and a human right; and so we want a more accurate count of these incidents .

Rapid Response builds on more ad-hoc forms of media activism. Earlier this year, the spontaneous cell phone video of the Oscar Grant shooting sparked national outrage and a grassroots movement. In addition to YouTube agitation, more comprehensive multimedia initiatives could take online organizing to a new level. The Tactical Technology Collective presents some case studies of projects that fuse activism with interactive web tools. New media has enabled live tracking of violence in Kenya and the Google mapping of toxic clean-up sites. The image above comes from a mapping project documenting clashes between police and protesters in Brighton. Powerful institutions have long wielded technology as a force of repression. Activism in the Information Age is generating new ways to bear witness to injustice, and maybe even stop it. Image: Brighton Anti-Arms Protest: The Interactive Map