Police violence dominates the news of late, due in large part to the brave work of people who use their phones to document injustice. But their work does not come without punishment. From Ramsey Orta (who filmed New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner) to Diamond Reynolds (who livestreamed the aftermath of St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez shooting her partner, Philando Castile), the people who dare to record these incidents often find themselves in handcuffs. A group of documentary directors and producers is concerned about this trend.
The International Documentary Association issued a statement yesterday (August 9), rallying its community to push the Department of Justice to investigate these arrests. Among the 45 signers are Shola Lynch (“Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed”), Stanley Nelson “Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution,” Bernardo Ruiz (“Reportero”) and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (“Saving Face”).
The statement was accompanied by an open letter from filmmaker David Felix Sutcliffe (“(T)ERROR”) that eloquently made the case for the investigation and the #RightToRecord movement, which reminds citizens that they are legally allowed to record police officers. From that letter:
By hurtling these images through the front windshield of public consciousness, they have made it impossible for White Americans to continue ignoring a truth our leaders have spent centuries obfuscating: Black lives matter. While our society struggles to absorb this truth, police departments nationwide have maneuvered to asphyxiate the efforts of those whose cameras and courage have revealed it….
Most important, we must use our voices to hold the abusers accountable and create safeguard measures to defend citizen journalists and their reporting. It is also imperative we connect with ongoing efforts to acknowledge racism and inequality within our own community….
The nature of documentary truth may be slippery, but the one captured by LeDay, Muflahi, Reynolds, Moore, Orta and so many, many more is immutable.
Black lives matter.
The statement appears below in full:
We, the documentary community, call upon the Department of Justice to investigate a troubling pattern of abuse of power: the pervasive harassment of citizens who use cameras and social media to document and distribute footage of law enforcement. Whether they identify as citizen journalists, activists, or civilians, it is vital we defend the rights of these individuals to use video as a means of criticizing unjust police activity. We ask for a full investigation into any and all actions taken against them by police departments, and the larger pattern of abuse that has emerged on a federal, state and local level, and the threat it poses to free speech and a free press.
We also call upon our peers in the journalistic community to investigate and report on these abuses. Chris LeDay, Abdullah Muflahi, Diamond Reynolds, Kevin Moore and Ramsey Orta are just a few of the names of the individuals who have used personal cameras and social media to shine a light on police brutality. By investigating other instances of police violence captured on video by citizens, and what consequences they may have faced, we can expand our awareness of the problem and take stock of the damages.
(H/t BuzzFeed News)