Policing the Police with Citizen Video
Posted on April 22, 2013 by WITNESS
In one week, eyewitness’ videos exposed police brutality in four different countries: South Africa, Brazil, Australia, and Fiji. One month later, we check in to see how those videos made a difference.
By Anna Prouty, WITNESS intern
Each of these four videos caused a public outcry when it emerged. In Fiji, Australia and South Africa, it resulted in calls from government officials for investigations, punishment, and regulation of the police—an unlikely response had the event not been caught on film. While we can certainly trace an immediate response, it’s harder to say what lasting impact the video documentation will have on justice, accountability, and police practices.
Background: Mido Macia was a 27-year-old Mozambican taxi driver in the Daveyton township near Johannesburg. On February 26, Macia parked illegally and was confronted by police officers and dragged behind a police van—the incident caught on video. Hours after his arrest, Macia was found dead in his jail cell of internal and external injuries.
The video: South African newspaper The Daily Sun posted the citizen video to their Facebook page, and then to YouTube. It shows Macia resisting arrest, after which police officers pull him to a police van, handcuff him to the bumper and drive off, dragging his body down the street.
WARNING: This videois highly disturbing.
The response: After officers accused Macia of having pulled a gun on the police, new citizen footage emerged which casts doubt on that account. Nine officers have been charged in connection to Macia’s death, and have been denied bail. The trial is scheduled to begin in late May. Protesters staged rallies against police brutality in Daveyton and across the country. South African president Jacob Zuma called on the police to protect human rights, though he described Macia’s arrest as an isolated event. Just days later, an undercover detective reported to the media his experience being tortured for 30 hours by fellow officers, suggesting that while Macia’s treatment was horrifying, it is not uncommon.
Background: Students at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) staged a protest on March 6th over a campus housing shortage. Police ordered the students to stop blocking traffic, and opened fire with rubber bullets when they refused. Though originally intended as non-lethal weaponry, rubber bullets are frequently fatal when fired from close range, and Human Rights Watch has called for them to be banned.
The videos: Several raw videos as well as photos uploaded to facebook document both the rally itself, in which police can be seen firing rubber bullets at close range, and the aftermath, in which protesters display wounds they sustained.
The response: The injured students were charged with assaulting police and resisting arrest. However, due to reports of excess use of force by the police, university officials and law professors supported the students’ claims that the charges against them are unjust. Three officers were removed from duty while an internal investigation of their conduct took place. The governor proclaimed he would not tolerate police abuse. Considering the allegations of police abuse, the sentence against the students was dropped to community service, but students refused on the grounds that they are not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Background: At Sydney’s annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebration, 18-year-old Jamie Jackson was handcuffed and arrested for allegedly violent behavior. He has since been charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.
The video: Bystanders recorded a police officer repeatedly throwing Jackson to the ground as he pleads that he didn’t do anything wrong. An officer much larger in stature is filmed holding him by the neck, knocking him to the ground, and using his foot to pin Jackson to the street.
The response: The video quickly went viral and elicited a tremendous response in Australia regarding police brutality, the right to film, and abuse against the LGBT community. A rally against police brutality took place a few days after the incident, and Australia’s LGBT community claims it illustrates a pattern of police abuse. Jackson’s trial for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest has been postponed while an internal police investigation is underway. His lawyer argues that he was in fact the one assaulted, though other videos analyzing the incident call his behavior into question. Meanwhile, groups representing Australia’s LGBT community have met with police and are writing a report that police say will be used to improve their procedures for next year’s Mardi Gras.
Background: Little was known about this video when it emerged in late February 2013. The location of the abuse as well as the identities of the officers, the victims, the cameraman, and even the original uploader were a mystery. However, Fiji’s history of police brutality and torture caused the public, the government, and the international community to take the video seriously.
The response: When the video emerged, Amnesty International, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and others demanded an independent investigation into the recorded abuse. Fiji’s police department responded with a statement that they were investigating the video, and that they believe the victims to be recaptured prisoners whose identities were unknown. Observers are skeptical of their promise for a thorough investigation, and Fiji’s Prime Minister, who leads a military dictatorship, said he would stand by his officers “because they’ve done their duty in looking after the security of this nation.” However, three prison guards have reportedly been fired over the video. In the meantime, a couple has come forward stating they think one of the victims is their son.
While the footage in these four cases shows citizen video’s essential role in documenting and exposing police brutality, video is only part of the solution. They can spark outrage and open the eyes of the public to abuse. Rights groups and the media must follow up on the incidents and pressure the state to bring these officers to justice, and citizen witnesses must continue to gather footage to help hold authorities accountable and bring about an end to systemic abuse.
The Human Rights Channel will continue to monitor these four cases to track how video is used in the path to justice. If you find yourself a witness to abuse of authorities, send your video to the Human Rights Channel through twitter @ythumanrights or our submit page.
When you are filming human rights abuse, keep in mind your safety and that of those you film. Here are some tips on how to film police action safely and effectively: WITNESS’ guide to filming protests and police conduct.