Saturday’s Times had an update on the continuing efforts of the city of NY to force I-Witness Video to turn over hundreds of hours of videotapes shot during the 2004 protests at the Republican National Convention. For those unfamiliar with this story, this small group of activists mobilized hundreds of citizens with video cameras with the explicit purpose of documenting events and actions of law enforcement. Months later, their raw footage lead to the exoneration of or dismissal of charges against at least 400 protestors and bystanders, after hundreds of hours of video was viewed against the edited tapes compiled by the prosecutor’s office. (A classic example of sousveillance.)
I-Witness is unaffiliated with WITNESS, BTW.
Now the city is claiming that, because the District Attorney’s Office may have lost critical tapes, they are entitled to see the copies held by I-Witness. The DA’s office denies this. The city wants the tapes to defend against some 600 unlawful arrest claims filed in federal court. I-Witness is fighting the subpoena.
Note that in the Times piece I-Witness is identified as “a group of archivists and civil liberties advocates;” this is an explicit recognition that the act of recording and publicizing acts of misconduct or abuse is not enough, that the archival elements of documentation, painstaking identifications, incontrovertible chain of custody – oh yeah, and not losing the tapes – were crucial to the ability of lawyers and defendants to fight these false arrests.
To learn more about the history of this case and check out their other great work, go to the I-Witness blog.