Contributions by: Pali Makam, Dalila Mujagic, Dia Kayyali, and Jackie Zammuto.
From Egypt to Burma, people are capturing human rights abuses and life changing events, and they’re doing it with their cell phones. That’s why we’re trying out a new monthly blog series,“Last month in video.” We’ll be covering video news each month, highlighting the impact of video to shift narratives or document human rights abuse. We will also help you stay up to date with security and technology news that relates to video.
If you have a tip for a story, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org In the meantime, check out September’s post. There was a lot of news. A lot of it was hard to read– but the impact of video on these events is important and undeniable.
September 2017 in human rights video:
- September 1: Police target nurse refusing an unconstitutional blood draw
- September 2: Bellingcat geolocate Libya’s Social Media Executioner
- September 6: HBO’s Insecure and lighting black faces on camera
- September 11: Beating of Rio tourist goes viral
- September 18: ICE agents mistakenly try to grab Latino county worker near courthouse
- September 25: Egyptian security services begin arrests after a Pride flag is raised at concert
- September 26: Disciplinary trial of cop who wrongfully arrested James Blake concludes
Trigger warning for violent imagery and screaming.
The head nurse at the University of Utah Hospital’s burn unit was arrested after she told a Salt Lake City police detective he wasn’t allowed to draw blood without a warrant from an unconscious patient who was unable to give consent. Videos from two officers’ body cameras show a police officer accusing the nurse of interfering with an investigation, seizing her arm, handcuffing her, and placing her in an unmarked car as she screams for help. The nurse and her attorney released the footage at a news conference on September 1, which was then picked up by local media.
The WITNESS take: This altercation drew national attention and prompted the University of Utah Hospital to bar police from direct contact with nurses and from patient care areas, but so far there are no long-term consequences for the officers responsible for the incident as well as hospital staff who did not intervene to protect the nurse. As we’ve seen far too many times, administrative leave is often the extent of any repercussions faced by police officers despite evidentiary support—including video. Although the police officers’ body cam footage was released in this incident, we know that body cam footage can be complicated for citizens to obtain and can be manipulated to support an officer’s version of a story. Harmful local policies that allow police officers to view footage of incidents before making any official statement, amongst other problematic provisions, only exacerbate this issue. We believe there is still no substitute for responsible civic witnessing in incidents of police abuse.
Update: The police officer in question has been fired from his position with the Salt Lake City Police Department as well as his post as a paramedic.
Trigger warning for graphic imagery and perpetrator footage.
Bellingcat—long entrenched in open source investigations—are using digital forensics tools to help verify and geolocate videos the International Criminal Court (ICC) used, in addition to social media evidence and other supporting evidence, to issue an arrest warrant. These videos feature Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli, a commander of the Libyan Al-Saiqa militia, and are the basis of the ICC’s accusation against him of murder as a war crime. To date, four of the seven videos have been successfully geolocated by Bellingcat.
The WITNESS take: While the ICC’s groundbreaking warrant supports a global shift in the evidentiary value of social media, as Bellingcat’s article points out it is yet to be seen if the Al-Werfalli defense will question the veracity of the seven videos. We too often see opposing counsel cite unreliability of the source of digital video evidence as a reason to dismiss valuable evidence in human rights cases, when many national courts are not as well-equipped as the ICC to conduct such verification processes. Groups like Bellingcat not only conduct investigations, but help promote open source methodologies to verification so that others can do the same. WITNESS is currently surveying curators of human rights abuse videos and those who work in digital verification to further share learnings and tools from across the globe. For further guidance on topic, check out our Video As Evidence Field Guide, case studies and more.
Update: Four of the seven videos have now been geolocated by Bellingcat.
September 6: Keeping HBO’s Insecure Lit
In an interview conducted by Mic, Ava Berkofsky—director of photography for HBO’s tv show Insecure, discusses lighting techniques the crew uses to properly light black faces. The article sheds light on how little is taught in film school about working with darker skin tones and how the practice of calibrating film cameras to properly light a subject can be mainly attributed to the use of Kodak’s “Shirley cards” (used through the 1990s) which only featured images of white women to test lighting/color against. The practice is an example of one of the many ways darker skin tones have been viewed as “other” or problematic in cinematography.
The WITNESS take: As barriers to media production and consumption continue to be torn down, it’s important to be critical and conscious of how content is created. Representation doesn’t just mean featuring more black and brown faces on TV and in the movies, it means featuring black and brown faces with dignity and respect. It’s important to honor darker skin tones both through thoughtful and ethical storylines and production value, including lighting, in order to help dismantle the idea that whiteness is the norm. And while there is still much for Hollywood to learn, Ava Berkofsky and the Insecure crew make it clear that not only is it possible to properly light black faces, but to do so strikingly.
For an introduction to video production – from how to conduct successful interviews to how to get good sound and lighting while filming, check out our Video for Change Curriculum Chapter 3 – Introduction to Video Production.
September 11: Beating of Rio Tourist Goes Viral
A tourist in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was filming his walk along the beach when he witnessed a group of municipal police officers detain and search a Brazilian youth. Once the police officers registered that the tourist was filming their treatment of the youth, the officers start to yell at and verbally intimidate the filmer, taking their batons out and surrounding him. After an apparent physical beating, the tourist ends up on the ground attempting to continue filming and remains surrounded by the officers until the footage cuts out.
The WITNESS take: If this is what Rio’s post-card beaches look like, just imagine what a favela resident would experience. Brazil, like many countries, has some sort of freedom of expression, assembly, and government transparency protections. But low-level officers, like the municipal guard in the tourist’s video, often aren’t knowledgeable about constitutional or federal laws, and this disparaging gap is easily filled by officers’ own mores and interpretations. The police—from the United States to Argentina and Malaysia—understand the power of citizen and eyewitness video to hold them accountable and will readily take advantage of civilians who do not understand their rights to film public servants, especially in public spaces. Filming can often be a shield to further misconduct so if you plan on filming in Brazil or beyond, know your rights. Understand when it’s safe to film. And if it’s safe to film, affirm you right to record. For more on Brazil, read our latest post and check out our the work of our partners Coletivo Papo Reto.
Trigger warning for graphic language:
An Oregon ACLU legal observer captured footage of longtime Washington County employee, Isidro Andrade-Tafolla, being racially profiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after leaving Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro with his wife on September 18th. ICE agents mistakenly approached and accused Andrade-Tafolla of being in the country without proper documentation.
The WITNESS take: During the encounter, plain clothes officers never identified themselves as ICE, they also didn’t have a warrant. They showed Andrade-Tafolla and his wife a photograph of another man claiming that it was Andrade-Tafoll –a decieftul tactic we’ve heard from immigration attorneys that ICE often uses to gain false consent to enter people’s home. “They said they had a picture of me, that I wasn’t here legally and when they showed my wife and I the picture, there was no resemblance except we were both Hispanic,” Andrade-Tafoll said. The incident occurred after Oregon Chief Justice Thomas Balmer wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly urging ICE to stop making arrests in and around Oregon courthouses, which begs the question: who is ICE accountable to? The ACLU-captured video is a great example of how to properly use narration to provide context. If filmed correctly, footage of abuses like this one can be used for evidentiary and advocacy purposes. For guidance on how to safely, ethically and effectively film the ICE and share your footage, check out our tip sheet, animation, and Eyes on ICE webinar series.
September 25: Egyptian security services arrest 7 after they are seen on camera raising a pride flag at a concert
LGBTQ people in Egypt are facing the worst crackdown in decades, with security services using video and photo assets grabbed from social media to arrest, torture, and imprison people. According to a New York Times article, “Photos and video clips of audience members waving rainbow flags during a performance on Friday by Mashrou’ Leila, a popular Lebanese band whose lead singer is openly gay, were shared widely on social media over the weekend…but the images provoked a backlash from conservative Egyptian politicians and television hosts, as well as a heated debate on social media that featured virulently homophobic comments.” The following Monday, seven people, most of whom were alleged to have waved pride flags at the concert, were arrested.
The WITNESS take: Images and videos of dissent against laws or administrations that violate human rights are powerful tools for self-expression and advocacy, but when oppressive forces turn to social media to mine such imagery as evidence, online identity becomes a double-edged sword. Some activists want their faces to appear in connection with their activism, but others may not want to, or are unable to safely do so. In situations like the one people are facing in Egypt, tools like YouTube’s blurring tool may help protect anonymity. For activists who are being arrested and sometimes subjected to forced anal exams and other torture, this is no small thing. Read more about informed consent and techniques to conceal identities.
In response to the end of the disciplinary trial into Officer James Frascatore, who tackled and slammed James Blake to the ground before improperly placing him in handcuffs outside of his Manhattan hotel in 2015, James Blake released the following statement:
Had there not been a video of this attack, the NYPD and Officer Frascatore would have continued with the false account they initially put forward about the incident and the public would likely have not known about this case or even the identity of the officer, as is sadly true for so many other incidents of police abuse. The video makes clear that Officer Frascatore intended and carried out the use of excessive force, yet still he has not been held accountable and even now there is the attempt to sweep it under the rug with his potentially receiving a slap on the wrist that the NYPD has stated it intends to conceal from the public.
The WITNESS take: Thanks to surveillance video, Officer Frascatore’s false story about his attack on tennis star James Blake was disproven. Even though this video makes it clear that excessive force was used, it can not break through the wall of silence put up by the NYPD to protect the police records or disciplinary decisions for Frascatore and a retired officer testifying in the trial. This case, despite being around a high profile athlete, illustrates the frustrating degree to which the NYPD are protected by a veil of secrecy and impunity. Video, whether filmed by a bystander or security camera, plays an important role in exposing abuses and lies by officers whose job it is to treat the public with “courtesy, professionalism and respect”.
Remember, if you’re using video for human rights, be safe, be ethical, and be effective. Check out our resources, and tune-in next month for our October blog post.