Mo­bile Jus­tice: Age of Citizen Jour­nal­ism


iPhone Life Magazine - - Front Page - BY DONNA CLEVE­LAND

The po­lice pro­ceeded to hand­cuff and ar­rest the four boys. When Jey­lani asked why he was be­ing ar­rested, the of­fi­cer an­swered: “Be­cause I feel like ar­rest­ing you.”

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Min­nesota Jana Kooren, the boys, who are of So­mali de­scent, said they felt strongly that they had been racially pro­filed. “They didn’t feel this would have hap­pened to some­one af­flu­ent in the sub­urbs,” said Kooren. “To hear an of­fi­cer be so vis­cer­ally hate­ful to young black boys who had done noth­ing wrong is very dis­heart­en­ing.”

As a re­sult of the video, the ar­rest made na­tional head­lines, the Min­neapo­lis Po­lice Depart­ment is in the midst of an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the of­fend­ing po­lice of­fi­cer Rod Web­ber is on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave, and the Coun­cil for Is­lamic-Amer­i­can Re­la­tions has re­quested that the Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent. “Peo­ple are al­ways more likely to be­lieve you when can they see it,” said Kooren.

This is just one ex­am­ple of how mo­bile tech­nol­ogy can now play a role in ev­ery stage of the news cy­cle, from gen­er­at­ing sto­ries to con­sum­ing and shar­ing them. For the first time, main­stream media chan­nels are look­ing to cit­i­zens as sources for break­ing sto­ries. In the new land­scape of citizen jour­nal­ism, it’s worth ex­am­in­ing the ways in which mo­bile tech­nol­ogy has changed how we learn about the world.


An un­armed black man is killed at the hands of a white po­lice of­fi­cer—this is an un­com­fort­ably fa­mil­iar story in the United States. De­bra Sanchez, di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for the ACLU, said these sto­ries are in the public eye due to the ubiq­uity of smart­phones. “Peo­ple of color take the brunt of po­lice bru­tal­ity,” she said. “This is a huge prob­lem for our coun­try, and it has been for many years. The dif­fer­ence is that we can see the prob­lem now.”

The last year has of­fered a num­ber of dis­turb­ing ex­am­ples. The whole na­tion heard Eric Garner say­ing “I can’t breathe” as a New York po­lice of­fi­cer held him in the choke­hold that led to his death dur­ing an ar­rest for al­legedly selling loose cig­a­rettes. We watched an of­fi­cer in North Charleston, South Carolina, gun down Wal­ter Scott as he fled un­armed, and we saw 25-year-old Fred­die Gray of Bal­ti­more be­ing dragged to the po­lice van dur­ing the ar­rest re­spon­si­ble for his fa­tal spinal in­jury.

To aid in the record­ing of po­lice in­ter­ac­tions, ACLU af­fil­i­ates in a hand­ful of states have re­cently re­leased Mo­bile Jus­tice apps, which al­low users to record and upload footage in­stantly to their lo­cal ACLU chap­ter.

“It’s re­ally about em­pow­er­ing peo­ple to doc­u­ment po­lice mis­con­duct where it ex­ists,” said Sanchez. “So many peo­ple would like to deny that it ex­ists, but it does, and we know that. It helps to have proof.”


Po­lice re­ports do not al­ways con­vey the same story as a by­stander’s video. Ac­cord­ing to Los An­ge­les crim­i­nal de­fense at­tor­ney Peter Ber­lin, it’s dif­fi­cult to de­fend a case in­volv­ing po­lice of­fi­cers when there’s no doc­u­men­tary ev­i­dence, such as videos, photos, or call logs. “Some­times it’s only the word of the po­lice against the de­fen­dant’s word,” he said.

Be­cause po­lice are trained ex­perts, Ber­lin said judges tend to fa­vor po­lice tes­ti­monies across the board. “Po­lice are con­sid­ered more trust­wor­thy and we don’t be­lieve that is nec­es­sar­ily so. A po­lice of­fi­cer’s word shouldn’t be given more weight for com­mon true or false state­ments,” he said. “They’re non-sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tions.”

When there’s video, he said, sud­denly these ques­tions of bias be­come less of an is­sue. “Video is some of the most pow­er­ful ev­i­dence you can have,” said Ber­lin. “If you get a po­lice of­fi­cer say­ing one thing and do­ing another on video, it goes a long way to dis­prove a po­lice re­port.”

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