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Trial By Amateur Video

The People’s Police Commission

by KEVIN CARSON

For years, the standard drill after a police beating or shooting, when it was a citizen’s word against a cop’s and the cop’s testimony was backed up by his Brothers in Blue, was “administrative leave” with pay for the cop — until a review board found “no evidence of official wrongdoing” and that “all official procedures and policies were followed.” The exceptions — such as the Rodney King beating and the Abner Louima case — were rare cases in which the offending thugs were stupid or careless enough to get caught.

The same is true of police violence at demonstrations. Compare the Occupy movement’s effective use of police violence video in Oakland, Portland, NYC and UC Davis with the state of affairs a decade ago in the period between Seattle and the anti-FTAA demos in Miami. Cell phone video and online video hosting back then were still in an undeveloped state. About the only place you saw documented info about police riots at anti-globalization events was Indymedia. Mainstream news almost totally adhered to the official narrative of masked Black Bloc vandals smashing windows at Macy’s.

These days, when amateur video goes viral, there’s no way the mainstream media can ignore it.

Regardless of the actual law, police in just about any jurisdiction in the U.S. will falsely claim that recording them is illegal, and probably smash your phone (and your face) in the bargain.

But with rapidly cheapening real-time Web uplink capabilities, we’re approaching the point where the only thing smashing a phone will get the cop is a viral YouTube video — not only of the original misbehavior, but of the entire interaction, from the initial threats to the scuffle to take the phone away.

Frankly, I don’t even care what penalty the sham investigation winds up imposing on Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis campus police. I think I’d actually prefer he retire on disability in a few more years after a nervous breakdown, and spend the rest of his life afraid to leave his house. He’s hardly yet begun to grasp just what hell the rest of his life is going to be.

He wears the mark of Cain. His phone number, email address and street address are already widely publicized. Even if he isn’t discharged from the force, every time he encounters a student in the course of his duties he’ll wonder if that’s a sneer of contempt or just his imagination. Every time he deals with a server or cashier, or meets anyone new, he’ll see that brief look of recognition followed by a frozen mask of politely suppressed revulsion. As the saying goes, “You can run but you can’t hide.”

This probably marks the first time the new rules of the game have been really impressed on the minds of cops everywhere. You can rest assured the lesson isn’t lost on Pike’s colleagues, or on their contacts in the national law enforcement professional grapevine. The viral images of his face and body language, as he sprays human beings like insects, are well known to them.  Even if he stays on the force, watching his ongoing transformation into a defeated wreck of a man will be the best object lesson his buddies in uniform could ever receive. Being publicly recorded behaving like a pig will guarantee, beyond the shadow of a doubt, spending the rest of one’s life in the same solitary hell as Lt. Pike.

This is just another example of how self-organized networks are increasingly empowered to take on powerful institutions, in ways that once required the countervailing power of other institutions. The problem, back then, was that so-called “oversight” bodies more often than not clustered in complexes of allied institutions with those they were supposed to oversee.  Hence the largely pro forma “investigations” by police commissions, civilian review boards, and the like.

But now we have a people’s police commission of our own. It’s called amateur video. And it will do to criminal scum like Lt. Pike what a whole world of police commissions, pretending to act on our behalf, couldn’t.

Kevin Carson is a research associate at the Center for a Stateless Society. his written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online.