In times of crisis, the only antidote to watchedness is SOUSVEILLANCE: When the many (YOU!) watch the few (COPS!). This guide takes into account tips from the “many”—from Occupy protestors to sex workers to teenagers of color—on how to hold YOUR STATE accountable. Social networking has turned recent large-scale disappointment in the criminal justice system into a critical mass of angry, skeptical citizens. Too often, we wait for a Trayvon Martin or an Oscar Grant before we prepare. But copwatchers can take practical, direct action to deter police terrorism. Here’s what you need to know before you copwatch.
A citizen must be historically informed in order to copwatch. This practice has existed in our nation as far back as the 1850s, when fugitive black Americans made their own WANTED posters, urging fellow slaves to keep their “TOP EYE open” for slave-catchers. When slavery was abolished, the slaves did not become free. In 1991, members of the Los Angeles Police Department were caught, on tape, beating Rodney King. Were it not for the sousveillance, the cops might still be cops. But, thanks to video that pushed racist cop assaults into the national spotlight, they became prisoners. Rodney King was awarded $3.8 million in civil damages.
If you know the tools, you can subvert them. Many of these tools can, and should, be carried in your pockets—and not only in America, but everywhere an American goes. In the 2011 London riots, protestors used a smartphone app called Sukey to report and share police activities that were anti-protest so they could be everywhere the police weren’t, thus turning the state’s gaze and tactics on its head. On a global scale, the infamous, patriot act of WikiLeaks is an example of technology-enabled sousveillance. Yet, for citizens of America, sousveillance begins at home.
Whenever it is possible, citizens, prepare in groups and copwatch in your group’s own neighborhood. Copwatching is about community. You must want to change your own conditions and you must be held accountable. If you go into another community, the police might retaliate against people in that neighborhood. DO NOT overstep the boundaries of your experience (if, for example, your community comprises well-intentioned middle-class white kids with smartphones). REMEMBER: The more support you have from people in the community, the harder it is for the police to isolate you.
Copwatching is confrontational. The police in our nation are not yet accustomed to having citizens observe them, so they might quickly move to their own defense.
The police may try to intimidate you, so it is crucial that, as an American, you know your rights.
IF you are planning on copwatching, it will be helpful to reference specific codes, such asCalifornia State Penal Code Section 830.10, which says that cops must give you their name or wear a badge. California State Penal Code Section 841 informs citizens “the person making the arrest must, on request of the person he [or she] is arresting, inform the latter of the offense for which he [or she] is being arrested.”
Dr. Simone Brown at the University of Texas, who specializes in surveillance; Joaquin Cienfuegos, a member of the Guerrilla Chapter of Cop Watch Los Angeles; Kade Crockford, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project; Kahn Miller, executive director of project SAFE; Chris Soghoian, ACLU principal technologist with the speech privacy and technology project; Steve Mann’s article “Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments.”