LAPD to turn Cameras on Itself - CWLA members interivewed on Uprising
LAPD to Turn Cameras on Itself
Addressing the fallout from this past May's MacArthur Park immigrants rights rally, Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton announced that internal camera crews will now film major police actions. Devised by Deputy Chief Mike Hillman, the plan's stated intention is to keep a documented record of policing at major events while at the same time keeping cops on their best behavior. The move comes in the wake of television camera crews capturing the LAPD's assault on activists, families and members of the press at last May Day's MacArthur Park rally for immigrant rights. The footage outraged members of the community and the press who faced police batons and projectiles. However, members of the media are usually not around to film routine police actions where misconduct can occur. Media outlets rely on individuals who may happen upon an instance of police brutality and have a camera handy nearby. Police actions, both major and minor are being observed by a much more organized effort thanks to an organization called Cop Watch LA. The group patrols the streets of Los Angeles ready to film any instance of police misconduct.
For more information, and to report police brutality/harassment caught on video, visit www.copwatchla.org, or call 1-877-8-NO-COPS.
Sonali Kolhatkar: What was your reaction when you first heard of this LAPD plan that they are going to now monitor themselves, almost like taking over your job?
Joaquin: Our position is that the policemen never police themselves. That's why they need organizations from the community to step up and organize themselves to observe the police and take direct action. The police already have video cameras in their cars but usually when they brutalize somebody – in the case of Gonzalo Martinez, a 22 year-old or early twenties male who was killed in Downey by the police - and the family has been fighting for five years for justice. The police have never turned over the video of them shooting their son. So, it goes to show that the policemen never police themselves and that's why CopWatch L.A. is organizing to stop police brutality and to get rid of that oppressive institution of police in our communities.
Sonali: So, it does seem interesting that even if they did have a camera crew on hand that did film them brutalizing a group, what are the odds that that camera footage is actually going to be turned over, particularly if there is some kind of legal trial? Sherman?
Sherman: Yeah, exactly. I mean, in many cases there have been camera crews present where police have videotaped their own officers brutalizing and harassing people. We're never going to see that footage, I mean, it's up to the people to go out there and videotape ourselves because we can't rely on a repressive institution such as the police to police themselves because it's like saying that, you know, we know we're corrupt, okay, so we're going to investigate ourselves. When the investigation's over, this officer might get a paid leave, paid vacation and it'll die down in the media and, before you know it, he'll be back on the streets, which always does happen.
Sonali: It seems interesting that this news is coming out or it's being publicized almost as an effort to try to show that they're doing something about what happened on May Day. But, at the same time, isn't it possible that the police would, at least, try to behave better knowing that there was a video crew nearby?
Joaquin: I think, I agree. It's an attempt by the LAPD to attack the growing grassroots revolutionary movement in our communities like Cop Watch Los Angeles and other organizations that are, basically, stepping up and saying that, you know, the police are an occupying army and they're not there to protect and serve us. They're there to protect and serve the interests of the rich, the interests of the ruling class and capitalism and imperialism. So, I think that, you know, it is an attempt to attack these growing grass root movements. It's also an attempt to act like they're trying to punish or be accountable for what happened on May 1. In fact, Chief Bratton and Villaraigosa have come out and blamed the youth, blamed the young anarchists, blamed the people that were there just speaking out and demanding some justice, demanding some rights for immigrants and undocumented people. So, I think that it's just a plot to cover-up what they did on May 1.
Sonali: Now for you two and Cop Watch L.A., what would justice look like for what happened on May Day?
Joaquin: We're part of a network called The People's Network in Defense of Human Rights and we have some demands put out on the table. And, some of them include firing Chief Bratton, getting rid of the Chief of Police. Actually, Villaraigosa, the Mayor - we also want to see him gone, right?
Sonali: Because specifically of what happened on May Day?
Joaquin: Because of what happened on May 1 and because of what he's doing in our communities on a daily – like, all these attacks that are happening in our communities because of these people. Right? And the reason is, because we see that, you know, Chief Bratton, yes, he's part of the problem. And, even though we have a new Chief of Police doesn't guarantee that things will be better but it's a step in the direction. And Chief Bratton is actually one of the individuals responsible for the type of policing we have in our communities. He's one of the main people responsible for what happened on May 1 because he's the one who trains these people, right?
Sonali: So, I'm speaking with Joaquin Cienfuegos and Sherman Austin. We just heard from Joaquin. Sherman, you two may not buy that the, you know, the putting of video crews in with police is going to be enough to quell police brutality but do you think that the mainstream in Los Angeles that, you know, ordinary people, may not necessarily be activists. Do you think they're going to buy it?
Sherman: I don't know. It depends. I think that it's definitely an attempt by the LAPD to try and tell your everyday person that there is going to be accountability in the police department now that they have these cameras watching their own officers. But, I think that people, you know, everyday people in communities where police brutality is not a rare occurrence, already know the fact of the matter that: it doesn't matter how many cameras are watching the police that are being videotaped by the police. We're still going to see more brutality, more racism, more criminalization of a generation and more, you know, basic, you know, harassment and racial profiling in our communities and it's not going to stop. And I think that, you can't really convince, it's gotten to a point where, I think, you can't really convince people to say that our officers, Chief Bratton is saying our officers are going to be videotaped because people already know that, they already know how the police are. And, they already know that, you know, if something happens in their communities where a police is caught brutalizing someone or even killing someone, nothing's going to happen. Nothing is going to happen unless some type of real direct action is taken because nothing ever happens.
Sonali: So, let's talk a little bit about Cop Watch L.A. in the last few minutes of this interview. You are both organizers with Cop Watch L.A. When did this organization start and, specifically, what do you go out and do?
Sherman: We started maybe about a couple of years ago. We started having our first meetings and a lot of what actually sparked up the organization was not only our own experiences with the police which have all been bad, our own experiences in the prison system and stuff like that. It also started up after the case of Suzie Pena, when she was shot in the head with a rifle in Watts by the police. And, other cases of police brutality and police murders like the case of Gonzalo Martinez. And, of course, some people out there also might know about the case of DeAndre Bronston, who was unarmed, killed by Compton sheriffs. And, so, we basically came to the conclusion that, you know, we've gone to City Hall, we've gone to City Council, we've gone to courts, we've filled out police complaint forms. I mean, we've even gone to the police. All that we've seen in response to that is more brutality, more murder and more repression in our communities and we're sick and tired of it. So, we're taking matters back into our own hands and with that, we're going out and we're organizing in a form of direct action where we start patrolling the police in our own neighborhoods. Because, what else can we do? I mean, we can't ask these people who are within the system to try and hold these officers accountable. We, as a people, in our own communities need to build power in numbers and power in a movement and start holding these officers accountable ourselves.
Sonali: So, you basically follow police on their patrols with video cameras?
Joaquin: That's one tactic that I think, we see that it's necessary for people to not only observe the police but to confront them. And, I think that once the police see that people are organized, they actually step back. They're not used to seeing people confronting them, they're used to seeing people being afraid of them.
Sonali: Now, do you ever get harassed yourself just for following with a video camera?
Joaquin: Yeah, actually I was arrested in a patrol when I was invited by the Long Beach chapter. I was arrested for spitting on the sidewalk because I was patrolling the police. I was observing the police.
Sonali: For spitting on the sidewalk?
Joaquin: Yeah, so like, I think, but…
Sonali: You were arrested? You weren't just ticketed, you were arrested?
Joaquin: I was arrested and they tried to book me, but the, actually the Sargent didn't allow for the police to book me on that charge because it would have, basically, fired back in their face and they didn't want to create something larger because they had arrested me. So, I think there's, like, political consequences.
Sonali: So, in addition to watching the police yourself, do you get videotape from others who might have happened to catch police brutality or harassment on tape?
Joaquin: Yeah, that's part of our mission, right, and our goal is to support family members that have been victims of police brutality, that have been victims of police murder. And, we try to support them by popularizing cases of police brutality. For example, we had the case of William Cardenas who was brutalized in Hollywood. He was beat by the police, punched in the face and choked. And, one of the neighbors and family had contacted us, contacted one of our members and he got us the video and we put it up on YouTube and we were able to expose it. So, I think that, that's one of the tactics that we use to support family and support our communities that are coming under attack. But, in terms of Cop Watch, I think that, you know, we also try to build people's institutions. We try and create the power where people can actually organize themselves and stop relying on the police and start relying on themselves.
Sonali: How can people get a hold of you and if they're interested in becoming part of your organization, although they have to be worried about being arrested for things like spitting on the sidewalk, but if they're okay with that, how can they get in touch with you and even join your organization if they're interested?
Joaquin: We have a toll free number – it's 1-877-8NOCOPS. We also have a website –
www.copwatchla.org And, there's a process for membership and, you know, we encourage people to organize in their own communities. We want people to create a culture of observing the police and taking direct action.
Sonali: So, when you, so this 1-877 number - is that also a number that people can call if they have some videotape that they happened to capture police brutality on?
Joaquin: Yeah, they can call us or they can post it up on their own or they can post it up on their website. It's a newswire.
Sonali: So they can actually post it on CopWatchLA.org?
Joaquin: Yeah, it's a newswire, people can upload video and photos and audio.
Sonali: Let me give the information again – it's 1-877-8NOCOPS and copwatchla.org is the website. Sherman Austin and Joaquin Cienfuegos – thank you both so much for joining me today.
Joaquin and Sherman: Thank you.
Special Thanks to Julie Svendsen for transcribing this interview.