Editor's Note: The International Documentary Association has released a petition that asks the Department of Justice to investigate the arrests of citizen journalists who videotape police killings of citizens in marginalized communities. Boing Boing asked documentary filmmakers Laura Poitras and David Felix Sutcliffe to share with our readers why the fight to protect the rights of these amateur documentarians matters so much for all of us.—Xeni Jardin
Citizen journalists are reporting from the frontline of police violence in the United States. Using camera phones, they recorded the final moments of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner. In each case, the police retaliated by arresting those citizens – either in the immediate aftermath of the killings, or within 24 hours of the deaths being ruled homicides by medical examiners.
Kevin Moore, who documented Freddie Gray as he was arrested and dragged into the back of the police van, was taken into custody the night before charges were announced against 6 Baltimore officers. Though Moore was released without charges, he says that law enforcement continue to harass him. "Police sit outside my son's school. And they ride past taunting me with their phones up."
Mainstream media publish and often exploit the images recorded by these individuals. Unfortunately, it has overlooked the consequences for (and courage of) those who document police brutality, many of whom are people of color and vulnerable to the same violence they've captured. Today, dozens of award-winning documentary filmmakers are launching a petition, asking the Department of Justice to investigate this pattern of abuse, and for the journalistic community to stand in solidarity with citizens risking their personal freedom to document police violence.
We invite all individuals – be they filmmakers or just concerned citizens – to show their support and add their name to the petition.
STATEMENT BY THE INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY ASSOCIATION:
"We, the documentary community, call upon the Department of Justice to investigate a troubling pattern of abuse of power: the pervasive harassment of citizens who use cameras and social media to document and distribute footage of law enforcement. Whether they identify as citizen journalists, activists, or civilians, it is vital we defend the rights of these individuals to use video as a means of criticizing unjust police activity. We ask for a full investigation into any and all actions taken against them by police departments, and the larger pattern of abuse that has emerged on a federal, state, and local level, and the threat it poses to free speech and a free press.
We also call upon our peers in the journalistic community to investigate and report on these abuses. Chris LeDay, Abdullah Muflahi, Diamond Reynolds, Kevin Moore and Ramsey Orta are just a few of the names of the individuals who have used personal cameras and social media to shine a light on police brutality. By investigating other instances of police violence captured on video by citizens, and what consequences they may have faced, we can expand our awareness of the problem and take stock of the damages."
Click here to sign the statement.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
David Felix Sutcliffe is an independent documentary filmmaker. Most recently, he co-directed (T)ERROR, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Prize for Break Out First Feature. Along with (T)ERROR co-director Lyric R. Cabral, David was honored by the International Documentary Association with the 2015 Emerging Filmmaker Award.
TOP PHOTO: Clockwise from top left: Diamond Reynolds, Chris LeDay, Abdullah Muflahi, Ramsey Orta (r), Kevin Moore (l).
Diamond Reynolds (top left) was arrested while livestreaming the aftermath of the police shooting of her fiancee Philando Castile.
Chris LeDay (top right) uploaded a video of police officers shooting Alton Sterling in the chest and was arrested 26 hours later by a dozen armed officers.
Abdullah Muflahi (bottom right) documented the police shooting of Alton Sterling and was arrested immediately afterwards.
Ramsey Orta (bottom left, in black shirt) documented the death of Eric Garner, who was asphyxiated by police and was arrested the day after Garner's death was ruled a homicide.
Kevin Moore (bottom left, in blue shirt) filmed Baltimore police officers as they dragged Freddie Gray into the back of a van where he subsequently suffered fatal spinal injuries. Moore was arrested the night before charges were announced against 6 Baltimore police officers).