Essay:Do not trust viral videos of police incidents
It's well known that our relationship with the police is very, very strained, especially in the U.S., where police brutality is rampant, disproportionate against black people, and excused while several police departments are filled with corruption and even KKK members. However, there's the other side that castigates the police based on out-of-context videos that often add to a narrative that all police are bastards, police are brutal, overreacting pigs, and more. This narrative does have a grain of truth to them especially considering the systems problem that police (and courts) participate in. These sensationalized videos, however, are frequently dishonestly misleading and, without proper vetting, should not be used as evidence for the narrative. In fact, particularly bad ones differ very little from the usual right-wing propaganda, up to the reactions received, except the audience is left-wing, thus the left-wing can be just as susceptible to narrative twisting.
Viral incidents are easy to remember but I think it's worth focusing more on insidious and dangerous instances of police corruption, such as LAPD gang profiling scandal and the LAPD Rampart scandal; and actual cases of brutality as documented in this article including but certainly not limited to Shooting of Charles Kinsey, Killing of Atatiana Jefferson, Murder of Botham Jean, Shooting of Breonna Taylor, killing of Trayvon Martin, beating of Rodney King, the killing of Dexter Luckett, the flashbang grenade striking an infant "Baby Bou Bou" in Georgia; the beating and tasering of a 16-year old CPS student, the widespread problem of police planting, the overall gun epidemic that have worsened responses from both police and suspects, that an officer (an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran)[note 1] been fired for not shooting and killing a black suspect, the unconditional praise of police from right-wing, and many, many, many more to count.
This has all culminated into the 2020 worldwide looting and riots after the police brutalized and suffocated George Flyod to death (and while other officers failed to intervene).
Whenever my sister and I point out additional footage or information that inconveniences a narrative, we get called "Trumpers" or "bootlickers", a psychopath, or other unsavory insults. Right on this wiki I have been accused of being a cop apologist just for expressing skepticism to responses on why firefighters didn't put out a fire on a telephone pole. This has motivated me to write this essay. I'm normally very left-wing, but it seems like tenets of critical thinking and source corroborating that we usually associate with our camp get completely lost when it confirms the narrative. This essay's primary function is not to defend law enforcement (though it does defend responses in these instances) or to depict suspects as monsters, but to show viral Twitter videos (or threads) as frequently misleading and something you should always proceed with caution. Police brutality is a legitimate problem, and these videos are doing a disservice by distracting us from real instances of brutality. They make people start questioning every other incident of police brutality while keener police apologists can and will use these discredited incidents to push their narrative to prevent desperately-needed reform or even overhauls. The police is not your friend nor my friend (see here), but make sure you're using good evidence, not sensationalized videos that waste everyone's time and divert from cases such as the aforementioned and avoid dehumanizing police (suspects too should not be dehumanized).
The consequences for dehumanizing police and falling into the social media radicalization spiral can be deadly and detrimental to the goals of Black Lives Matter, police reform/abolishment, and other similar racial justice causes, such as the 2016 shooting of Dallas police officers. It is not okay to justify this shooting of these officers simply because these officers do not denounce police brutality explicitly and every day (or you assume they don't). Finally, the culture of confirmation from this mess of incidents lead to the terrible advice from credulous ACAB circles of not calling the police for a situation where they are otherwise appropriate; do call the police when there's a crime being committed or you see suspicious activity, but police are far from appropriate concerning mental health crises as police is ill-equipped for those.
- 1 List of misleading viral incidents
- 2 What you should do when you come across a viral video
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
These examples are not intended to be comprehensive nor presented in a way that exonerates or outnumbers other cases of police brutality, but to illustrate how videos on Twitter and stories can differ greatly from the viral tweet to the bodycam footage and official news reporting.
Hyattsville police shooting
The shooting involved a black man, armed with two knives, getting shot by 10 officers. ACLU has shared this incident as part of a troubling pattern when it comes to the police deescalating against people of color with mental health problems. The ACLU issued a statement accusing police of poor training and not engaging in deescalation and shooting before anyone got stabbed. The ACLU may have underestimated the threat of someone charging with a knife or overlooked that he was clearly charging toward an officer (while he allegedly said he embraced death and wanted to "get" the officer") as opposed to running away from a flashbang as a natural reaction. The community has also raised questions on why the officers didn't shoot to wound him or lasso him. Shooting a man charging at an officer with a knife at relatively close quarters is a viable response, and every other less-than-lethal measure were employed including three tasers, pepper spray, and bean bags.
NYPD police beating a teen
A viral video of NYPD cops piling on an unarmed teen has surfaced on Twitter in early March 2020. It has been reported by Newsone subsequently with headlines "Video Shows NYPD Officers Kicking And Beating Teen Screaming ‘I Did Not Commit Any Crime’". Angry responses include condemning the police for use of excessive force, attacking the police for assaulting a black teenager. However, the teenager was resisting arrest and was trespassing in the park long after park hours. Meanwhile, the police were responding to shots fired and found two teenagers, near where the shots were fired, trespassing and lighting marijuana (which was illegal). The teenagers fled after seeing the cops, provoking cops to respond and apprehend one of the teenagers. The teenager subsequently resisted getting frisked, prompting the cop to call for backup, which was why many cops were in the video. The teenager later got brought down as cops piled on him as he continued resisting getting cuffed. Additionally, out of the two teenagers in the video, the other that complied simply got a ticket for marijuana use and no extra charges. Nevertheless the incident invited condemnation from the community and a former NYPD captain that the police had used excessive force in bringing down the person.
Indianapolis police shooting
Several viral tweets depict the police joking about a black man (who was recording footage, has a gun in the car) they have shot dead, and it culminated in a story with the headline "Indianapolis Police Kill Black Man, Laugh About It Not Realizing It’s Being Recorded On Facebook Live". The stories and tweet allege that the victim was unarmed, that "there was no evidence that Reed had or fired a gun." Reactions range from the lamentation of racist police brutality while white COVID-19 protestors are let off free, or lamenting that the police shot an unarmed man. The headlines themselves strongly suggest that the white police are evil emotionless monsters that laugh at killing an innocent unarmed black man. However, the man was driving recklessly, had an object in the recording that matched the pattern and colors of a very specific gun he shown in his Facebook (and committing drive-by with that gun), and the police pursued him while he was reaching speeds close to 90 mph. The man later got out of the car, a taser is heard allegedly, and shots were exchanged (unclear who was shooting, however, ejected shell casings were seen, strongly indicating he shot at cops). Finally, the officers joked that "Looks like it's going to be a closed casket, homie". Later footage revealed he had a weapon and he said "This is fun, though. I just can't go back to jail." and stated he would start shooting (unclear if he meant shooting a stream or shooting the cops), implying he went to jail earlier and showing dangerous disregard. Also, police claimed to find a gun next to his body, which is apparently consistent with earlier Facebook posts showing the gun. This is in stark contrast with the earlier established narrative and suggest the police may have reacted appropriately to an extremely reckless man, aside from the callous, insensitive joke about a person they just killed (but even people laugh and say things they may not mean as a relief to the high amount of stress they have just experienced).
Hermione Danger (_ayeeeitsKK)'s police interaction thread
A tweet thread in 2018 by _ayeeeitsKK chronicled an interaction with an unruly cop who pulled _ayeeeitsKK's boyfriend over because he tried to assist a homeless person. This tweet has received 139 thousand retweets and 198 thousand likes, making it a significantly viral, successful tweet. According to the series of tweets, blue lights came on, a K-9 unit was involved to search the boyfriend's car, two other cops arrived, and the sheriff (last name Smith), who was kinder than the rest, was involved.
Despite the massive retweets and horrified replies (some containing additional stories with police interactions) that validated and counseled the person (which also get over a thousand likes and retweets), the official Virginia Beach PD has confirmed that no evidence of an interaction has occurred. This is in spite of the blue lights being observed (whenever a police car turns on the blue lights, dash cam footage is recorded), a K-9 unit being deployed (logs are recorded when this happens). Additionally, the two sheriffs with the Smith surname have both denied involvement. As for the sheriff deputy involved, the Virginia State Police stated that these officers do not work night or evening shifts, instead working in the day to serve warrants and court documents.
The story itself contains some inconsistencies with protocol. For instance, the original cop who pulled the boyfriend over allegedly pointed a gun at boyfriend's back while ordering him to reach into his pockets to take out the phone. This is the most absurd part of the story because cops want people with their arms up during an interaction, as suspects frequently conceal weapons, such as a gun, in there. Additionally, typical defense procedure for a cop involves an advantage tier; a suspect needs to be armed or a cop is responding to shots fired for a cop to take out a gun.
Even social communications experts have weighed in.
"It's such a hot-button and sensitive issue right now," said Marcus Messner, an associate professor of journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in social media. "People look at this and say, 'There you go again.' It kind of confirms what they have heard before. Whether it's true or not doesn't necessarily matter, unfortunately.
"If it supports their point of view, they're more than happy to support the narrative," [Jeremy Lipschultz] said. "Whichever side of the political argument that you're on, there's a temptation to retweet the ones that support your point of view."
I’m not sure “not having a record” is anything in the way of evidence. Of course that CORRUPT cop failed to make a report of his failed arrest (or worse).
Oh yeah, because the police never lie. 🙃
Nice coverup. I hope body cams become mandated equipment.
Of course you don't, cause they covered it up, everyone from the police themselves to dispatchers, etc. They are all connected and all involved in cover ups. It happens in every fucking jurisdiction.
This is not surprising. He pulled a guy over, manufactured a reason to tear apart his car, terrorized him, got several more cops involved for no reason other than skin color. Why would there be a record?
For some reason, the police cannot cover up shootings but for this extremely specific traffic stop (among thousands of traffic stops a day), apparently four entire departments involving two sheriff deputies and K-9 units can collude.
Other misleading narratives
"Federal court rules police can shoot a dog if it moves or barks when officers enter a home". The headline implies the court allows the police to shoot a dog when a dog is apparently doing minor things like barking or moving. This is a misleading headline, however. The actual court ruling refers a lawsuit from two dog owners. It pertains to an incident where two cops forcefully entered a home from information and a search warrant that a known gang member was using the residence to distribute cocaine and heroin. The cops weren't prepared for two large unleashed dogs in a small residence. A pit bull aggressively lunged at a cop and went into the basement while another retreated to the basement and prevented the cops from safely clearing it, according to a court that sided with the cops. This makes the story a lot less one-sided than you think.
- Take it with a grain of salt: Always doubt what you're seeing and catch yourself feeling a certain way, as with you'd do with any other propaganda outlet trying to stir your emotions and establish a narrative. People frequently are mislead to believe abundance of dash cam, body cam, and phone footage lead to quality evidence of police brutality happening every day, that they are a viable defense for the defenseless. Not necessarily, as with any information that is very easily and quickly spread and edited on the Internet. While the truly defenseless do appreciate use of bodycam to document police corruption and police fabricating crimes (contraband planting), videos can also be edited, usually starting at a peak of a conflict started by either the suspect or the police, and it can paint a misleading picture. Videos shared by news sites can even cut out and paste together cherry-picked clips to paint a different picture than the full video does.
- Find other, longer videos: Too frequently, viral videos leave out important context and omit proper police procedures (such as a taser having a high chance of failing or that shooting a person recklessly driving may be justified to prevent other people from being harmed).
- Be skeptical of police reports: These also have a tendency to distort by overplaying suspects' actions (i.e. a push can be described as an "assault") or downplay police actions to justify potential police brutality. Complete videos including bodycam footage, vetting several news reports, and complete investigations paint a more accurate picture.
- Find several news stories reporting the incident: Usually they provide important context that viral videos leave out such as police responding to shots fired. Keep in mind that some news stories do edit footage themselves or use footage from viral videos, as stated earlier.
- Wait until investigations are completed and body cam footage is released. Some details, including personal history, are left out until well after a viral video is spread.
- Know the suspect's and the officer's history: Oftentimes the suspect has a very poor record including prior assault or gang affiliation, though the information must be relevant and reasonably recent. Such information usually is released after investigations. The involved officers' records are as important, though most jurisdictions keep secret (or even remove after two years) these records.
- Research on police procedures: Know how tasers work (and fail), know how pepper sprays work (and how they fail), know the police's options and if they use those options appropriately, know minimum safe distance for knife-wielders and unarmed people (which can be still be dangerous), know that beanbags are expensive and can still be lethal though significantly less than guns, know what appropriate use of tear gas is, know what appropriate use of chokehold is, know that police treat reckless driving as an operation of a car-shaped bullet, know that police departments and their policies and standards vary greatly from district to district, know how police dogpile, know that PIT maneuvers are much riskier and unrecommended at higher speeds (higher than 30 mph), know that suspects with a weapon fleeing the scene can use barricade and take hostages which the police must weigh between that situation and shooting/tasering the suspect, and more. Knowing these will help you better pick out bad decisions from the police.
This is a five-minute clip from a local FOX-10 station showing community activist Jarrett Maupin and reporter Troy Hayden attempting to take position of the police during hypothetical scenarios that can lead to a shooting of a suspect. In summary, these situations and decisions happen astonishingly rapidly that many people fail to appreciate.
If a viral video remains consistent with reporting, completed investigations, more complete videos (and bodycam footage), then it's excellent to incorporate this as evidence for systemic problems with law enforcement.
- Taser - the article goes into detail why sometimes lethal force is chosen over tasers.
- Police brutality - information on weapons used by law enforcement; also lists police brutality incidents such as tasering a 77-year old woman, an unconscious diabetic 11 times, and a 10-year old child that has refused to take a shower.
- Law enforcement - lists misconceptions by police apologists on law enforcement, what you should be looking for when criticizing law enforcement instead.
- Blue Lives Matter - misleading information from law enforcement's end. This one also goes in detail about misleading information using the same means of corroborating evidence and investigating misleading headlines as we've done here.
- Cops that are war veterans tend to be better at identifying hostile behavior.
- See replies in the VBPD tweet.
- Miller, L.; Chabria, A. (February 10, 2020). "California attorney general to investigate LAPD gang-framing scandal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Hendrickson, Matthew. (Apr 11, 2019). New video shows Chicago cops dragging, punching and tasing CPS student. Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved August 5, 2019.
- Lartey, J. (February 12, 2008). "Police officer fired for not shooting black suspect wins $175,000" The Guardian. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Vitka, W. (September 27, 2019). "Officers ID’d in fatal Hyattsville shooting of man ‘armed with 2 knives’ who charged police." WTOP News. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Milián, N. (September 26, 2019). "Statement on Today’s Police Shooting and Killing of a Black Man in a Disoriented State in Hyattsville, MD" ACLU. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Uliano, D. (October 2, 2019). "Prince George’s Co. community raises questions about police-involved shooting." WTOP News. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- DrRJKavanagh. (March 4, 2020) . Twitter. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
- Woods, A. (March 5, 2020). "Video Shows NYPD Officers Kicking And Beating Teen Screaming ‘I Did Not Commit Any Crime’" Newsone. Retrieved May 9, 2020.
- Oskaer__13. (May 6, 2020). . Twitter. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Thortnton, C. (May 7, 2020). "Indianapolis Police Kill Black Man, Laugh About It Not Realizing It’s Being Recorded On Facebook Live". Black Enterprise. Retrieved May 8, 2020.
- Fox58 Web, (May 7, 2020). "Man killed in Indianapolis police shooting livestreamed police chase, moments leading up to death"
- Cox, K. (May 7, 2020). "Man killed in shooting with IMPD live-streamed chase, moments leading up to his death"
- _ayeeeitsKK. (June 15, 2018). Twitter. . Retrieved June 18, 2020.
- @VBPD. (April 25, 2018). . Twitter. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
- Harper, J. (April 26, 2018). "Virginia Beach police can't find 'shred of evidence' that incident in viral tweet happened". Virginia Pilot. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
- Freightman, Y.; Collette, C. (April 26, 2018). "Multiple police agencies: Viral traffic stop story unfounded" wkyc. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
- Padilla, A. (December 27, 2016). "Federal court rules police can shoot a dog if it moves or barks when officers enter a home"
- Lauer, C; Long, C. Associated Press. (June 12, 2020). Mercury News. "Across the US, most police disciplinary records are secret." Retrieved June 18, 2020.