Across social media, the clips spread and seem to multiply: Police officers ram their cars into protesters holding up a barricade. Police officers detain and cuff an on-duty deliveryman, in spite of the protection his “essential worker” status supposedly affords. Police officers tear gas a captive crowd in a park. Police officers push a 75-year-old long time peace activist to the ground, where they leave him bleeding from his ears.
Filming police brutality is always dangerous. But during these protests, the sheer volume of it that has been caught on camera and circulated online speaks to the fact that Americans are fed up and ready to press record, whatever the risk. Lawyer T. Greg Doucette and mathematician Jason Miller are working on compiling these clips and images of violence in a public Google Sheet, titled “GeorgeFloyd Protest - police brutality videos on Twitter.”
Doucette told VICE he was originally compiling a Twitter thread of videos of police violence, and got to the point that he was receiving thousands of messages on Twitter. “[The videos] come in from a variety of spots, but the vast majority are sent via DM,” Doucette said. “I've got nearly 1,000 unopened DMs at this point plus ppl I've already talked with sending me more.”
Miller took Doucette’s compilation a step further by actually creating the spreadsheet itself. “When I saw [Doucette] was creating a Twitter thread with examples of police brutality, I knew the thread was going to be LONG, I knew it was going to be good, and I knew it was going to reach a lot of people,” Miller told VICE. “I wanted to help, so I just started making a Google spreadsheet so that other people could see, sort, and spend time with the documentary evidence he shared.”
The new format, Miller said, makes the information more accessible to those who aren’t scrolling the TL on a regular basis. “Twitter is a ‘closed’ social media environment,” Miller said. “And Twitter has ultimate control of the information that’s shared on their platform. Getting information out of these platforms could be important. There’s also value in presenting information in multiple ways, so using a Google spreadsheet was the natural thing for me to use. People could sort the items by location, looking at stories in areas that are important to them. People could also find Greg’s original tweet for a given video.”
This kind of documentation serves as a counter-narrative to repeated denials of responsibility from the police, who are routinely claiming protesters were the ones to grow violent first, or that a man who they pushed to the ground, cracking his head open, simply tripped. It also combats media coverage that downplays police violence or even goes to the lengths of using passive voice to obfuscate what the police have done.
Doucette said having this much footage in one place is a big advantage, because it more effectively communicates the volume of police misconduct that takes place on a regular basis. “When they're shared as one-offs, you see a familiar pattern: the victim ‘was no angel’ or ‘wasn't perfect’ or ‘just should have complied,’ and the officer is ‘just one bad apple,’ or ‘we shouldn't rush to judgment,’ or ‘you don't know what happened before the video started rolling.’”
Part of the reason these videos are so impactful right now is because there are so many of them, emerging from protests all over the country. “It's rare to have coordinated lawlessness by cops like this,” he said. “You typically only see it after major protests like in 2014 (Ferguson) and 2016 (Philando Castile + Alton Sterling murders within 36 hours of each other).”
Doucette, who practices in North Carolina and has defended protesters of all stripes since 2014, said he’s been monitoring police brutality since 2006. “I'm a political "anti-state" conservative, and police brutality angers me on a visceral level,” he said. “People need to understand that what they're seeing now is *normal.* It happens several times a week, every week, every year, for years now. It's not a one-off; it's cultural rot and flagrant lawlessness.”
It’s important to be able to confirm when and where footage was shot; Doucette said he’s been able to do so while going back and forth with the Twitter users who tip him off. “I crowdsource info I'm missing,” he said. “Most of the ppl DMing them have been good about providing what info I need though. And if I can't confirm, it goes in a queue until I can (e.g. there's a video of a Richmond VA officer spitting – the claim is it was on the protestor, but it looks like it's on the ground, so we're holding it until we can confirm either way).”
He’s also been able to spot some old clips recirculating, thanks to the amount of time monitoring he’s banked. If something looks familiar, best to verify in order to avoid spreading misinformation. “Most of [the videos] are shared in multiple places, so it's easy to find the info,” he said. “Others I've already seen because of my podcast—for example, the guy getting ninja-kicked from behind that's going viral today is actually from years ago.”
Doucette shared a few tips for documenting and compiling footage of police brutality, and encouraged anyone who feels safe enough to do so to document when they can. (And for further reading on how to safely film a police incident, check out this guide from Teen Vogue.)
“Record everything. Share. Catalog,” Doucette said. If you’re at a protest and the energy changes, take a video. If you’re walking down the street and you see stragglers getting rounded up, take a video. The big caveat here is that you should also be maintaining an awareness of your surroundings, because safety is paramount.
But simply being in the “right” place at the “right” time could mean you’re able to capture something heinous that would get swept under the rug otherwise. “Above all, people need to continue raising the volume on this daily brutality by the government they finance that's supposed to ‘serve and protect’ them,” Doucette said.
Unfortunately, with leaders in most major cities turning a blind eye to the violence enacted against protesters by the police, and with law enforcement itself deliberately obfuscating the truth, it seems that the need for this kind of footage (and the amount of it in circulation) is only going to increase. At the very least, we know that many, many people are watching.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.