On Sunday, when Beatriz Paez saw some law enforcement officers with military-style equipment detaining people in her neighborhood in South Gate, California, she did what lots of people instinctually do these days when they spot cops: She whipped out her phone and starting filming.
She was on public property and standing at a distance from the US Marshals, but nevertheless one of the of the officers moved toward her, an interaction captured by a video filmed by another cop-watching citizen.
"You are making me feel unsafe, and I have a right to be here," Paez said to the officer. "You need to stay away from me, I don't feel safe with you closer to me."
Then the Marshal ripped the phone out of the onlooker's hands and smashed it on the sidewalk. The video of the altercation was uploaded to YouTube by the second filmer on Sunday, and it's now been viewed almost 750,000 times.
This incident comes at a time when police across the country seem increasingly like aggressors rather than protectors to many members of the public, and law enforcement is under more scrutiny than ever before thanks to nearly everyone owning a smartphone these days. Earlier this month, a South Carolina cop was charged with murder after a bystander filmed him shooting Walter Scott in the back. "It's our responsibility to take care of each other," Paez told the LA Times about her decision to record the Marshals. "It's our constitutional right to film."
She also told the paper that the Marshals started letting the detainees go when they noticed they were being filmed.
Carlos Miller, who runs the Miami-based blog Photography Is Not A Crime, told me that despite all the upheaval and calls for reform over the past year, officers still feel empowered to harass people who fill them. "You would think more cops would be on guard, but more people are out there recording, and cops know that there are no serious disciplinary action taken against them for preventing people from recording, so we are seeing more clashes because many cops just can't control themselves," he said.
The agent in the recording has not yet been named, but the US Marshals are investigating the incident. Paez, a school teacher, told a local ABC affiliate that she feared for her life when her phone was smashed, and she is suing the agency for violation of her civil rights.
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