Did you know that to date in 2016, 754 Americans have been killed by police officers, 113 of whom were completely unarmed? The Guardian has created a webpage called The Counted to number of every one of these incidents. The website states that ‘The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. It is clearly shown that those belonging to certain minority groups (Native American, Black, Hispanic) are killed far more frequently than White Americans. The data shared by the site is incredibly important and clearly shows how powerful online media can be for tracking those in positions of power, while helping marginalised citizens to hold these people accountable. In addition to this however, those who feel police are abusing the authority they possess have taken to filming incidents via mobile phones.
With widespread access to mobile phones with recording capabilities, #filmthepolice has grown in popularity across the web, so much so that musicians have created songs about the issue. Academics have also discussed the issue. Bock (2016, p.14) argues “Cop-watching, as it is informally called, is not a matter of merely reacting to events; it actively seeks opportunities to film police at work. These witness accounts, supported by video evidence, challenge the authority of police and traditional media.”The inclusion of the media in this statement is noteworthy, as quite often “the mainstream media report the police version of events, with very little independent investigation. Rarely is the police account questioned, however fantastic it may appear”(Martinot 2013, p.60). This has made it even more vital for those involved in incidents to report the truth. As such, certain apps have been created to help capture video footage more discreetly and upload the files automatically, in case officers abuse their power and try to confiscate your phone. While the ability to film and share these events is certainly beneficial, it doesn’t stop corruption or resolve the issue altogether.
The issue of surveillance and the police goes even deeper when we look at how the police are surveilling us. Investigations of terrorist activity via the NYPD may have gone against court mandated rules.
Targeting one specific group in this way is racial profiling and is an injustice that furthers negative stereotypes of those who are or appear to be Muslims. Similarly, in another response to potential terrorist activity, Muslim students have been monitored in British state schools as part of the governments Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) initiative (Sian 2015). The PVE focused on areas with ‘a population of 5% or more of Muslims’ (Sian 2015, p.185) and Sian argues that this initiative essentially used Islamophobic logic to make staff spy on students. Although this isn’t police surveillance, it is a further example of authority figures watching Muslims due to fear and discrimination, rather than legitimate reasoning. The following video demonstrates this once more:
As a White Australian who is not religious, I find it quite sad that something as trivial as a beard could be cause for discrimination. Not sad for myself, as it may have been a coincidence and is not a frequent problem for me, but sad for those who are part of minority groups and are treated unfairly as a result. In spite of its great potential to be misused, especially by those in a position of power, modern surveillance can be used for the good of the public too. Just remember, you have the power to watch those who are watching you.
Bock, MA 2016, ‘Film the Police! Cop-Watching and Its Embodied Narratives’, Journal Of Communication, 1, p. 13, Academic OneFile, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 September 2016.
Martinot, S 2013, ‘On the Epidemic of Police Killings’, Social Justice, 39, 4, pp. 52-75, Education Source, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 September 2016.
Sian, KP 2015, ‘Spies, surveillance and stakeouts: monitoring Muslim moves in British state schools’, Race, Ethnicity & Education, 18, 2, pp. 183-201, Education Source, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 September 2016.