Each Other's Keepers: The Right to Record
Compilation by Cop Watch
With the ongoing police killings of unarmed African-Americans - and the little-reported, all-too-common police targeting, harassment and arrest of those who record them - dozens of high-profile documentary filmmakers have published an open letter calling on their community to defend those citizen journalists who have "shattered America’s myth of racial equality (and) moved white Americans closer to conscience and consciousness." Signatories to the letter, organized by "(T)ERROR" director David Felix Sutcliffe and published at The Talkhouse, include Laura Poitras, Alex Gibney and many other prize-winning filmmakers, some of whom have won Courage Under Fire awards for making politically explosive works. All stand behind what Sutcliffe calls their "core belief that images have insurmountable power" to create change, and demand accountability.
Sutcliffe cites the importance of that power when confronting the "systematic and vindictive targeting of citizen journalists by law enforcement." The examples of those persecuted, prosecuted and traumatized for an entirely legal act are many: From Diamond Reynolds livestreaming the shooting of Philando Castile to Abdullah Muflahi documenting Alton Sterling's death to Kevin Moore filming Baltimore police dragging Freddie Gray to the van to Ramsey Orta, who filmed police choking Eric Garner and has been persistently stalked and arrested ever since. Sutcliffe calls on the Department of Justice to investigate these abuses against what are largely black and brown citizens who have taken on their task without the protection enjoyed by professional filmmakers. "By hurtling these images through the front windshield of public consciousness," he writes, "they have made it impossible for white Americans to continue ignoring a truth our leaders have spent centuries obfuscating: black lives matter. While our society struggles to absorb this truth, police departments nationwide have maneuvered to asphyxiate the efforts of those whose cameras and courage have revealed it." Similarly, multiple groups - Filming Cops, We Cop Watch, Photography Is Not A Crime - have formed in recent years to affirm his message: "Be the media."
Chicago protests. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty