Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
 
Little Sisters Watching Over You (RNC Arrest Exonerations, Part I)

A fascinating post from WorldChanging, pointing to a great article in today's New York Times by Jim Dwyer. Last year during the Republican National Convention, 1,806 people were arrested while protesting or being near the protests. Of the 1670 cases which have "run their full course" 91% of the charges have been dismissed and 400 because citizen video exonerated the accused of resisting arrest or engaging in violent behavior:
Among them was Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going to pick up sushi. Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop's lawyer, prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician had cut the material by mistake.
I remember, while I was living in New York, hearing about Bill Brown and his walking tour of Manhattan's surveillance cameras. I have certainly known people who see all cameras as a possible extension of Big Brother. In the hands of a hostile state, tape that you cannot get equal access to (i.e. surveillance tape) clearly has the potential to be edited in a damaging way, as in the case of Mr. Dunlop above. Consider I-Witness video (for which I cannot yet find a website, though it seems to be founded by one Sarah Scully) , an organization that the Times cites thusly:
"The police develop a narrative, the defendant has a different story, and the question becomes, how do you resolve it?" said Eileen Clancy, a member of I-Witness Video, a project that assembled hundreds of videotapes shot during the convention by volunteers for use by defense lawyers.
So instead of Big Brother trying to get you, we potentially have lots of little sisters (and brothers) watching your back. Video from multiple viewpoints, unedited and accessible, seems much more likely to be a tool of truth, and less likely to be a tool of oppression. So if you really did nothing wrong, you're actually in better shape with more citizen witnesses. The problem, of course, is one of search:
Video is a useful source of evidence, but not an easy one to manage, because of the difficulties in finding a fleeting image in hundreds of hours of tape. Moreover, many of the tapes lack index and time markings, so cuts in the tape are not immediately apparent.
I find myself, once again, longing for true image search as opposed to tag search. [Saheli looks hopefully in the direction of Mountain View.] Audio search, as expertly done by these folks, is less likely to be helpful in these cases, since protests are not exactly bastions of good sound engineering. In the mean time good information organization and volunteer efforts, much like the ones that build open source software, are probably key, providing tags that can be searched by something like Google. So I hope to find that website sooner rather than later.

More observations (The Right To Petition: RNC Arrest Exonerations Part II) coming later, hopefully today.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
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samVaad
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Manish Vij
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Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
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Ethan Zuckerman
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The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
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