Video, Civil Rights and Cultural Cognition

I’ve been reading Howard Wasserman’s new paper, Orwell’s Vision: Video and the Future of Civil Rights Enforcement, which he blogged about here. The paper makes some terrific points about how video evidence is likely to affect the future of civil rights litigation, and argues that control over who gets to record transactions between police and citizens is the key question still up for grabs. Along the way, Howard offers some good & useful criticisms of the cultural cognition project’s work on Scott v. Harris, which we’re grateful to receive.

Apropos of Howard’s paper, check out the following video, which I saw at Daily Kos. As the tape starts, Dino Rossi, candidate for governor in Washington State, is accepting the endorsement of a local police guild, when someone in the crowd notices that a staffer for Governor Gregoire is on site videotaping the event (probably hoping to capture a gaffe):

As the (remarkably substantive, in parts) comment thread at DK points out, you can see the actions of the videotaper in this context in many different ways, depending, no doubt, on your orientations about the value of of private control of “private property,” the usefulness of taping interactions with the police, and the authority of the police to control interactions with citizens by, say, demanding identification. And there’s also the fact that the taper, because he’s both a whiner and clueless, doesn’t make the best case possible for his side of the interaction. Still, I imagine that if we showed this interaction to a demographically diverse sample of the population, individuals’ views of who was in the right would be motivated by cultural orientations. (To be clear, on first glance, I don’t think there is a colorable constitutional/statutory claim here.)

How should the law treat these kinds of competing interests? Check out Howard’s paper for a theory.

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6 Responses

  1. phree says:

    OK, so the video taper panics and is not very articulate. However, there are a couple of issues here that are not addressed. Is the venue private property as the police suggest? If so, they can restrict access even though it is against the whole freedom of the press ideal. Second, does the video taper have press credentials as an Indymedia rep or is he acting as a private citizen? The answers to these questions would frame the legal debate, but on an ethical level, the police have long since stopped upholding core constitutional principals.

  2. Howard Wasserman says:

    Dave: Good post and thanks for the shout-out, as well as the new lead to use. My take is here:

  3. Orin Kerr says:

    What does it mean to “be in the right”? If it means, “who was acting like less of an ass,” or simply “who was acting in a better way,” the mere fact that one guy was a police officer and the other guy was working for a Democratic political campaign trying to make the Republican candidate look bad is more than enough to generate different views of who was “in the right” based on cultural orientation. I’m not sure we need the video for that.

  4. dave hoffman says:

    Orin, if we showed the video to subjects, presumably we’d find a way to vary those democrat/republican characteristics and see if individuals’ views are entirely partisan. I suspect they are influenced (as you suggest) but that you’d still see an effect if it was a republican operative at a democratic event.

  5. shg says:

    Consider the difference had the person pushing the taper out the door not been a police officer. Most private property owners don’t have a cop on hand to enforce their will.

    Does being a police officer alter the equation, and should police officers be using their authority as public officials to vindicate private interests? What if the officer was backing the taper, and using his authority to force those inside to allow the taper to remain?

    Does the propriety of the use of public authority change based on which side the cop supports?

  6. Joel Rosenberg says:

    I’m trying to figure this one out, myself. The Rossi campaign wanted to have a press conference to promote the support of this particular police organization for Rossi. Fair enough, I guess. (The specter of politicians donning kneepads to solicit endorsements from the badged set doesn’t thrill me, but apparently others thrill differently; different strokes, and all.)

    So, rather than having it in a public place, they had it at the cop club, where they figured they could, if they wanted to, control who couldn’t tape it; if Rossi makes some sort of “macaca” gaffe, they don’t want the Republicans Youtubing it.

    So while the Rossi campaign was using local cops as their editorial censors, where the hell were the local press guys who had just been standing there a moment before? Aren’t they, like, in favor of folks covering public events without being hassled, even if the folks running the public event may think that they’re not going to like some of the coverage?

    Or do they only give a damn when it’s their own station’s ox being gored?