A local CBS News affiliate broadcast footage last night of a violent scene after a police shooting in Anaheim, California. As described by the anchors, “officers fired what appeared to be bean bags and unleashed a canine into a crowd of women and children.” They described video as being “disturbing.”
In the segment posted above, KCAL reporter Jay Jackson calls it a “near-riot.” Over footage of the chaos seemingly created by police, Jackson narrates, “Chaos and violence in the streets of Anaheim. Anaheim police firing rubber bullets confront a crowd of terrified children, parents and angry residents.” He adds, “One officer unleashes a snarling police dog, which attacks a mother holding a child and this bystander.”
A woman appears on camera visibly distraught and finding it hard to compose herself says, “They just released the dog and I had my baby.” She says the dog scratched her with his teeth and grabbed her. She says later she saw people throwing water bottles in the air and then they started shooting everyone. They shot a little kid too.
The segment ends with Jackson saying what I believe is the real story (and what I put in the headline). After police fired at innocent men, women and children, who were at most angry about a shooting in their community, the police went into damage control mode. They asked multiple people, who had been shooting video with their cell phones to let officers “buy” their footage so it would not be seen on the Internet.
KCAL’s segment on the shooting is the kind of reporting that should come from a local news outlet. It represents the truth of what was happening on the ground, but one will also notice it lacks an official statement from any police officials on what happened. Therefore, this is what was broadcast before police could propagandize the situation with their talking points.
That is why the headlines on this story now read like the headline the Los Angeles Time has chosen to run, “Angry Anaheim crowd threw bottles at police, set fires on streets.” The fires and bottle-throwing had happened when KCAL did their report, but they decided the bigger story was the police firing into this crowd. They, perhaps, understood that the police had escalated the situation on the ground to the point of chaos.
This is what police do. They use force in a manner that escalates the scene. Citizens at Occupy movement protests have witnessed this again and again. In fact, protesters in Rochester, New York, were snatched from a march and sprayed with chemical agents yesterday. There doesn’t appear to be justification for the conduct.
Let’s presume the police fired bullets and sent a police dog into a crowd because they can and let’s also presume they snatched up protesters and fired chemical agents because they can. Look at the people in the KCAL segment and you will notice they are primarily Hispanic or Latino people. This looks like a poor or working class neighborhood. They are poor immigrant-looking people and the police can do this cause they can. They also were protesting a police shooting of a suspect police will claim was justified so, again, the police can use force against the people with no repercussions.
The only thing getting in the way of being able to do this without having to take responsibility or face accountability is video footage. It would not be surprising if it was police department policy to ask if bystanders want to sell footage of police brutality to the department so they can coverup what happens when acts like this occur. In fact, one should be surprised that they did not just take the cell phones and decide to delete the footage themselves. There are cities where cops do that and get away with it because they can.
They did not arrest the people recording them. They simply offered to use taxpayer dollars to purchase the footage in order to protect officers from losing their jobs.
Here’s what an eyewitness told the Washington Post about the shooting that upset residents:
…Crystal Ventura, a 17-year-old who witnessed the shooting, told the Register the man had his back to the officer. She said the man was shot in the buttocks area. The man then went down on his knees, and she said he was struck by another bullet in the head. Another officer handcuffed the man who by then was on the ground and not moving, Ventura said.
“They searched his pockets, and there was a hole in his head, and I saw blood on his face,” she told the newspaper…
It’s a safe bet that this was not the first time a police shooting like this occurred in the neighborhood where these residents became agitated and decided to protest.
To further emphasize the point of how much police departments fear video footage of police violence, there is a film released recently that I reviewed in February called Rampart. The film is a character study of a police officer, Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), who is one of the most morally corrupt and sadistic cops in the Rampart division of the Los Angeles Police Department. What ends up destroying his career in the LAPD is not his frequent acts of violence toward innocents but rather a video that captures him brutally kicking and beating the man with his baton after the man crashes into his car. This video plays over and over again on the evening news.
District Attorney Bill Blago (Steve Buscemi) says in the film, “The only thing that’s wrong here is that a camera caught him doing police work.” The implication, of course, is that Brown would still be out doing police work with no problem if the press had not gotten a hold of the video. There would be no scandal. Brown would claim the man he brutalized had been resisting arrest and the police department might face some fallout from the news of alleged brutality, but, without the visceral imagery playing on loop on the evening news, there would be no accountability for Brown.
The video of Brown in Rampart plunges the police department he works for into another scandal (in 1999, it already has a well-known history of corruption). In essence, Brown is the personification of why a police force would oppose a citizen’s right to record. Police departments let officers commit a certain level of assault and battery when in the line of duty. Intimidation and harassment of photographers, videographers, the press or average citizens with cameras is regularly employed by officers to protect institutions and the powerful from controversy.
One need not look any further than this story to see why Anaheim police officers would want to buy up footage of police brutality. They know citizens are watching and they are afraid.
(If you have Neflix, Rampart is streaming instantly here.)