A police officer in Little Rock, Arkansas is in hot water for using a ridiculous degree of force against teenagers over a very minor infraction — skateboarding in violation of a city ordinance — and then pulling out every overzealous cop’s favorite catch-all accusations, “resisting arrest” and “disorderly conduct,” to intimidate those who dared question his actions. None of which would be news, except that it was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube:
This is one thing that’s really great about “Web 2.0” and Glenn Reynolds’s “Army of Davids“: it gives average people much more of an ability to actually fight back against petty abuses of authority like this (and the UCLA tazer incident, among others). Police officers have an enormous amount of authority in the moment as they’re conducting an arrest, and necessarily so, but when they use that authority to intimidate innocent people (or people who are only guilty of something very minor), it’s a serious problem.
In this case, the Little Rock police officer — to his credit, and also probably everlasting regret — didn’t try to stop the cameras from rolling. But often times the police will do just that, and so when I ponder questions of police abuse of authority, I inevitably think about them in the context of cops demanding that I not take pictures, which has happened on several occasions. They have no right to do that, yet pointing that out and refusing to comply with their commands is likely to engender immediate hostility and possibly result in the same sort of b.s. accusations (interfering with police business, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, etc.) that got thrown around in this case. The end result is that officers can claim more authority than they actually have, and most people will go along with it. The prevalence of digital cameras, blogs, YouTube, etc. alters that balance, if only slightly, and that’s a good thing.