Korryn Gaines & The Case of Video Evidence

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Introduction

In this case of civilian death by police there is a definite lack of information, and only the police’s story to go on. This is a common problem with police violence issues, and the reason that Gaines case stands out. In fear and desperation many civilians have now begun live streaming videos of their interactions with the police in order to provide security for themselves through the enforced knowledge that the policemen’s actions will not go unseen. During the standoff between the police and Gaines she was livestreaming on Facebook for just this reason, having a strong mistrust of the police. Facebook’s compliance raises new questions about freedom and transparency. 

In the Dark

This case was the first time that the police called Facebook and asked that Gaines’ account be deactivated during their confrontation. This request was complied with, and Gaines’ experience with the police was put into the black where there is no evidence to hold the officers accountable for their actions. This is a new precedent that does not bode well for citizens who are trying to hold the police accountable for excessive force. After all, “In recent years, social media and shareable video have been instrumental in helping build awareness about the ongoing epidemic of police violence against people of color in the United States” (Sum of Us). In one sense this is not surprising, as Facebook has consistently come to shift their priorities to serving their own interests over that of their users. 

Unfortunately, it sends a strong and unilateral message to citizens that their voices and means of holding the police accountable are not supported. Activists emphasize, “If Facebook simply complies with police requests to suspend broadcasts and accounts, it will be shielding police misbehavior from the public -- not to mention cutting people off from crucial support networks in the midst of police encounters” (Sum of Us). Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, has pointed out how if the police’s account were true the video would only serve to support them;

This is a situation where police have told the public that this woman was a security risk and the aggressor, and visual evidence would only have served to confirm their account…We should all be troubled … when Facebook is making ad hoc decisions about when to cooperate with law enforcement. (Fenton)

However, it is not a simple black and white right or wrong situation, as issues of risk and violence often are. However, this is all the more reason video footage would help, and yet another case in support of officer body cameras. As Baltimore Police Chief James Johnson emphasized, “Followers were encouraging her not to comply with negotiators’ requests that she surrender peacefully…can see the utility of taking that action” (Fenton). While this may be true, many feel it does not overwrite the value the evidence of the video could have been. After all, Facebook could have suspended the ability to comment of Gaines’ page while allowing the video to stream. 

The free speech and information blackout is the real problem, and the message it sends to citizens about power negotiations at a time when police misconduct is at an all time high. Spokesperson for the this issue, Elise Armacost admits, “We do expect that these requests will become more frequent now that live-streaming has become a part of everyday life” (Fenton). In defense of their actions, Facebook has said the two videos they have kept offline violated their terms of service policy, as “that the site does not allow content that shows ‘credible threats of physical harm to individuals’” (Fenton). While the police have asked Facebook to keep these videos as evidence, this is most likely lip service since no real accountability is in effect for officers involved in fatal shootings of citizens. This is why there is debate over officers carrying liability insurance.

Context

So far, 2016 has been one of the most violent years between police. Currently an estimated 584 people have been killed by the police so far this year, and “At least 62 people have been shot and killed by police across the United States within the past 30 days” (The Washington Post). Over two killings a day for the past 30 days reveals this trend is only increasing. The need for civilian representation and justice is also growing, and body cameras is the least of what could be done to ensure that police are not terrorizing minorities. After all, if the stories police tell of these incidences are true, the videos will help the public see they are not being excessive, but that is not really what the debate is about.

The debate is about fear, terrorist, force, racism, and the continued message send to minorities in America that they do not have real rights in this country. The violence in this regard is only entrenching and deepening the fear, mistrust, racism, and violence between minorities and police, as the recent “retribution” shootings of police have shown. This escalation may terrify minorities to the degree that they are afraid to comply. After all Castillo was complying apparently when he was gunned down by police. Gaines may have simply feared that compliance would also mean her death, and that fear may have prompted her irrational choice to remain in her home. Whether or not Gaines in fact did shoot at the police or threaten them is unknown (BET). 

An alarming trend which has come to light in the heat of public scrutiny of excessive force is a common scapegoating technique the police are using to distance themselves from the responsibility to the public. In the immediate aftermath of a civilian death police issue a statement in which they appear innocent no matter the context, and it is usually said that there is an “ongoing investigation” on the details of the case which cannot be discussed at present. The public waits for this “ongoing investigation” to reveal something which may explain the excessive force, but nothing usually comes to light and this was a lie. “Ongoing investigation” is a distraction tactic insinuating that police have insider information which informs the horror of the outward reality of police terrorism of minorities. However, civilians are now catching wise to this technique, not that any progress has yet to come of it.

Researchers are highlighting that the Gaines’ killing, as well as in the Freddie Gray killing in Baltimore last year lead poisoning plays a role. While, “there have been large reductions in poisoning from peeling lead paint in Baltimore over recent decades, an investigation by the Baltimore Sun last December showed that more than 4,900 children have been affected in the past 10 years” (Woods). Lead poisoning creates severe developmental disabilities resulting in permanent brain damage and behavioral issues. Lawrence Brown, professor of public health at Morgan State University cites,

Lead interrupts the stress reaction and so it distorts the way people view threats and so I think that’s absolutely germane to both Freddie Gray and Korryn Gaines…If [lead poisoning] is in fact disturbing and exaggerating the threat then you can understand why Freddie Gray is running and why Korryn Gaines has a shotgun when the police are knocking on her door. (Woods)

This is an important piece of contextual information which emphasizes that police violence is simply one of many ways minorities are systematically oppressed (Shipp). As Lawrence Brown clarifies, “Gaines’ death is the result of racist public policy that has resulted in hyper-segregation, over-policing and public health hazards like lead poisoning, which are largely isolated to black communities in Baltimore…still segregated by practice if not by law” (Woods). Hyper-polarizing debates concerning racial oppression in America must be brought to a more approachable discussion such as Brown’s which connects the many contextual dots revealing a much bigger picture than some would like to see. 

It is nearly impossible for white Americans to know, understand, or empathize rationally with how all-encompassing, institutionalized, and dangerous racism in this country. While reverse racism is in no way going to help this understanding, it is difficult to breach the racial divide. Many activists and non-profits are avidly raising awareness about the many sub-structures which support police violence against minorities. Here are a few things which could be changed:

Stop criminalizing everything: The state of California, for instance, has created 1,000 new crimes in the past 25 years, while Michigan currently has 3,102 crimes on the books. New York City alone has 10,000 crimes, rules and codes the police can enforce…police officers spend 90% of their time dealing with minor infractions like these and just 10% on violent crimes.

Stop using poor people to fatten city budgets: Most courts can issue an arrest warrant if you don't show up for your court date for a summons or ticketed violation. The result is people spending time in jail for not paying parking tickets. To make matters worse, the practice is incentivized.

Treat addicts and mentally ill people like they need help, not jail.

Make policy makers face their own racism: policy makers should have to evaluate the potential racial impact of any new laws they create, and involve community organizers and people who work with disadvantaged populations in every step of the process. (Rice)

These are a few suggestions, while there are many more. Obeying the 4th Amendment, prosecuting offending officers, removing ICE from police involvement, collect data on police violence, use body cameras, allowing for intelligent officers, revoking 1033, and establishing a regulatory body to help citizens make complaints are all methods which should be adopted. Unless changes are made the violence will only grow more entrenched, and the injustice of the racial oppression will only grow more divisive. The role social media plays in this debate is largely unclear, and citizens should not have to rely on this method to feel protected in the face of outright psychological warfare. 

Conclusion

Tragedy piles upon tragedy as 2016 continues to be one of the most violent on record. This record has only become clearer due to the ability to communicate and share via social media. Now that this method is being censored the public is verifiably affronted by the lack of freedom and oversight in the light of overwhelming police violence. This must change through policy and perspective.

Works Cited

BET. “What Really Happened During Negotiations With Korryn Gaines?” Bet.com, 4 Aug. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.bet.com/news/national/2016/08/03/what-really-happened-during-negotiations-with-korryn-gaines-.html

Fenton, Justin. “Korryn Gaines case: Video posting by suspects poses new challenges for police.” The Baltimore Sun, 9 Aug. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-ci-facebook-police-deactivate-20160803-story.html

Rice, Zak Cheney. “15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality.” Identities.mic, 1 Jul. 2015. Retrieved from: https://mic.com/articles/121572/15-things-your-city-can-do-right-now-to-end-police-brutality#.jD0PgaF5v

Shipp, E.R. “Korryn Gaines advice to her son regarding police: 'You fight them'.” The Baltimore Sun, 9 Aug. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-shipp-0810-20160809-story.html

Sum of Us. “Facebook deactivated her profile on police request. Then police killed her.” Sumofus.org, 2016. Retrieved from: https://actions.sumofus.org/a/facebook-deactivated-her-fb-on-police-request-then-police-killed-her?sp_ref=218940899.99.173910.f.549732.2&source=fb

The Washington Post. “Fatal Force.” The Washington Post, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/

Woods, Baynard. “Korryn Gaines: police killing highlights Baltimore's lead poisoning crisis.” The Guardian, 5 Aug. 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/05/korryn-gaines-baltimore-lead-poisoning-crisis