Remington Alessi was arrested on Saturday December 13 in Houston, Texas. He was arrested while engaging in a nonviolent protest against police brutality. He gives us his account of what he learned in the back of a squad car.
“We’re going to go ahead and turn off the personal video devices going forward, so be sure all officers have them turned off when engaging the protesters.” The words cut through me and chilled my spine as I sat, helplessly handcuffed in the back of a Houston Police cruiser after being arrested in the midst of a protest.
As an activist who has been around the block a few times, I knew that little would endanger a crowd more than a crowd of officers who had just received an order from higher up to disable their own personal accountability.
Barely into the pilot program, the Houston Police Department’s commanding officers managed to brazenly display how easily the personal video devices can be misused. Per an earlier interview, “Capt. Mike Skillern, who heads HPD’s gang unit and is involved in testing the cameras, said his fellow officers act “a little more professionally” when wearing the devices.” But how do they act when they switch the devices off? If officers had their way, no one would know.
The biggest fault here lies in the physical design of the cameras themselves. The VIEVU LE3 model camera is employed by HPD and is worn by over four thousand police agencies, according to the company’s website. The camera’s most conspicuous feature is an easily operated off switch, which can functionally slide over the lens of the camera at any time an officer feels the need to remove any potential accountability. Hyperbole fails in describing how much of a problem it is for police to control when video is being recorded.
Allowing police to control the video stream will create a situation in which footage will appear only when it benefits the officer, while footage of police beating unarmed suspects, throwing incendiary devices at toddlers, and erasing civilians’ video records of police brutality will never appear, due to conveniently located off switches designed by VIEVU to make the devices popular among police.
When the order came across the radio to disable the cameras, I held my breath, hoping against hope that even a single officer would object to the directive that specifically commanded officers to stop recording their activities. My heart sunk as I was met with silence. Not even the friendly Lieutenant Troy Finner, who only an hour prior had waxed poetic about being concerned about protesters’ safety had a word to say about the order. Instead, he, like every other police officer assigned to ‘protect’ the nonviolent protesters, agreed to endanger them the moment a commanding officer gave the order.
The thin blue line will be maintained, cameras or not.