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Bystander Video in Two Courts: The Court of Law and the Court of Public Opinion

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Abstract:

This paper examines the interpretative mechanisms at play when dealing with bystander video in the court of law and the court of public opinion. In a legal context, bystander videos include cell phone videos made by people accidentally at the depicted scene, and those that are the outputs of mechanical devices like fixed surveillance cameras as well as footage from dashboard cameras, body cameras, and Tasers. When bystander video has legal relevance and enters legal proceedings, it can profoundly affect people’s lives both for individual outcomes and for our understanding of our social order. But just because bystander video can have big effects does not make its meaning any clearer. It must be interpreted even if it does not seem to show us much of the scene it depicts. It is this interpretive problem of bystander video evidence that concerns me. What does a video fragment actually depict? What do we need to know about the underlying technologies? What different stories might the video segment substantiate both inside and outside the courtroom? I explore these questions in two recent cases—that have not yet gone to trial—of police officers accused of lethal shooting of African American men, Laquan MacDonald in 2014 in Chicago, Illinois and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2016. Dashcam footage of the MacDonald shooting was only released after a Freedom of Information Act request followed by a suit by an independent journalist. Once released, it received broad coverage in mainstream media. The television reports differed in the way they structured the coverage, providing a variety of versions of the story. The death of Alton Sterling was recorded both by cell phone and by surveillance footage. The surveillance footage from the site was removed by the police; two cell phone versions—recorded and circulated by witnesses—were made public. When the cases of the accused officers go to trial, both the participants in the trials and the public at large will have to grapple with problems of video interpretation. In outlining these problems, this paper proposes ways to think critically about video evidence.
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Association:
Name: ICA's 67th Annual Conference
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http://www.icahdq.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1234924_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Spiesel, Christina. "Bystander Video in Two Courts: The Court of Law and the Court of Public Opinion" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ICA's 67th Annual Conference, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego, USA, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1234924_index.html>

APA Citation:

Spiesel, C. "Bystander Video in Two Courts: The Court of Law and the Court of Public Opinion" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ICA's 67th Annual Conference, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego, USA <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1234924_index.html

Publication Type: Session Paper
Abstract: This paper examines the interpretative mechanisms at play when dealing with bystander video in the court of law and the court of public opinion. In a legal context, bystander videos include cell phone videos made by people accidentally at the depicted scene, and those that are the outputs of mechanical devices like fixed surveillance cameras as well as footage from dashboard cameras, body cameras, and Tasers. When bystander video has legal relevance and enters legal proceedings, it can profoundly affect people’s lives both for individual outcomes and for our understanding of our social order. But just because bystander video can have big effects does not make its meaning any clearer. It must be interpreted even if it does not seem to show us much of the scene it depicts. It is this interpretive problem of bystander video evidence that concerns me. What does a video fragment actually depict? What do we need to know about the underlying technologies? What different stories might the video segment substantiate both inside and outside the courtroom? I explore these questions in two recent cases—that have not yet gone to trial—of police officers accused of lethal shooting of African American men, Laquan MacDonald in 2014 in Chicago, Illinois and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2016. Dashcam footage of the MacDonald shooting was only released after a Freedom of Information Act request followed by a suit by an independent journalist. Once released, it received broad coverage in mainstream media. The television reports differed in the way they structured the coverage, providing a variety of versions of the story. The death of Alton Sterling was recorded both by cell phone and by surveillance footage. The surveillance footage from the site was removed by the police; two cell phone versions—recorded and circulated by witnesses—were made public. When the cases of the accused officers go to trial, both the participants in the trials and the public at large will have to grapple with problems of video interpretation. In outlining these problems, this paper proposes ways to think critically about video evidence.


 
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