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I love the Witness Organization.

Witness Organization - Recording Police - Seattle Criminal Lawyer Blog

I LOVE the Witness organization. Founded by Peter Gabriel, their mission is to help people create valid and admissible videotapes of wrongdoing by authorities. How can that not be great? It is totally turning everything on its head. Watching the people watching us. In a way that works.


My initial reservation is the one I have expressed previously: When cops are misbehaving it might be better to just do what they say rather than it risk your life. You are just as dead right as you are dead wrong and so on.

Still, when it works, it is wonderful. And, as I noted in my last post, it can cut both ways. In the now infamous Officer Slager shooting of Mr. Scott in North Charleston, it may even provide a defense for Slager, depending on the other evidence that exists.

Cameras are inherently neutral witnesses after all.


Some will bemoan the loss of privacy that results from even more folks out there taping everyone. To those naysayers I say “Get over it”. You are like sunbathers lying on a beach, looking up at a giant tsunami about to roll over them, complaining about the humidity. We are all gonna get wet in this tidal waive of information technology. Just ask Robert Durst  or Edward Snowden.

However, here is the great part. By turning the serpent back on itself we are empowering everyone to effect positive change in this world. When we see something bad happening now maybe we can do something about it.

After trying for decades to create that kind of change by fighting for people’s constitutional rights every day of my life, it makes me smile to see good ol’ Number One from the Bill of Rights riding in to save the day. The First Amendment.

You see there is a reason that the First Amendment is first. It is the foundation for all other rights. For example, you may have a right to have a fair trial and due process under the Fifth and Sixth. But if your lawyer is not allowed to say anything in court what good would that do you? (Sometimes it feels that way when you are in the middle of a hotly contested trial, but that is a different post.)

The First Amendment means that we can think freely, say whatever we want to say (so long as it is not physically dangerous or criminal) and be able to preserve it all for the world to see later. Without some cop grabbing the phone out of your hands and basically stealing it. That is one thing that makes me furious.

It is NOT illegal to witness and videotape someone in a public place. If you are actively interfering with lawful police procedures, for example, by standing in the way of their investigation, then it is some form of Obstruction of Justice. You can get charged with that crime easily without a camera in your hand.

I once saw a cop speed up to an intersection on University Avenue and scream at a random pedestrian, ordering him to tell him where the “fleeing suspect” went (no one had seen a fleeing suspect run by). When the poor kid just shrugged the idiot cop said, “Wait right there. I’m coming back to arrest you for obstruction.” The kid left.

This goes to the heart of the matter. Cops thinking they are omnipotent. They are not. I still say it is best to sort it out later in court than it is to risk getting shot. But maybe exercising our First Amendment rights is the best way to put an end to the tyranny. Then maybe sue the bastards.

If they know they are being legally video taped, for example by people who took the Witness organization’s “Video as Evidence”  training classes, then maybe they will think twice before they bash someone’s head in. Or falsely arrest someone for Obstruction.

I just wish I had had my iPhone with me back then…