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Viral videos of police violence are leading to disciplinary action

Participants in Black Lives Matter protests are recording police brutality to keep officers accountable.

Police officers advance after firing tear gas during a demonstration on May 31, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Police officers across the country are now under investigation or facing disciplinary action, after viral videos captured their violence against participants in peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

Countless videos uploaded on social media have documented officers using excessive force against the protesters, who have been marching since last week, following the police killing of George Floyd on May 25. As these videos have spread online, they have further incensed citizens advocating for stricter police regulations, while others are having even more tangible impacts. Some city officials have responded to the videos by opening investigations into the depicted incidents, putting the offending officers on administrative leave, or even terminating them from their positions.

In Buffalo, New York, two officers were suspended without pay on Thursday night after they pushed a 75-year-old man to the ground, an incident which was filmed by a local NPR reporter and subsequently went viral on Twitter. The police initially reported that the man had tripped and fallen on his own, but the video evidence shows otherwise — which sparked immediate outrage. (The man is now in stable but serious condition, according to the city’s mayor.)

Some officers in New York City have also been disciplined for their violence against protesters. One officer was suspended with pay on Friday following an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation, after he was caught pushing a woman to the ground on May 29 in Brooklyn. The officer’s supervisor, who was on the scene but did not intervene, was also “transferred,” according to NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Another NYPD officer stationed in Brooklyn was also suspended without pay after pulling down a protester’s mask and pepper spraying him in the face on May 30. The incident was captured on video and shared to Twitter, where it’s received more than 3 million views so far.

In Atlanta, six police officers were arrested for illegally tasing two college students on May 30. The students were driving when the police stopped them for violating the city’s curfew and repeatedly asked what was going on as the officers opened the car door. The officers then aggressively dragged the students out of the car after tasing them, then slashed their tires and broke the driver’s side window — all of which was captured on air by a local CBS affiliate. Two of the six officers were fired and three were placed on desk duty before prosecutors issued arrest warrants for charges of aggravated assault, illegally pointing a taser, and criminal damage to property against all six officers.

And in Chicago, two officers were relieved of their duties pending an investigation into a violent arrest they made on May 31. A video shared on social media showed police, including the two officers who were disciplined, swarming a car in a mall parking lot and breaking the car windows while dragging people out. One woman was thrown to the ground, and an officer put his knee to her neck — the same restraining method that killed George Floyd. The officers said they had pulled over the car because the passengers had “assembled with three or more persons for the purpose of using force or violence to disturb the peace.” The passengers deny any wrongdoing, NBC Chicago reported.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has now opened an investigation into potential criminal charges, and the FBI is investigating the incident as well, according to State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Viral videos have been crucial in keeping the police accountable

Viral videos have been essential in capturing police brutality, particularly as the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests takes hold. One Twitter thread alone, posted by lawyer T. Greg Doucette, shares over 300 examples of police brutality — many of which depict cars running into protesters, the police firing an excessive amount of tear gas, and groups of officers assaulting individuals. The thread has been shared widely, with more than 58,000 retweets.

In recent years, technology has become more essential and accessible to protesters, and almost everyone carries a high-quality camera, thanks to their smartphones. This has made it easier for anyone to capture police brutality, often in real time, since they can easily upload the videos to social media on the spot. Incidents that might have been erased in the past are now recorded for the entire world to see.

“The ability for the public to document what is going on is an important tool for holding powerful people and institutions accountable, including the police,” Evan Greer, deputy director of the digital advocacy group Fight for the Future, told the Washington Post earlier this week regarding the use of cameras by protesters. “The availability of, particularly, smartphone cameras has dramatically increased the number of instances that we see.”

The officers who faced disciplinary action in Chicago, Atlanta, and New York would likely not have been reprimanded if not for the viral videos that captured their misconduct. That’s why so many protesters are filming and uploading scenes from the demonstrations to keep the police accountable.

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