Stop A Hate Crime With Your Phone

Here are the laws and logistics

IN THE WAKE of Trump’s victory, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a spike in hate crimes—more than 700 racist, sexist, and homophobic incidents across the country in eight days. These transgressions included assault, property damage, bullying, verbal abuse, and graffiti. Documenting these incidents may help draw perpetrators to justice or bring attention to otherwise unseen offenses. “Video may not always capture everything, but it often records details that are hard to remember or convey and the precise timing of events,” says Marcus Benigno, director of media advocacy at the American Civil Liberties Union. “It’s an objective record.” Here are a few key guidelines to ensure your videos are viable evidence, according to WITNESS, a technology and human rights organization.


Secure your device: Enable automatic backup, free up storage space (a one-minute video shot on an iPhone can be as large as 200 megabytes, depending on resolution), and set up a basic passcode for protection. You can also Download the ACLU’s free Mobile Justice app, which allows users to take recordings that are automatically uploaded to ACLU servers.


Let’s say you’re at a peaceful protest and the police start roughing up a bystander—you suspect it might escalate. Before recording, examine your surroundings and identify possible dangers posed to you or the potential victim, as well as an escape route. Know your personal and civic rights: You are legally permitted to record anything that’s happening in a public setting, whether it involves law enforcement officials or private citizens.


Hold the camera steady. Once you’ve hit record, clearly state the time, date, and location. Film street signs, landmarks, and nearby surveillance cameras to establish where you are. If you’re filming police officers, get a shot of their car’s license plate or zoom in on their badges. Each shot should last at least 10 seconds. If you are filming a tense interaction that may turn violent, shoot the faces of other witnesses in the vicinity. Capture at least one slow, 360-degree pan—there might be action happening behind your back.


When a bystander filmed a racist subway passenger harassing an Assyrian woman, yelling “Trump might deport you,” the resulting video went viral. Incidents like these are categorized as hate speech, which is protected under the First Amendment. What the harassers are doing isn’t illegal, but publicly exposing their bigotry on Facebook for millions to see has a different kind of effect. In such cases, you want to zoom in on the harasser and protect the identities of the victims. YouTube has a “blur” tool that allows you to conceal faces. If you’re filming a possible hate crime, don’t post the video publicly, but share it with relevant authorities. Include the time, date, specific location, and a short description of the video’s content in the title or description when you send it off. Accuracy is important, so leave out opinions and exaggerations.


Don’t manipulate the original clip, file format, or structure. Never edit the original footage—always make a copy and edit from there. You can send the video to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (a Muslim civil rights organization), the ACLU, or other legal advocacy groups. They’ll know best as to whether the situation warrants a public release (Films of police shootings, for example, may require more discretion.) Back up and store a copy for yourself—just in case.

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