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Technology and Protest

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In the last week, the crucial role of technology documenting the shockingly routine murder of black people by the police has again been demonstrated.

According to The Guardian, 566 people have been killed by police in the US in 2016 alone. This week, the videos that have circulated on social media of police brutality make these horrific events at distant places feel real for everyone.

“I wanted to put it on Facebook to go viral, so that the people could see,” Reynolds said of the footage, according to Wired. “I wanted the people to determine who was right and who was wrong. I want the people to be the testimony here.”

Just days prior to Castile’s fatal shooting, Alton Sterling, a black man who was selling CDs outside a convenience store, was shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The incident, which is now being investigated, was captured by a bystander on his smartphone.

Such videos channeled on social media are opening up evidence to the public. As we saw with the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the fatal shooting by police of unarmed black man Walter Scott in South Carolina in 2015, scenarios that might have otherwise been disputed now have the chance to reverberate across the world.

Now, some say, “we have this video and the cops don’t care. They still kill black people with impunity. What difference does it make?” And that’s certainly true. Technology is not going to end racism and it isn’t going to end police violence. However, the police have been routinely killing black people without consequence since the 17th century and it continues today. The major difference today is that everyone has cameras and access to the internet. That is a huge difference. Why were there protests after Ferguson and after Baton Rouge and Minneapolis? It’s because of that technology. The reality is, like we saw after Triangle in 1911 and the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, that people seeing injustice is the biggest difference maker in whether they care enough to do anything about it. That’s why no one cares when 1138 people die making our clothing in Bangladesh. Corporations have intentionally moved production to places where consumers don’t see the death. It’s why information has become politicized and dangerous to those in power. It’s why North Carolina used the Baton Rouge and Minneapolis incidents to shield the police from the public seeing body cam footage. It’s why Idaho and other states have sought to pass ag-gag bills to make owning footage showing animal cruelty inside food processing plants illegal. So long as we all have these cameras, we have the potential to create change. These cameras are absolutely critical in spurring this change. If the cameras get people in the streets and cause national conversations about racism, then that’s a genuinely good thing. The conversation since these incidents, where even a reprehensible man like Tim Scott is talking about the police pull him over because he’s black and people like Newt freaking Gingrich are acknowledging the open racism of the police, has shown some level of progress. That only happens with this technology. I am hoping that somehow the use of these technologies help spur changes on the conditions of work around the world as well. But whenever we see injustice, we should film it and send it to the world. Use the technology to fight for justice. It’s one of the only weapons we have.

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