Allison Bruce and Dan Kelley
Rocky Mountain News
August 26, 2008
It’s video vs. video when cops and demonstrators clash on the streets of Denver.
It seems everybody has a camera recording just about everything that happens at protests during the Democratic National Convention.
Assisted by inexpensive technology, there are groups dedicated to watching the protesters and groups dedicated to keeping an eye on the police this week. Some are keeping an eye on both, including We Are Change.
We Are Change members are a mix of Ron Paul supporters and guys who believe that the full story of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, hasn’t been told.
True to their Libertarian bent, they oppose the expansion of what they refer to as a “police state.”
They record anarchists in hopes of preventing property damage, which they feel gives police an excuse to expand their budgets and their powers.
“Storm troopers,” said Josh Keegan as his car passed a group of police. Keegan is a co-founder of We Are Change Colorado. “They’re going to have white outfits soon here – white plastic outfits. I’m serious.”
Members of We Are Change, equipped with police scanners, travel in a mobile news van, listening for reports of demonstrations and communicating via walkie-talkie with members in other cars.
Some are armed with cameras so small they could be concealed in a hand. Larger units have stability devices.
Add to that Internet and live feeds, and as the group made its way into the streets Monday, it was ready to put whatever happened online in a matter of moments.
Luke Rudkowski, who started We Are Change in New York, said the technology is empowering.
“We’re able to level the playing field,” he said. “It’s no longer the people’s word against the cops or the people’s word against the government. Video is unbiased.
“It’s kind of the great equalizer.”
We Are Change isn’t the only group putting technology to use. It’s almost guaranteed that no matter what happens this week, someone will be there to film it.
Local news outlets have videographers on the street updating their Web sites around the clock.
Citizens with video cameras are taking their clips and posting them to sharing sites such as YouTube.
On Monday, a search for “protest, Denver, convention” turned up 172 videos.
The top video was a news broadcast clip showing the run-in between protesters and a Fox News reporter. It had more than 247,000 views.
Some people are taping the police, in hopes that documentary evidence will minimize the use of force or expose it if it becomes too much.
Maxine Lankford, a member of the group Copwatch, said her group would be unable to perform its mission without videos.
“Witnesses have gone to testify against police forever,” Lankford said, “and the police are believed. Videotape provides much better evidence. The courts can’t disregard it.”
Police also have video cameras, and they’re using them.
Denver police Lt. Ron Saunier said officers use tapes as evidence in criminal prosecutions.
He said that police destroy tapes in cases where there are no arrests, but he acknowledged that police are keeping tapes a little longer in case of a lawsuit.
He said each unit assigned to crowd management has one or two videographers. He declined to discuss how many units are assigned to crowd management.
The watchers know they are being watched.
“Technology’s really a (double-edged) sword,” We Are Change’s Rudkowski said.