I put off watching the video of an unarmed man being shot to death by Oakland BART police for as long as possible this week, because it seemed like Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing said all that needed to be said. A man was killed, the incident was caught on camera by several onlookers, and while the official investigation into 22-year-old Oscar Grant’s death went on behind closed doors, people continued to watch and discuss the clips uploaded to YouTube on Jan 6.
But, unfortunately, the story didn’t end there, and so today I finally clicked play. Once I succumbed, I found myself watching and rewatching the videos, unable to pick out exactly what was happening, thanks to the poor quality of the cell-phone footage. (This clip from local news coverage has some helpful voice-over, but it’s still a little murky.) Out of context, sharper eyes than mine might be needed to understand what’s happening; but in context the video only intensifies the emotions surrounding this incident, whether or not it was an accident — making the resulting Oakland riots that broke out last night seem like an inevitability.
Another inevitability is that the Oakland-area riots also were documented on YouTube, with most video coverage matching the tone of YouTuber Zennie‘s 10-minute report from the night. To anyone watching the story unfold online, the riots were the logical result of the feedback loop created by the proliferation of the clips. The more every news organization embedded videos of the killing with their coverage, and the longer no official charges were pressed against Rapid Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle, emotions swelled.
In 1992, the blunt footage of Rodney King being beaten by five LAPD officers triggered riots — the Oscar Grant footage isn’t quite as conclusive, but makes up for that lack of clarity with the multiple videos available and the intense online discussion that ensued (hundreds of comments and annotations are spread across the different versions on YouTube). Law enforcement can’t claim to be ignorant of the kind of reaction these clips would get, because it’s all out there in public. A lot of injuries and property damage could have been avoided if those in charge had considered the fact that this sort of rage, while born online, could all too easily be released on the streets.
This review, along with more details about the show, can be found at NewTeeVee Station.