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Calling out for help by capturing police shootings on camera

Why did a police officer use lethal force against Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop in Minnesota? Hari Sreenivasan talks to Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker, David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Issie Lapowsky of Wired discuss the growing impact of social media in police confrontations, police training in implicit bias and whether video evidence is changing the conversation.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The police shooting of an African-American man in Minnesota, and the disturbing live video that captured part of the aftermath, led to another day of anger, distress and serious questions, among them, why was lethal force used, how police respond to situations and the growing impact of video and social media.

    We explore this now with Jelani Cobb, a staff writer for "The New Yorker." His latest project is a "Frontline" documentary called "Policing the Police." David Klinger is a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and a senior fellow at The Police Foundation. And Issie Lapowsky, a staff writer at "Wired" magazine.

    Jelani, let me start with you.

    Like thousands, if not millions of people today, you saw that video. Your initials reactions?

    JELANI COBB, "The New Yorker": It was just abject horror. It was an amazing thing to see someone able to maintain their composure in the face of just the most horrible circumstance that we could imagine.

    And to think this happened just in the span of maybe 36 hours after the previous video of someone who died in an incident with the police, it honestly was a lot to process.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David Klinger, your reaction?

    DAVID KLINGER, University of Missouri-St. Louis: The video out of Minnesota is one of the most compelling things I have ever seen.

    I follow up with what the other gentleman just said about trying to process it in terms of her composure, the fact that her daughter is there, her daughter comforting her later on, the video opening with the gentleman bleeding, obviously being shot, the officer shouting. It was very compelling and very disturbing.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David, staying with you for a second, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of traffic stops every day, and police around the country figure out a way to never get anything to escalate to this level. What's failing in these cases? What's the training on a basic traffic stop?

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    Well, basically, you walk up and identify yourself as a police officer, ask for driver's license, registration, and then you move from there.

    In this situation, as I understand it, the driver told the officer that he had a CCW permit, carry concealed weapon permit, and it devolved from there, and trying to understand how it got to that point is going to be the nub of the investigation.

    And because the video starts after the shots have been fired, we don't know what preceded it. And so I say we just need to wait and see what all the rest of the evidence is regarding what happened in terms of pulling the trigger.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Issie, you wrote today that this live-streaming was almost like a 911 call in the context of police abuse.

  • ISSIE LAPOWSKY, “Wired”:

    Sure.

    When you're on the other side of police abuse, police brutality or police shootings, you can't call the police, which is the natural instinct that most people have when you're in an emergency situation. So now social media has really become this lifeline for people. It's not only there to document it, so we can see what happened after the fact, but in that moment, in that video, you can see Diamond Reynolds is really calling out for help in that moment because she doesn't know where else to turn.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Jelani, the idea that woman was literally giving out her address, trying to get people to come to her, is this a sign that there is a vacuum in some way, that law enforcement agencies, the Department of Justice, when they do these special investigations, that there is some sort of — still a failure there that there cannot be that accountability that someone can turn to?

  • JELANI COBB:

    Certainly.

    And, you know, we have seen this again and again and again in a kind of systemic way. You know, to the bigger point I think that's here is also something about the gun culture in the United States, wherein we have seen the response to, you know, mass shootings and the total sum of homicides in this country, and in the face of that, a really recalcitrant insistence upon a kind of fundamentalist version of the Second Amendment.

    Yet this person was actually guilty of nothing more than taking the Second Amendment at face value and identifying himself as a registered weapon holder. And it results in him being killed, fatally shot.

    And so I think it sends a message here that these principles really are not made with us in mind. They don't apply to us.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David Klinger, Governor Mark Dayton even said out loud today — and you might have heard it in the piece that preceded this conversation — he said, basically, would this have happened if the driver or passenger was white? And the governor says no.

    But what's the training that police have when it comes to racial profiling, something that the whole country is sensitive about these days?

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    There's a lot of training that's been going on around the country.

    The United States Department of Justice is putting on an implicit bias — I can talk — excuse me — implicit bias training for all federal agents, as I understand it, and so it's something that is ongoing. But I would challenge the governor's position.

    He knows nothing about how the situation went down. He's not privy to the investigative case file. The investigation is still ongoing. And to say that it was a racially-based shooting, we have no idea at this point. It may well be, but we don't know that at this point.

    And the evidence that we do have in terms of the statistics that we do have indicate that in fact the majority of the people who are killed across the country by United States police officers are white people.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David, staying with you for a second…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Sorry. Go ahead, Jelani.

  • JELANI COBB:

    Yes.

    Also, that's misleading to frame it in that way. Certainly, we should be very cognizant of the fact that the majority of the people in this country who are killed by police are white. Also, a majority of the population is white.

    But when you look at this in terms of population share, a proportionately smaller number of white people than the general population are killed by police and a proportionately higher portion of people of color are.

    And that goes — if we're going to say — kind of one of the things people will say immediately is that, well, there are higher crime statistics among people of color. But even when dealing with unarmed individuals, there is still a disproportionate number of people of color who are killed, when you look at their share of the population.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yes. According The Washington Post database that keeps track of this, I think, in the last two years, when they have been tracking it, there have been 2.5 times as many African-Americans killed as white people.

    Issie, I want to bring this to you for just a second. Do the videos change something? Do the nature of the fact that — when I saw it last night, I almost found it impossible to believe that it was true, and then all of a sudden, as it was rolling out, there were kind of different feelings that I was having.

  • ISSIE LAPOWSKY:

    I think this video cuts really deep.

    You have a man there dying in the driver's seat. You have his girlfriend sitting next to him suffering. You have the police officer yelling out these barbaric screams. You have a little 4-year-old girl who just witnessed a murder suddenly comforting her mother.

    It's impossible not to be sympathetic. So there's a lot of conversation about whether these videos should immediately be published, and I think that's — we have to decide as a society whether we, you know, want to protect these sort of delicate sensibilities we have, or if we want to let these stories be shared in full, a side of the story that historically has not really been shown.

    And the value of social media has always been allowing people to go direct to the public and sort of sidestep the mainstream media. And I think that's exactly what we saw here. So, yes, I do think it is changing things.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Jelani, what about the possibility of a desensitizing effect, just the fact that we're talking about two videos in such short succession over time? Does it become almost like a drumbeat and ultimately does it change the equation?

  • JELANI COBB:

    Well, I don't know.

    I think that one that happens with this is that many communities have talked about this and were not believed. So at the very least, we now have some sort of documentary evidence of what is actually happening.

    And as far as desensitizing, I mean, the majority of the population has been desensitized to the suffering of this community since the inception of this country. And so I don't think that this is going to somehow or another make someone who was concerned about these issues kind of look askance and say that I can no longer countenance what's happening.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    David Klinger, video seems to be a reality that every police department has to deal with, whether it's the video coming out of their body cameras and how those body cameras are protected and the chain of custody on where that video is throughout the entire process, or, as we now see, more often than not, after the initial moment of the incident, someone, a bystander or in this case part of the victims are actually turning to social media to turn this on.

    So how do police departments around the country kind of brace for this, prepare for this?

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    What they should do is, they should be telling all their officers to assume that you are being videoed, even if you are not wearing a body camera or you don't have an in-car video that's working, and to, therefore, act appropriately, just as another check to remind officers to do the right thing.

    One of the things that's frustrating to me is there is still some police agencies out there that don't understand that citizens have an absolute lawful right to go ahead and video and audio-record them when they're in public space.

    The only issue is that we have to negotiate or explain to people what the rule set is going to be about not interfering. And I think that that's the next thing that people are going to have to understand. There's a time and place to step back and take that video. But you shouldn't be introducing yourself into the event itself.

    I have got friends who are police officers who say that a sizable number of times when they get out of their vehicle, a crowd will surround them and try to egg them on, so that they can get a better clip to put up on YouTube.

    And so I think we are going to have to figure some stuff out here. But police agencies shouldn't be worried about the fact that the public is monitoring them with video and audio recordings.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, David Klinger from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, Jelani Cobb of "The New Yorker," and Issie Lapowsky of "Wired," thanks so much for joining us.

  • JELANI COBB:

    Thank you.

  • DAVID KLINGER:

    Thank you.

  • ISSIE LAPOWSKY:

    Thank you.