Thursday, January 8, 2009

The technology of truth

Over in Oakland, California, the community is still reeling from the New Years Day shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer. Yesterday, peaceful protests gave way to a handful of violent rioters, as anger over the strange and tragic circumstances of the incident bubbled over.

The man, Oscar Grant, was face-down on a BART station platform, having been apprehended as part of a scuffle between two groups of people on the train. The police officer, Johannes Mehserle, pulled out his gun and shot the unarmed Grant in the back, then proceeded to handcuff him.

Grant died several hours later in the hospital, and it's several days later and still no one knows why in the hell Mehserle did what he did. It doesn't help that he has since quit his job, meaning that the BART authority can no longer force him by threatening to fire him. Mehserle also retained the services of an attorney almost immediately after the shooting, and has not made any statements.

Some excuses flying around are that he really meant to grab and fire his Taser, or that maybe he thought Grant was reaching for a weapon. Neither of these theories really hold water, though, once you watch the four videos that were taken of the incident itself. At worst, it looks like an execution. At best, a stupid, horribly negligent mistake.

At this point in time, it's almost impossible to predict what the outcome of any investigation or trial will be. There's almost no precedent in Oakland for an officer being charged for shooting an unarmed civilian, so the citizens are, quite rightfully, skeptical that justice will be properly served in this case.

Thing is, the only reason there's any chance of real justice in this instance is that people on the scene took video of it and then posted it online. The ability of citizens to record events as they unfold has the potential to be a powerful, grassroots tool for seeing that the truth is told and that justice prevails. Otherwise, it's official word against that of the rabble, and we all know how that usually plays out.

Assisting in this new ability are things like the new Eye-Fi Explore SD card. It uses wi-fi triangulation to geo-tag and upload photos and videos as you take them, wherever you are. Imagine the possibilities. Friends of mine had been postulating the creation of this sort of technology for years now, touting its ability to help protestors and the like get their images safely away from any potential confiscation by authorities.

So had one of those police officers present at the BART shooting been so inclined to take away the cell phones of those people taping the incident, this sort of technology would have rendered those actions moot.

There is certainly room for this sort of technology to be abused--but the same can be said for almost any invention. The important thing is that important information gets out, and maybe, just maybe, guilty parties will actually be held responsible for their transgressions.

For Oscar Grant's sake, at least, I certainly hope they do.

1 comment:

apc said...

Huffpo has an article saying that Mehserle has been arrested in Nevada for the murder (sorry, I'm kind of a technoramus and don't know how to embed a link). He's being held without bail on a fugitive warrant.

The Lost Albatross