Larry Wilmore Talks the Role of Cellphones in Police Killings

July 7th 2016

Aimee Kuvadia

On Wednesday night's episode of "The Nightly Show," Larry Wilmore spoke about a powerful tool most of us have right in our pockets — a tool, if used effectively, that has potential to elicit real change with the single push of a button.

The Comedy Central host was, of course, referring to our cellphones:

"Thank God for f*cking cellphones. Really. Because we would never even hear about incidents like this otherwise. In fact, part of what makes people in the Black community so enraged about this is for years, we never had evidence for these things."

According to Vox, Police have killed at least 2,611 people since Darren Wilson fatally shot black teen Michael Brown in August 2014. While many of these incidents go under the radar due to a lack fo documented evidence, cellphone recordings of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have vaulted policy brutality back into the national spotlight.


Although video evidence arguably hasn't always brought justice, it has managed to raise public awareness about important issues.

Given this new reality where documenting police misconduct is so important, the American Civil Liberties Union created the Mobile Justice app, which allows users to record footage of interactions with law enforcement. The footage is then immediately sent to the nonprofit organization for storage in case a police officer were to delete your video.

ATTN: spoke to ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley about the importance of video footage and how civilians can record video footage that's valuable.

How can civilians ensure they record video footage that will prove useful as evidence?

I would say turn them on as early as possible and leave them going for a period of time to make sure they capture the follow-up to an event. Sometimes it's recommended that people, if you have time and can do so without missing anything, set the scene and the context. Rather than having an extreme close-up ... catch the broader visual context of the surroundings. Narration can be very helpful, that you're narrating in live time what is and is not taking place.

What steps should a person take after recording incriminating video footage?

I think that if it's something that's important to the public, that you make it public. Post it on social media, and let the community see what you have. And the police should also make their video public when there are incidents that are publicly important.

What can people do to document an incident if recording video is not an option?

Audio recording can also be valuable. Short of that, having witnesses, and/or writing down notes and recollections during or as soon after an incident as possible are recommended.

Are there instances where it may be dangerous to record video footage?

You do have a right to take video if you're in a public place. You have a right to photograph police as long as you're truly not interfering with them. But if you have a belligerent police officer who is yelling at you and telling you to turn your camera off — police officers have a lot of power — that can be a dangerous situation. You need to figure out how important it is and what risk you're willing to take being arrested or worse ... to stand up for your rights.

Can you describe why video evidence is important and in what ways it can be used to raise awareness and bring about change?

Video photographic evidence is an independent source of information about what took place in a given confrontation that's not always subjective. There seem to be times when it's very clear what did and did not take place, especially compared to the situations where you don't have video, leaving judges and juries really unsure about what to believe. I think one of the things that we've seen, the technology change in the last 15 years or so, the fact that everybody is carrying a video camera in their pocket now — and that's led to a steady stream of videos of police abuse — and that has opened a lot of eyes about the kind of police abuse that does take place, abuse that a lot of especially white, middle-class people didn't really fully believe it was real. People are seeing it with their own eyes in a way they had not seen it before.

We've seen that video footage has proven important in police killings. Can you name some other instances in which recording video footage may prove useful?

There's also been cases where individuals have been arrested and charged with assault on a police officer, and then later on, video has emerged where it's been clear that the person didn't resist at all and, in fact, the assault that had taken place was by the police officer. So not only was the person innocent of the crime they were charged with, but they were a victim of abuse. If you're in a conflict, if you feel you're being subject to discrimination or abuse by private parties, it can never hurt to have an independent version of events that you get when you have video of an account, a conflict, or incident.

In the same vein, what are your thoughts on police body cameras?

Body cameras have the potential to be good if they're done right, which means good policies around when the police turn them on and off, and public access to the footage when there's been use of force. If police are turning them on and off when they want to turn them on and off, and are not releasing video footage to the public unless the police look good, then that's not going to be something that's going to help this problem.