Column by Linda Tracy
Following a long night of filming we hid and watched as the mob began to run, filling the streets. Police in full riot gear marched through downtown, arresting all those in their way. As the noise died down and the police moved on we caught a glimpse of a lone local TV cameraman. He had emerged from one of the local businesses and was filming the now quiet streets. Within moments, we witnessed how police instructed him to leave the area and then tackled him the ground while he asserted his First Amendment rights as a journalist.
The story may ring of the recent uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri. But it actually happened July 30, 2000, in Missoula, when the Hell’s Angels spent the weekend in town. Many citizens were furious with the heavy-handed tactics of the police. While my friends and I saw the necessity of keeping rowdy bikers in check, we questioned why police were coming down hard on local citizens. We didn’t learn until later that the escalation had everything to do with the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Police numbers were inflated, with officers in town for crowd-control training. Of course, we may not have learned even this much had we not brought our cameras, which sparked a community-wide discussion.
It is the question “How can we get this information out?” that prompts so many today to pull their cell phone cameras and begin recording whenever violence escalates on the streets. Through tweets, posts, and Internet blogs, the camera acts as the witness.
It is a threat to those who choose to overstep the moral boundaries of a community. It is the new security blanket for the people.
It allows the average citizen an opportunity to show the world what is happening as it happens. If police with guns are here to protect society against criminal activity, cameras are here to protect society against police with guns.
Today’s journalists need to take note of this shift. It used to be unusual to see live footage of an uprising, but today’s technology allows those on the ground to scoop the story. Journalists need to continue to ask the hard questions and place the status quo under direct scrutiny. When they fail to do justice to our citizens’ stories, they need to provide them with the opportunity to do it. Citizen journalists will become our eyes and ears, but only if we are willing to listen.
Linda Tracy traveled the country attending schools such as Brooks Photographic Institute and Columbia College before graduating from the Radio/TV production department at the University of Montana. With Digital Magic Video she had the pleasure of producing programs, commercials and PSAs with both local & national companies. She is currently working as a still photographer.