ways Americans capture and share records of racist violence and police
misconduct keep changing, but the pain of the underlying injustices they
chronicle remains a stubborn constant.
After George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked
wide protests, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said, “Thank God a young person
had a camera to video it."
From news photography to TV broadcasts to camcorders to smartphones, improvements in the technology of witness over the past century mean we're more instantly and viscerally aware of each new injustice.
For decades, still news photography was the primary channel through which the public became aware of incidents of racial injustice.
In the 1960s, television news footage brought scenes of police turning dogs and water cannons on peaceful civil rights protesters in Birmingham and Selma, Alabama into viewers' living rooms.
In 1991, a camcorder tape shot by a Los Angeles plumber named George Holliday captured images of cops brutally beating Rodney King.
Over the past decade, smartphones have enabled witnesses and protesters to capture and distribute photos and videos of injustice quickly — sometimes, as it's happening.
For a brief moment mid-decade, some hoped that the combination of a public well-supplied with video recording devices and requirements that police wear bodycams would introduce a new level of accountability to law enforcement.
Smartphones and social media deliver direct accounts of grief- and rage-inducing stories.