During the Occupy movement’s initial rise across America in the fall 2011, hardly a day went by without viral videos showing the blatant misconduct of our nation’s police officers dispersing protests. News headlines of young people being dragged, choked, beaten and pepper-sprayed seem to a be a herald of the changing political climate – and a wake-up call to those who believe law enforcement should honor the public’s right to conscientiously object.
Now, America’s state of racial unrest has brought even more unwanted attention to law enforcement, as a string of officers remain legally unscathed despite the high profile wrongful deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and so many others – catalyst events that once again have sent protesters clashing with police.
This time, however, those protesters in some regions are equipped with a tool designed to hold police accountable – and it’s one that can be traced back to the early days of the Occupy movement. The Mobile Justice app was designed by visual artist Jason Van Anden and was first called “I’m Getting Arrested.” It let Occupy protesters alert each other when they were being physically detained by the police; by allowing users of the app to gather at the first sign of wrongful arrest or abuse of liberties, more eyes would be present to expose police brutality with video evidence.
It’s no surprise, now that protest culture has made social media and smartphones vehicles for political change, that the federal government is attempting to regulate those forms of communication. Last September, FBI Director James Corney was vocal about his disappointment that Apple had decided to no longer unlock iPhones at the request of law enforcement. All too often, video evidence that could incriminate police is subject to confiscation and or deletion after arrest, making the design of Mobile Justice that more crucial for exposing abuses.
Working with your phone’s camera, Mobile Justice allows users to take video of public exchanges with police and other citizens. When the video has ended, it automatically uploads to the American Civil Liberties Union, keeping the file from being deleted if the phone is confiscated. The other functions include a “Witness” function, which is identical to “I’m Getting Arrested,” by alerting other Mobile Justice users nearby to assist in recording. The “Report” function allows for a more-detailed account of people’s interactions with police by filing an incident report that gets sent directly to the ACLU.
Mobile Justice is available for download through the ACLU offices in Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oregon. The app already had a direct role helping combat racial profiling in New Jersey and New York, where it was known as “Stop and Frisk Watch” and has been downloaded over 30,000 times. It was a direct response to the chronic misuse of police authority in making random stops of citizens, and disproportionately Blacks and Latinos.