Boomer Opinion: Thank goodness for cell phone video

As if the coronavirus crisis wasn’t enough, since late May America has been caught up in another crisis: the repercussions after the deplorable death of George Floyd. But in this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs asks you to consider this: we wouldn’t have known about it at all, if not for a cell phone video from Minneapolis.

Those cell phone cameras in everyone’s hands are annoying. Often obnoxious. Sometimes even intrusive. But one of them, in the hands of a teenaged girl in Minneapolis who daringly documented the death of George Floyd, already is changing our world. Mostly for the better.

Thank goodness for those annoying, obnoxious, intrusive cell phone cameras.

And thank goodness by the way for Darnella Frazier the teenager who held hers on the sickening scene in front of her for those fatal eight minutes and 46 seconds. If she hadn’t, we might never have known. She is a hero.

A frame from Darnella Frazier’s mobile phone video… now-former officer Derek Chauvin with his left knee on George Floyd’s neck.

Several years ago, I did a documentary about the proliferating presence of all kinds of cameras in our lives. Visible security cameras, hidden surveillance cameras, GoPro cams, police body cams, and most common of them all, those annoying cell phone cameras. As they have become more ubiquitous, more Americans complain that they intrude on our right to privacy. Or to put it differently, that no one has the right to take someone else’s picture without their permission.

They are wrong. The conclusion (of constitutional experts, not just me) is, whether you’re a solitary citizen or an elected official or an officer of the law, if you’re in a public place, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. If public safety is not an issue, photos and videos can be shot of anyone by anyone in any public place. If the target of the camera doesn’t like it, he or she has to retreat to someplace private. Period.

Like I said, after George Floyd, thank goodness.

Protesters and police face each other during a rally for George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Think about this: the cell phone video of him dying with a police officer’s knee relentlessly resting on his neck has turned Floyd, albeit through no action of his own and through no one’s premeditated intent, into the most influential black man in modern times, save for Martin Luther King. The aftermath of Floyd’s death, a focus on reducing if not erasing racism, isn’t just silver lining. It is gold.

Now-peaceful Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House in Washington.
Photo by David Henderson.

How so? Because after the video of his dark death came to light, protestors poured into the streets of American cities. In a broad-based crusade, the impacts of which we haven’t seen since the Vietnam War or the earlier war for civil rights, they already have wrought big change. Although some cities sound like they’re going too far, and although many good cops have been painted with a broad brush that should be wiped only on the bad, state and local governments across America are examining the procedures of their police, and reforming the way they handle their suspects. And, domestic and mental health cases for which police officers aren’t always adequately trained will be handled by professionals who are.

What’s more, tokens of treason and slavery are finally getting the broad condemnation they have long deserved. NASCAR, a mainstay of southern American culture, announced that it is prohibiting the Confederate flag at its properties and its races, saying that the flag’s presence “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.” Not too little, even if too late.

Colin Kaepernick (center) has had the final say.

The National Football League finally took an equally enlightened if overdue stance. Its commissioner, Roger Goodell, publicly apologized for the controversy over players taking a knee to protest racism during the National Anthem. “We were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier,” he said in a video statement. Now, the league will “encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest.”

All thanks to a cell phone video from Minneapolis.

Meanwhile in Washington, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army announced that they are willing to reopen discussions about removing Confederate heroes’ names from U.S. Army bases. We’re not talking about remote outposts here; we’re talking about the Army’s most important institutions like Fort Bragg, Fort Benning, Fort Hood. The president has said, “My Administration will not even consider” it, but the barn door has been opened. It will be hard to close it again.

North Carolina’s Fort Bragg is named after a Confederate officer.

Especially when none less than General David Petraeus, who commanded U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan and served in fact three times at Fort Bragg, wrote in The Atlantic, “The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention.” Even a former commander of Fort Benning itself, retired General Paul Eaton, said of the president’s resistance to removing the Confederate names, “Rather than move this nation further away from institutionalized racism, he believes we should cling to it and its heritage by keeping the names of racist traitors on the gates of our military bases.”

All thanks to a cell phone video. It has brought out some of the best.

Buffalo police shove 75-year-old Martin Gugino so hard he fell backward onto the sidewalk, resulting in a serious head injury. The incident was caught on video and seen around the world.

Like the respected former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Although some citizens took advantage of the protests across America to go on cruel and costly crime sprees, most were peaceful. Yet the president cracked down on them anyway, threatening the use of “ominous weapons” and “vicious dogs” and even active duty army troops, which led Mattis to write that the president was making “a mockery of our Constitution.” “‘Equal Justice Under Law’,” he said, “is precisely what protestors are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand— one that all of us should be able to get behind.”

The cell phone video also ultimately led the respected former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, to publicly voice the same conclusion: that this president has “drifted away” from the Constitution. He added, for good measure, that the president “lies all the time.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, (in uniform on the right) now apologizes for accompanying Trump to a contrived photo op.

Even the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, threw water on the flames, apologizing for being a pawn in the president’s brazen bible-bearing photo op, saying, “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics… I should not have been there.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper already had said something similar.

Changes in policies, changes in attitudes, changes in alliances, aren’t always all good. In this case though, most inarguably are.

They wouldn’t have happened without a cell phone video from Minneapolis.

3 Comments

  1. A hundred years ago DH Lawrence justified writing explicitly about sex and homosexuality by saying that he was exposing people’s dirty little secrets. He put it in writing but this incredibly brave video footage has exposed the dirty little secrets of racists to the eyes of the whole world.

    George Floyd was the martyr catalyst who set off protests around the world not only because of his murder before our eyes in broad daylight, but because it brought our own national complacency about racism out into the open.

    It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision to drag Colston’s statue down and throw it into Bristol Harbour. People had been campaigning from the 1990’s to have it moved to a museum but the city council refused because that slave trader had been such a philanthropist and benefactor to the city. Streets, schools, colleges and museums are named after him. He made his money from transporting 84,000 slaves, 19,000 of whom died on the atrocious journey, from West Africa to the Americas yet the inscription on the plinth, on which the statue stood until a week ago, reads, “Erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city AD 1895”.

    The British Government’s Home Secretary Priti Patel who is the daughter of Asian immigrants to Britain, and a politician on a mission to be more British than the British, “told the BBC: “I think that is utterly disgraceful. That (the act of pulling down the statue)speaks to the acts of public disorder that actually have become a distraction from the cause people are actually protesting about. It is a completely unacceptable act. Sheer vandalism and disorder are completely unacceptable. It’s right that police follow up on that and make sure that justice is taken with those individuals responsible for such disorderly and lawless behaviour.”

    The Chief of Police for that area and Bristol’s Lord Mayor have refused to take any action apart from hauling the statue out of the water and locking it up until it can safely be placed in a museum.

    George Floyd, it is such a tragedy that you had to sacrifice your life to show the world the brutality of racism born out of slavery but we will remember you and that Black Lives Matter.

  2. Greg, I applaud your courage in these opinion pieces. Darnella Frazier deserves to be immortalized for the courage it took to shoot that footage, though I wonder sometimes if she could have called 911 to report the scene. Changes are occurring and I believe they are for the good. But what of the population that still stands by as this president digs his petulant feet into the mud of racism, bigotry, Constitutional disrespect, and lawlessness? What are they getting out of this mockery of a presidency? Income? Jobs? Freedom? Health? Maybe they are kindred spirits that also disrespect the Constitution. Maybe to them America is the land of the free for selected people. This administration has made it ok to openly condemn others, bait them, call them grade school names, taunt them, and try to disable or eliminate dissension. Will a new awakening come with a new demand for the competency of our elected leaders? Will people now vote like their lives depended on it? One can only hope. There are a wake of souls in George Floyd’s path.

    1. “competency of our elected leaders?” An excellent goal, Larry; unfortunately for this next election, that doesn’t appear to be an option from either party, so we are left trying to choose the lesser of two… whatevers… I’d rather vote for a different conservative than the GOP choice (and I just might) but reality intrudes on what I’d rather have happen…

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