Critics of Police Welcome Facebook Live and Other Tools to Stream Video

After back-to-back killings of black men by police officers this week, scores of African-Americans declared on social media that they would be equipping themselves with a powerful tool: FacebookLive.


Philando Castile was the supervisor of a school cafeteria, much beloved by both the students and staff.

Facebook’s new live-streaming service and similar apps, like Twitter’s Periscope, offer the ability to not just record but to broadcast events as they are unfolding.

Viewers saw this firsthand when a woman streamed her boyfriend, Philando Castile, clutching his bloodied chest during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn., on Wednesday, moments after he was shot by the police. As of Thursday, the video had been watched nearly four million times.

Those wrenching images on Facebook, along with the police shooting of Alton Sterling a day earlier in Baton Rouge, La., uploaded to YouTube and other platforms, reinforced the power of video, especially when live, in drawing public attention.

After news of the two shootings spread, many in the active black community on Twitter vowed to begin making live recordings of every interaction they had with the police….

Video has increasingly enabled citizens to document their interactions with the police. In 1991, the plumber who captured footage of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King used a Sony Handycam, and then sent the videotape to a local news station. Even with powerful digital cameras in smartphones, it still often took hours or days for footage to find its way online as recently as two years ago.

But that has changed greatly with the introduction of tools like Periscope in March 2015 and Facebook Live, which became available to all users in April. Videos can be streamed even before an encounter is over, leaving no time for investigations or official statements.

A flier distributed by Communities United Against Police Brutality in the Minneapolis area urges people to film their interactions with the police.

A flier distributed by Communities United Against Police Brutality in the Minneapolis area urges people to film their interactions with the police.

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Mr. Castile, said during another Facebook Live session on Thursday that she put the video online to hold the officers accountable.

“I wanted to put it on Facebook and go viral so that the people could see,” said Ms. Reynolds, who uses the name Lavish Reynolds online. “I want the people to determine who was right and who was wrong.”…

Michelle Gross, the president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, based in Minnesota, said the spread of apps that instantly store video online represented a transformation in holding police accountable.

Ms. Gross’s group has distributed fliers encouraging residents in the Minneapolis area to download the Bambuser app, which immediately saves video online and protects it with a password. She said her group had heard of police officers confiscating and erasing images from cellphones.

Ademo Freeman, the founder of CopBlock, a group dedicated to documenting police actions, said that he had recommended dedicated apps like Bambuser but that Facebook, with more than a billion active users, had a big advantage.

“Facebook is something that everybody has, so it is very easy,” Mr. Freeman said. “Just because of the sheer number of people and its convenience, Facebook is probably going to become more popular for these types of videos.”…

Alton Sterling, 37 years old, was the father of five children.

Alton Sterling, 37 years old, was the father of five children.

Arthur Reed, the leader of the anti-violence group that released the cellphone video of the Baton Rouge shooting, said the case demonstrated the power that regular people had at their fingertips.

Mr. Reed’s group did not use a live-streaming app to capture the encounter, but decided to circulate the footage online to counter reports in which the police said Mr. Sterling had reached for a gun.

“We don’t have to beg the media to come and report on the stories,” Mr. Reed said. “We can put it out on social media now, and the story gets told.”

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