Nightly News   |  October 27, 2011

Cell phone footage changing nature of police incidents

Cell phone video has supplemented allegations of excessive force by police, and NBC’s Mike Taibbi has the story.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: That protest slogan from the '60s, the whole world is watching, well, it's never been as true as it is right now. The pictures from inside these protests that the news media show often originate from social media . And while police are increasingly getting called out these days for their behavior, remember, we can now see more of their behavior than ever before and they are under close scrutiny as NBC 's Mike Taibbi reports.

MIKE TAIBBI reporting: In Washington , DC , a disabled man is pulled from his wheelchair and dropped on the ground. His head wound bleeding profusely and later requiring stitches. Police say he'd been cited for public drinking and assaulting a police officer . But a bystander's cell phone camera only saw what it saw.

Unidentified Woman #1: He's in a wheelchair. What is going on?

TAIBBI: In Utah last Thursday a group of football fans go into the haka, a Polynesian battle cry familiar to some sports teams and are pepper sprayed by police . At the start of New York 's Occupy Wall Street protests, a police inspector fires his pepper spray canister at a clearly nonviolent crowd. A woman standing on her own property while taping a traffic stop arrest...

Unidentified Woman #2: This is my front yard. I'm just recording what you're doing. It's my right.

TAIBBI: ...is herself arrested when she refuses to move.

Woman #2: I'm observing what they're doing and they're arresting me. I don't understand what's going on.

TAIBBI: What is understood by the ACLU is that while there may not be more of these incidents, more of them without question are being caught on tape. That raises some next level issues in the age old interactions between law enforcement and the public.

Mr. JAY STANLEY (American Liberties Union Senior Analyst): You know, for the first time in our history, you know, 80 percent of the population are carrying video cameras around in their pockets with them, you know, in these smartphones.

TAIBBI: Of course law enforcement officials know that and they're using the same technology and social media for their purposes. After rioters looted London and other British cities this past August and attacked police with various homemade explosives, officials turned to former New York and LA police Commissioner Bill Bratton who said use all that video against the lawbreakers.

Mr. BILL BRATTON: We're in the age of big brother. He is here, 1984 has arrived in 2011 .

TAIBBI: Bratton says it does drive him crazy when cops go after citizens shooting video.

Mr. BRATTON: If you're doing the right thing, what the hell do you care if the whole world is filming it?

TAIBBI: But it is also true that civilians in this post 9/11 world are arming themselves with Tasers and mace and pepper spray and that much of the video posted for the world to see only shows what's always been true about how legitimate police work often looks.

Mr. BRATTON: We have an expression in policing, lawful but awful. Unfortunately certain police actions when they have to use force to make a lawful arrest don't look good.

TAIBBI: Now, about some of the cases we showed you, the woman arrested for taking video from her own front lawn had the charges against her dropped. The NYPD inspector who fired pepper spray at those clearly non-threatening Occupy protesters was transferred and could face some loss of pay. But the two Washington , DC , cops who pulled the man from his wheelchair have faced so far have faced no charges and are back on the job. Brian :

WILLIAMS: Great reporting tonight. This issue isn't going anywhere for now. Mike Taibbi , thanks, as always.