Observe and Report
By Tommy A. Purvis
In the event of police brutality, Cop Watch IE is here to document everything and protect your rights
A startup group of well informed tech savvy activists has plans to put rogue law enforcement on the beat in Riverside under a new jurisdiction. Cop Watch Inland Empire is the latest chapter of a rapidly spreading nationwide movement to train community members to observe and document police for alleged misconduct and brutality. Observers work in teams in high-risk areas where peace officers have a history of excessive force and civil rights violations to document purported misconduct. If such activity goes down in front of Cop Watch activists, film, photos and badge numbers of officers involved are made available to help build a case against the officer in question.
The first organizational meeting for Cop Watch IE in downtown Riverside several weeks ago brought almost 30 participants from people as far away as Claremont. A short introduction to the concept of the group was followed by a frank discussion of local policing issues. A few weeks later, organizers with Cop Watch Los Angeles gave the group a training on how to observe police. Since then the website copwatchie.org has been launched with plans to expand trainings and methods in surrounding communities.
The Know Your Rights” sidebar button explains the differences between a consensual stop, detention and arrest with information on how to act with the law enforcement in each situation. The “responding to an officer” section details the appropriate responses to give an officer who attempts to shutdown Cop Watch observers with corresponding legal codification. Would-be Cop Watch activists, while being filmed, are also informed of their rights in the event the arrest is based on questionable or fictitious charges. Within three hours of an arrest, a person has the right to make three phone calls to a friend or relative, lawyer and bail bondsmen.
“The murder of Thomas Kelly [a mentally ill 37-year-old man who was savagely beated and killed by six Fullerton cops last July] really opened my eyes to police brutality,” says Meghann Horton. “I felt a sense of injustice that I never felt before which led me to protest and organize on his behalf.”
The increasingly knowledgable activist, who recently finished her thesis “How Technology has Shifted the Power in the Fight Against Police Brutality,” is the initial energy behind Cop Watch IE. She personally knew Kelly, a highly likable schizophrenic transient, from the time she spent in downtown Fullerton. A friend sent her a link to the video that became infamous for Kelly’s cries for his father, a retired Orange County Sheriff, to protect him as several officers brutalized him with fists, batons and Tasers as he lay defenseless on the ground.
Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos has been charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the tragic event. Officer Jay Cicinelli faces involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force charges. Ironically, Cop Watch was originally founded in Berkeley in 1990 to document police misconduct against homeless people on Telegraph Avenue. Since then, tactics to observe police and methods to deliver follow-up pressure from the community have empowered countless citizens to fight back against abuse under the color of the law.
Just last week, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from Cop Watch Richmond in Virginia for police training documents on how to handle large crowds of protestors ended up being more than activists ever dreamed of. The documents confirmed the already well-known practice of “tango teams” or pairs of officers who enter into crowds to forcefully take down targeted protestors or journalists who attempt to film, photograph and otherwisecover the actions of police. But the real nugget of information was the revelation that police officers were being enumerated with federal powers to work with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to investigate protestors and activists.
Since 9/11 the JTTF has been used to prosecute several high-profile wannabe domestic terrorists whose only true link to Al Qaeda is the federal agent who pretends to be an operative.
The tactics revealed in the training manual were on display for Cop Watch IE observers on May Day. The activists who were there to document the police response to the protest witnessed law enforcement enter the crowd to make two arrests. One of those arrested was forcefully removed from a bike via a hard takedown to the pavement followed by a kick to the chest. As a response, Occupy Riverside protestors rode their bicycles around the Robert Presley Detention Center until the protesters were released.
Horton and other activists were their to document the badge numbers of the officers involved and hand out “Know Your Rights” pamphlets to seed the Cop Watch IE movement.