Watch What Happens When Body Cameras Are Used to Protect and Serve
In the aftermath of the controversial deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, equipping police officers with body cameras has been widely touted as a way to curb racial profiling and brutality. Although research proves that videotaping cops can help, “body cameras alone don’t solve profiling and brutality,” says Los Angeles–based writer and director Jai Tiggett.
To spark a conversation about the future of law enforcement interaction with communities of color, Tiggett wrote and directed Protect and Serve, a satirical short film that follows three body camera–equipped officers. The video was executive produced by The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl creator Issa Rae and is being supported by Blackout for Human Rights, a coalition that’s working to end human rights violations.
Initially viewers see scenes from the body cameras that are funny, like one in which an officer spills jelly on himself. Tiggett says starting with a more lighthearted tone was deliberate. “With online content, a lot of people are expecting broad comedy,” she says.
The faux documentary soon gets real, and there’s a shift to more serious officer-involved situations. To catalyze conversations, Tiggett gives some of the scenes a futuristic spin.
During a traffic stop, facial-recognition software is deployed by the body camera, and the black male driver talks back to the officer in a way we don’t normally see.
“Do I look like a burglar to you?” says the driver.
“I don’t know how to answer that without sounding racist,” replies the cop.
As Chris Rock’s habit of posting pictures of himself being stopped by police to Facebook and Twitter shows, in real life, black men often have to worry about their safety in such situations.
“The fact that the guy behind the wheel was talking to the cop and was showing anger—in that situation today, he could have easily been killed,” says Tiggett. However, shifting the video’s tone so that it becomes more serious was necessary, “because at the core of this is an actual message and an actual dialogue,” she says.
The clip becomes even more blunt in the scenes with a man outside a convenience store who ends up tap dancing to avoid being shot.
“One of the things we’ve done with Black Out for Human Rights, an organization that has supported the project, is to talk about how to interact with police,” says Tiggett. She says there’s a long list of rules for how African Americans have to speak, look, and conduct themselves during interactions with law enforcement.
“We essentially ask people to move this way, speak this way, pull up your pants, be college educated, don’t be scary—you’re asking people to tap dance,” she says. “That’s what you’re demanding of people so that they don’t get killed. It’s no longer just walk down the street and mind your own business. You’re creating all these extra criteria. And you might do it—you might tap dance—and you still get killed.”
Tiggett isn’t trying to send one specific message through the video: “It’s not about do you like body cameras or do you like the police. The point is to have a discussion about what do you think will work.”
With so much focus on body cameras as a panacea, we might miss how essential it is to train officers in community policing methods and why it’s important to volunteer, protest, and vote. Body cameras are “just one thing that we have to be discussing right now,” says Tiggett. “We have to recognize that this is broader than just one quick, easy answer.”