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How Video of Police Behaving Badly Made Occupy Wall Street a Global Phenomenon

From the Middle East to midtown Manhattan, the humble cellphone camera is changing the way we view dissent.

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In Massachussets, secretly recording police is a crime, but doing so openly is not. An illinois law that requires police officers to give their express consent before being recorded is being challenged by the ACLU and other groups. “There's been a lot of litigation on whether we have the right to video the cops doing their job,” said Michael Ratner. “And it's been litigated for a reason: the last thing the cops want is to have the light put on them.”

That raises a question: given that cameras are everywhere, and police feel, rightly, that they're operating under great scrutiny, why do we still see these apparently abusive acts ending up on YouTube? Are they unaware of the bad PR that flows from these images of abuse? NYCLU's Donna Lieberman thinks it's what you might call the “reality-TV effect.” The police department “is very conscious of the fact that they're under the microscope,” she said, “but as with any situation where you tell somebody, 'we're taping all the time,' you can't keep your guard up and be conscious of your behavior every second of the day and at some point you forget that you're in front of the camera and just behave like yourself.” She added that while “the vast majority of officers behave professionally, some number lose it, and the video cameras cry out for them to be disciplined.”

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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