Photo credit: ABC News

Back in the day before technology ruled our lives, if a police officer accused someone of committing a crime, most likely the accused had no chance of proving his or her innocence. No one questions the law, right? But now, with most cellphones having video capabilities, more people are using it to their advantage by recording incidents in which they felt violated their civil rights.

Within the past few years, dozens of videos have surfaced of police officers engaging in illegal or questionable actions upon citizens of all races, but mostly blacks and Latinos. Just this week, four videos have gone viral on the Internet that showed police officers engaging in questionable behavior. Two were shot by cellphones while the others were taken with police video equipment. All of the videos left me scratching my head with questions.

The first video is of 44-year-old Luis Rodriguez taken by his wife’s cellphone in Moore, OK. According to reports, earlier this month his wife and young daughter got into an argument after seeing a movie. When his wife slapped the daughter and ran away, Luis followed after her. That’s when the police confronted Luis. Police officials claim that Luis ignored orders and had to be subdued. While his family claims that the police beat him to death. The video, released by the Rodriguez family lawyer in hopes of receiving justice, shows five police officers on top of Luis as they handcuff him. In the beginning of the video, you hear him faintly saying that he can’t breath. Midway through the video, his wife screams as her husband’s lifeless body is propped up as if he is still alive. Quite honestly, after hearing her scream, I stopped the video. That’s all that I could stomach watching. Luis Rodriquez died of his injuries and now the family is seeking answers and justice.

The second incident occurred in Michigan. While attending a party in late January, Charda Gregory, 22, was unwillingly slipped a drug in her drink. She woke up hours later in a trashed motel room alone dazed and confused. Instead of taking her to a hospital and administering a rape kit, police officers arrested Charda and put her in jail. But the story does not stop there. While in custody, a female police officer is caught on video dragging Charda to a chair, strapping her down and whacking off her sewn-in weave, even ripping off parts of Charda’s real hair from her scalp. Just like the case in Oklahoma, Charda’s attorney released the video to the public showing the police officer’s misconduct. Luckily the Warren, Mich., Police Commissioner acted swiftly and fired the police officer who cut off Charda’s hair. The charges against Charda were also dropped. (The incident occurs around the 6:20 mark.)

The third innocent came across my Facebook timeline on yesterday. It shows a young black male being questioned by two police officers. I don’t have all of the details of what happened. But an unnamed citizen captured the confrontation on his camera phone. Based off of accounts from the unnamed person, the young man was asked for his bus pass and ID. After he presented that information, he was still detained for an unknown reason and eventually five cops pushed him down to the ground and handcuffed him. (Footage not available.)

The final and most damning incident occurred in New Jersey, which led to the exoneration of a New Jersey man and the indictment of two cops. Police officers were called to a domestic situation at the home of Marcus Jeter, 30, and his girlfriend. They were questioned and the police left the home. Neither Jeter nor his girlfriend were charged. When Jeter left the home shortly thereafter, the police followed him. When they pulled him over, the cops began yelling at Jeter with guns drawn. The dash cam of a second police cruiser, which hit Jeter’s SUV head on causing him to hit his head on the steering wheel, shows Jeter with his hands up collaborating with police officers. Police officers pull him out of the car and throw him on the ground and begin handcuffing him. You can hear one cop saying to him as Jeter’s on the ground visibly following orders, “Stop resisting! Stop trying to take my fu—– gun! Just put your hands behind your back, a–hole.” Jeter was charged with eluding police, resisting arrest and aggravated assault on an officer. He was facing five years in prison until prosecutors obtained the second video dash cam. An internal investigation conducted found that the officers did nothing wrong. But they were eventually suspended without pay in April 2013 and indicted in January of this year. The charges against Jeter were dropped.

After watching the videos, I immediately became angry. And based off of the comments on my Twitter and Facebook feeds regarding these videos, many of you are angry as well. But anger only goes so far. Now, our challenge is to channel that anger into action. How can we prevent these “bad cops” from committing these acts as well as help victims get justice when these incidents do occur? We’ve always been taught that if you follow the orders of the police, things will go smoothly. In Jeter’s case, he did exactly what the officers told him to do, yet he was still arrested and charged. Essentially, the police lied. If it were not for the police dash cam, he would be in prison for a crime he did not commit. So it seems that even doing the right thing can get you in trouble. That’s why I think video is a huge game changer in fighting charges against rogue police officers. While it is important to follow police orders and remain calm when being stopped, it is just as critical to obtain video evidence, whether it’s from a police camera or a friend’s smartphone. As citizens, we should always be alert and ready to film unlawful police incidents—whether it’s happening to a loved one or a stranger sitting next to us on the subway.

If you do plan to record the police or use video to plead your innocence, please keep these tips in mind:

  1. Record in Plain Site. In most states, it is illegal to secretly record conversations in which a party did not give consent. To ensure that you (or the individual who was abused by the police) have a strong case, openly record the incident.
  2. Know the Laws Where You Live. Thirty-eight states allow citizens to record the police, as long as you don’t interfere with their work. They may try to arrest you, but legally they cannot charge you with recording them. If you are arrested, remain calm and do not let any intimidating language get to you. Remember, the First Amendment gives you the right to record police activity. In addition, if they take your phone or video camera, they must release the footage if requested by a lawyer.
  3. Keep Your Smartphone Password Protected. If a cop takes your phone, by having your device passcode protected, it will make it extremely difficult for them to delete the footage.
  4. Turn In Your Footage. If you witness and record police misconduct, contact a lawyer and turn in a copy to the authorities. Always keep the original. If you are ignored, post the footage on YouTube and include a disclaimer that you were unsuccessful in getting law enforcement to investigate. Another option is to submit the video to your local media. If your complaint is valid, most news organizations will investigate the case.
  5. Hire A Lawyer. If you were involved in a police incident in a public place and were not able to capture video, get a lawyer involved. Many companies have hidden cameras outside of their buildings to record crime; there might be a chance that the incident was caught on camera. A lawyer can request that footage to prove your innocence.

This article was originally published by my magazine,

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