Not every citizen-shot video of police results in a ‘gotcha’

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I love the proliferation of video and photo via smartphones for one very good reason — the number of average citizens out there with smartphones far outnumbers actual paid journalists. That means the potential for newsworthy events to be captured in video or photo is exponentially larger than what any media organization (even in past years of plush staffing) could ever capture on its own. And photos and video never — well, rarely — lie. Unless, of course, you’re Photoshopping photos of the president to make it look like he’s putting the wrong hand over his heart.

So when news broke of Worcester police confiscating liquor at a Liberty Republican party in Worcester last week I was pleased to see an attendee shot video of the raid — fairly extensive video, as it turns out. The video, posted by YouTube user FreeTheAgora, shows police interacting with partygoers and confiscating bottles of alcohol on the basis that the group did not obtain a liquor license. At one point, one of the organizers can be seen arguing that the alcohol wasn’t for sale, but that the group had asked attendees for a “donation.” An officer then produced what appeared to be a list of drinks and their prices obtained from the bar.

Judging from what appears to be comments from the man shooting the video, it seems the video was intended to show police in a bad light and that they’d violated the partygoers’ rights. The videographer at several points refers to the police “theft” and asks officers if they care to comment on their “theft.”

But even the editorial spin the videographer appears to be trying to put on this can’t overshadow what you’re actually seeing — which is officers who appear to be acting very professional and tolerating having a camera shoved within inches of their faces at times. True, they certainly seemed to know they were being videoed and perhaps that impacted how they conducted themselves, but the end result was a documentation of police doing their jobs with little room for reproach.

I think I get the point of view of the partygoers — that they don’t feel the police had the right to come into a private function and confiscate personal property. But whether you agree with the law or not, the fact is that a liquor license is required for the sale of alcohol and the organizers of this event appeared to have none.

In this case, the video may not have told the story organizers at the event wanted to tell. It did, however, serve a journalistic purpose. It documented what actually happened. And there’s real value to that.