What happens when the cameras stop rolling?

A lot of us who covered the violence surrounding the Republican National Convention wondered aloud occasionally whether things would be the same if we put away our cameras, tape recorders, and notepads and simply took a hike?

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Maybe we have the answer in the violence that broke out Wednesday following protests of the killing of an unarmed man by a Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman. The killing was captured on video by a cellphone camera (you can view it here if you’re so inclined).

Near the end of a segment on the subsequent violence, a guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation provided some keen insight into the related question of what role the media plays in crowd behavior.

Demian Bulwa, a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, was at the riot.


“There was also a dynamic with the media at the protest last night where there were so many of us. It was sort of unmistakable; we were part of the thing. You might have one guy confronting a police officer with three camermen, and two reporters, a still photographer, and a blogger, and someone who’s live on the air with some sort of Internet radio. And, you know, it concerned me that I thought to myself, ‘What if we left? What would happen? What if the police left? What would happen? But, you know, later in the night when all of the TV cameras were gone, I was still with the protesters and they were still smashing stuff.”

The other question that ran through my mind is if there hadn’t been someone videotaping the shooting in the back of an unarmed man, how might the story of what happened be different, if at all?

(Photo courtesy of Javier Panzar)

  • Tyler Suter

    Speaking to the second question, the coverage would have obviously gotten far less attention, if for nothing else, because of the shock value, and in many cases entertainment value, associated with a video.

    As far as press having an effect on public violence, at least in the case of protest coverage, cameras, reporters, pens and pads all allow those who typically have no voice – as an individual and, more important, as a community – to be heard. If you put away the tape recorders and the other tools associated with news coverage, what would be the point of protesting? To get beaten by police just for the hell of it? One who says that giving the voiceless a platform is wrong doesn’t understand what struggle – in its purest sense – is.

    When an unarmed man is shot in the street by the one who’s job it is to protect and serve a man’s civil rights, protests must happen and protesters must be heard. I’m not one to raise my fists in violence, but think about the subject of such a protest. Someone is dead over something relatively petty (in comparison it would be hard to come up with anything not petty), and we’re arguing about how the press affects public violence…

  • Mark Gisleson

    For us non-journalists, the question is “if there hadn’t been someone videotaping the shooting in the back of an unarmed man, how might the LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE to what happened be different, if at all?”

    It’s not always about the news. Sometimes it’s about justice, and the rule of law. Or, put another way, “if there is no camera to record the events, is there law and order or just order?”

    The Strib has a good story today about whether the FBI used an agent provocateur to instigate violence at the RNC. I’m still waiting to hear about what happened to all that weaponized urine….