(Us drones here at Dialogic were outraged by Sherman's politically motivated arrest and incarceration three years ago--it is heartening and inspiring to see this young man's courage and creativity in the face of American fascism. Read this first, original post from 2004: The Strange and Tragic Case of Sherman Austin. Got to the link at the bottom of this post to see a video report, especially the second part, on Austin's earlier arrest and later video activism.)
Somebody's Watching You: A convicted felon turns cameras on the cops, putting a balance of power, he says, back in the hands of the people.
By KEVIN SITES
"I raise my fist because I want that justice; don't get my freedom, gonna have to take my freedom." — Sherman Austin, from his song "Raise the Fist"
LOS ANGELES - On May Day, 2007, the Los Angeles police made front page news after clashing with protesters in a public park. Images of baton-wielding officers and cowering protesters, journalists among them, renewed an angry debate over police brutality in a city still scarred by the memory of the Rodney King beating.
Sherman Austin says his own run-ins with the police led him to start Cop Watch.
Citizen video has left an indelible mark on Los Angeles. The King video is the best-known example, but far from the only one. In 2002, a tourist filmed 16-year-old Donovan Jackson being punched and slammed against a police cruiser in Inglewood. Last year, a UCLA student taped an incident in which another student was hit by a stun gun at a school library. The video spread quickly across the Internet.
"This type of stuff happens every day in L.A.," says Sherman Austin, founder of Cop Watch LA, an activist group that was quick to post images and clips of the May Day incident. "It's just a coincidence sometimes there's a video camera around to videotape."
The LAPD disagrees, contending that the average person doesn't always consider the situation that led to the police confrontation in the first place. A spokesperson for the department says the LAPD averages 1.2 uses of force per 100 arrests, which he claims is one of the lowest in the country.
Tools of the trade
Cop Watch LA received wide attention last year when it posted a video of an alleged gang member being punched in the face by one LAPD officer while another officer knelt on his throat. The disturbing video has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube and Cop Watch LA's site.
Ironically, Austin's tool of choice, the Internet, is the same one that landed him in jail several years ago. He was convicted of distributing information about explosives — he argues that all he did was link to a page that included text copied from Abbie Hoffman's anarchist manifesto, "Steal This Book" — and now, as part of his probation, he isn't allowed to touch a computer until August 2007.
He maintains the Cop Watch LA website through instructions to other members, writing out computer code on paper and napkins.
To Read the Rest of the Profile and to Watch a Video Report