The Internet went wild with (what they thought was righteous) indignation last week after Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts claimed that the Los Angeles Police Department had handcuffed and abused her after officers saw her kissing a white man. She claimed that she was labeled her a prostitute for kissing her white husband, a claim that became instantly inflammatory in the wake of Ferguson and other racially charged instances. Many people were understandably upset by the allegation and claimed that it represented the open and systemic racism which many have come to expect from police behavior. However, in this case the claims made by the self-described victim were completely fictitious and were countered by photographic evidence over the next week. The original allegation made by the actress on her Facebook page read:
“Today I was handcuffed and detained by 2 police officers from the Studio City Police Department after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place…When the officer arrived, I was standing on the sidewalk by a tree. I was talking to my father on my cellphone. I knew that I had done nothing wrong, that I wasn’t harming anyone, so I walked away. A few minutes later, I was still talking to my dad when 2 different police officers accosted me and forced me into handcuffs…”
The reality, however, was much different. The public has seen, in recent years, the usefulness of audio and video recordings of police interactions with the public. The utility of these recordings generally seems most valuable to the public, especially where the recordings document abuses by the police forces. The most popular recent example of this was when Eric Gardener was killed by NYPD officers who assaulted him for allegedly selling tax-free cigarettes. In this case, however, the recording was carried out by the officer himself and actually protects him from the absurd and irresponsible accusation. As more information came out about the circumstances surrounding the event, Officer Parker has become increasingly vindicated in his handling of the situation, especially given the misrepresentation of Mrs. Watts actions through her accusations. Evidence came out that she was topless and having sex in public with multiple witnesses and complaints which led to the officer’s presence in the first place. Once TMZ made the recording of the interaction available, Mrs. Watts was revealed to clearly be in the wrong and attempting to ‘play the race card’ to distract from her own criminal behavior.
This story just goes to show the incredible value represented by the practice of recording all interactions between the public and law enforcement. All parties benefit from the protection provided by a concrete recording of the encounters between law enforcement and the public. Officer Parker himself noted that if he had not been recording the incident that: “The three of us would be relieved of duty right now.”
This story is critically important for several reasons, the largest of is evidence of the importance of recording public and governmental interactions, for both parties. The second regards the use of the ‘race card’ to deflect from one’s own actions, something which Mrs. Watts was embarrassingly guilty of. The author calls on everyone who posted the story to Facebook and other places last week to print a retraction, as well as an apology to the police officer who they besmirched. Police abuse is one of my most passionate subjects, but, when criminals play upon racial stresses and manufactured narratives to deflect from their own behavior, they are only perpetrating and enabling the actual issues which require ongoing discussion.