Filming the police is a dangerous business. It is also necessary: in recent years, widespread videos of police brutality have managed to shift the tide of public opinion. Which is to say it’s now commonplace to hear mainstream calls for the abolition of the police entirely.
Chronicling police violence is also necessary, if somewhat less dangerous, because while one video of police violence may have an individual impact, an archive of them can change a society. T. Greg Doucette is a conservative lawyer in Durham, North Carolina, who’s been doing the work of sorting and filing videos of police brutality in a heroically long-running list on Twitter. If you’ve been on the site this year, you’ve probably seen one of these tweets, which tend toward virality. “I had been very skeptical of government, generally, pretty much my whole life, and had been sharing videos on Facebook of police doing stupid stuff since like, 2007 ish,” he says, when I reach him by phone in mid-July.
He’d started sharing the same kind of videos on Twitter in his third year of law school at North Carolina Central University, a historically black university in Durham, way back in 2011. In 2017, Doucette started a podcast focusing on police misconduct — one episode a week, 30 minutes long. Initially, he says, he was afraid of running out of content, but now they’re approaching 100 episodes, and the runtimes are routinely an hour and a half.
Capturing The Police is a Verge-wide editorial project that’s meant to both examine the experience of civilians who document and share police violence and to record the larger political moment we find ourselves in.
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“I was pretty much the only person among my group of friends that thought [the] police were out of control,” he says. People didn’t seem to like it. “They would try and explain [it] away. ‘He’s just one bad apple. This isn’t indicative of the rest of the police force,’ etc.”
At the end of May, when the protests following George Floyd’s death began, Doucette decided to post 10 videos to Facebook of police doing “stupid stuff” across a dozen cities. That way, he thought, nobody could say it was just a few isolated rotten apples. Nobody responded to his Facebook post, but the thread took off on Twitter. “On Twitter, it was ‘Hey, did you see this one? Did you see this one? Hey, I got this one. Hey, I’m in this one,’” he says. “And it just became an avalanche.” By the second week of posts, Doucette says he was getting hundreds of direct messages an hour on Twitter; at the peak, the backlog was 2,400 messages.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to do it had we not been in quarantine,” Doucette says. “I tweet a lot as it is because a lot of my mornings when I’m in court, there’s nothing going on. But the video thread, especially the first two weeks of it, was just — trying to keep up was taking, you know, 30-40 hours a week.”
That includes checking videos to see if they’re duplicates or controlling for what he calls bad information. “I had to put together a process because I’m like, ‘Well, shit. Now that we’re doing this and people are seeing it as something authoritative, I got to try and make sure we don’t screw it up,’” he says. Although, sometimes, it gets the best of him; there’s occasional hyperbole in his tweets. And sometimes, what he types doesn’t quite match what’s going on in the videos. That said, he absolutely nails the gist, even if the specifics are a little different; the overall message of Doucette’s thread is unmistakable.
The consistency and rigor of Doucette’s approach has made his feed something of a clearinghouse for videos of police brutality and misconduct. After all, he didn’t want to reshare things he’d already spoken about on his podcast. “We started doing more checking on the videos, making sure that they were where they said they were. Figuring out, you know, the dates of them,” he says, and “trying to link the original authors in the tweet, so if someone wanted to use the video themselves, they’d have a person to contact.” Hence the backlog, which he’s still dealing with now.
New Yorkers hold a banner during a protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after being pinned down by a white police officer in Minneapolis, United States on June 2, 2020 in Lower Manhattan, New York City, Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
It’s not fun, either. “It’s a miserable experience. I mean, watching people exercising their constitutional rights, getting beaten and shot and handcuffed and abused,” Doucette says. “And the only real way to address it is to continue protesting and hope that politicians will make some changes.” Though he does say it feels like this time is different. People are angrier, for one. Even so, watching the videos has taken a toll on Doucette. The second week in, he says he woke up screaming. “But that was fairly early. And it’s not happened since as far as I know. But I’ve been trying to make sure I don’t let it drag me down,” he says. “I take breaks, I spend time with my pets, take the dog for a walk, go outside for a bit.” He plays video games; he has his job.
For better or for worse, however, he’s become the guy who posts videos of police brutality online. Doucette’s goals for the project are simple: he wants to make people more aware of the problem of police brutality, and he wants to provide a resource so advocates and activists have an archive handy when they need to illustrate their points. But more than those two things, Doucette wants actual policy change to happen. “I don’t know that my work is going to have too much of an impact on that because most politicians that are on Twitter only use it to promote themselves,” he says. “But if it helps change the discourse…”
The hope, he says, is that changing the discourse at the individual, local levels will change the way the police are handled at higher ones. “We’re already seeing in a lot of city councils changes to how they want to handle policing,” he says, though he’s careful to note that budget decisions are also being affected by the pandemic. “The hope is that that will trickle up to state legislatures that need to make a lot of change,” Doucette says. “And then, you know, it’d be nice to see Congress do some stuff, but I’m not going to hold my breath.”