A recent article in The Washington Post highlighting the growth of cop watcher YouTube channels provided a rare mainstream spotlight on a movement that’s developed entirely outside of elite institutions. But for all The Washington Post got right, a lot was missed as well. Police Accountability Report sits down with popular YouTube cop watchers The Battousai and James Freeman to discuss the state of cop watching today and how the police are trying to make the practice illegal.
Pre-Production: Stephen Janis, Taya Graham, Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Studio Production: Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Cop Watching is a Movement edition of the Police Accountability Report livestream. Now, before you start asking exactly what it is, I want to remind you that our show is not just about policing, it’s also about the system that makes bad policing possible, which is why, for almost five years, we have been covering the work of cop watchers – People who use cell phone cameras and YouTube channels to monitor cops and fight for reform. And as I’ve said before on the show, we also view this collective act of resistance as a movement, not just a phenomenon. And tonight, we’re going to unpack why that is true and what that movement says about the state of our country, among other things.
And to do so, we will be joined by two of the best cop watchers in the business. Namely, The Battousai and James Freeman. And for those who don’t know them – And I can’t imagine there are many of our regular viewers who don’t know who these two legendary cop watchers are – Please let me provide a bit of background.
The Battousai is a Texas cop watcher who has used his deliberate and measured style of documenting law enforcement to monitor cops. His work has not just put police on notice, it has actually made case law. That decision, known as Turner v. Driver, has cleared the way for others to do the work that he was once arrested for. But that suit is also part of an ongoing struggle with Texas law enforcement that The Battousai will be joining us to discuss. And believe me, you’re going to want to hear what police are doing to squirm out of the corner he has put them in.
And of course, who hasn’t watched a video from our other guest, James Freeman? James has built a growing and loyal following through his unique brand of cop watching, which often involves humor and a unique juxtaposition of the power dynamics between police and citizen. Through this, he’s able to expose an often overlooked aspect of American law enforcement: Often, its abuse of power is simply absurd.
But recently, James turned his fight from the streets to the courts. And what’s happened since court officials tried to stop him, well, we’ll be discussing that tonight as well. That’s because James might have some breaking news about his struggle with the court there, and the twists and turns of the ongoing battle is a story you are not going to want to miss.
But before we get to both developing stories, I want to turn to my reporting partner, Stephen Janis, who has been… Stephen, are you kidding me? He’s missing from the livestream again. Adam, can you locate Stephen’s feed for me?
Stephen Janis: Let’s do this. Chair. Oh, great. Oh, Taya? Hey, Taya. What’s up? How you doing? How are you?
Taya Graham: Stephen?
Stephen Janis: As you can see, I got this really cool chair. It’s really, really nice.
Taya Graham: Stephen.
Stephen Janis: It’s very, very comfortable.
Taya Graham: Stephen –
Stephen Janis: What?
Taya Graham: …You are supposed to be inside the studio. We’re having a cop watcher livestream.
Stephen Janis: Oh, cop watching?
Taya Graham: Yes.
Stephen Janis: Well, sure. I have a lot to say about cop watching. I really think cop watching is a movement that’s kind of –
Taya Graham: Stephen, come inside. Please.
Stephen Janis: Inside? You mean inside? Like, I can’t sit –
Taya Graham: Stephen. Stephen, just get inside.
Stephen Janis: No? No chair? Okay. Got to come inside. All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right. All right, I’m coming inside. Nevermind the chair. Just leave my chair out here. Goodbye, chair. Coming inside.
Taya Graham: Well, unfortunately, Stephen is outside. Adam, I just need a little help from you. Is it possible for us to put the livestream on pause for just one moment, because we are having a serious technical difficulty in the studio? I don’t know if that’s possible. I’m going to just need you to give us a pause somehow, because we are having a little bit of an issue. So, can people still hear me? Adam?
Stephen Janis: Taya, just…
Taya Graham: Oh, okay. So Adam, my teleprompter is completely stopped. So unfortunately, I’m having some issues, but… ah! Thank you, Adam. Ah, my savior. Ah, God bless. Okay, sorry. We’re having some technical issues, and I also want to apologize for being a little late tonight. Technical stuff from livestreams, what can you do? I don’t even have Stephen in here, so hopefully, he’ll be with me soon.
Now, since this is a live show, I really appreciate your patience with our technical difficulties. And while I’m at it, I might just take a moment to thank my PAR associate producers, Johnny Rowe and Lucita Garcia, for their generous support. And also, I am going to thank all of my Patreon supporters at the end, and Noli Dee and Lacey R., hi there in the chat. I appreciate you being there. Thank you so much for giving me the moral support I need and also running a beautiful chat.
And please forgive Stephen. He does love to be outside so much he doesn’t seem to get the message that every once in a while he’s needed in the studio, but what can you expect? He’s just a dedicated reporter.
So like I was saying, we have two great guests, because tonight our topic is going to be not just why cop watching matters, but why it exists at all. It’s a question we’ve discussed on this show before, but I think needs a little more scrutiny, because believe it or not, cop watching was actually finally deemed worthy of coverage by the mainstream media.
The story in The Washington Post was actually pretty good. It acknowledged the role cop watchers play in changing police behavior, and didn’t simply dive into the usual tropes of how they’re a menace or simply looking to cash in on YouTube views. Fair enough. But even though I think it’s reasonable to give our mainstream media counterparts a little pat on the back for writing a story that is both balanced and fair, there’s quite a bit they missed.
And so tonight, we are going to fill in some of the blanks, because that’s what we do at The Real News on our show. We cover what they don’t and we report on what they won’t. All right, I’ll calm down a little bit because nothing gets me more passionate – Other than keeping Stephen outside where he belongs – Than the importance of independent media like us. But back to what we’re going to focus on tonight.
So to give you a clearer picture of what the mainstream media missed, we are going to dig into two aspects of cop watching we think demand a closer look, namely how it’s evolving, and again, why it exists in the first place. And I think those are perhaps two topics that need to be addressed beyond the phenomenon itself. Why? Well, because as we’ve said before on the show, cop watching is not just a collection of YouTubers, it is also a grassroots movement. It evolved organically, without the resources of elite institutions, and literally out of nowhere. The fact that it exists at all is a testament to the creativity of its practitioners. It is both organic and unpredictable, and it highlights many of the societal ills in the country that the mainstream media often ignores. Issues that must be addressed if we want to improve everyone’s lives, not just the elites. And so… Oh, Stephen, thank you for joining us.
Stephen Janis: Oh, Taya, thanks. I’ve finally gotten in here. Sorry it took me so long. I was hoping maybe in the middle –
Taya Graham: It’s good to have you.
Stephen Janis: …I would want to go back and get my chair because I left my chair out there and it’s like –
Taya Graham: That did look like a nice chair.
Stephen Janis: …I just got it and it’s really nice. Yeah, I love that chair. It’s really cool.
Taya Graham: I know.
Stephen Janis: It’s really helped me adapt to being outside. I was standing for most of the time when I was out there, which is kind of absurd, 23 hours a day. Now I have a place to sit. But unfortunately you interrupted me to bring me in here. So I’m happy to be here, but I’m going to have to go out and get that chair soon.
Taya Graham: But I do know you’re excited to talk to these two cop watchers.
Stephen Janis: Oh, absolutely. Who doesn’t want to talk to James Freeman and The Battousai? Two legends. Absolutely.
Taya Graham: And now that we need to get you up to speed, we’ve been talking about cop watchers and the recent national coverage, and how the story missed some pretty important aspects of it. So as part of that, I was thinking you might have something to share on the subject.
Stephen Janis: Oh, yes. The thing about cop watching – And I think I’m going to say this, and I want to put this in a context and frame it in a way that will give us a way of looking at something differently. Cop watching is transgressive, and of course transgressive means somehow breaking societal norms or breaking a social or moral boundary. But the reason that cop watching exists is because, really, the moral structure of this country now is transgressive in itself. In other words, we live in a country where someone can work their entire lives – Like the firefighter that we covered, can be brought up in a fake DUI, and he can be thrown out of a department where he’s worked and served as a first responder for good, over a fake charge. We live in a country where a person can work their entire lives and end up getting sick and be bankrupt and thrown out of their homes. That’s truly transgressive.
So the reason that cop watching exists, on some level, to me, is because it’s transgressive of that very idea that those things can just go on without any societal correction. So the point is that cop watching seems weird, sometimes it confronts boundaries, it has no real formulaic approach. But in essence, it’s confronting a world, a country, a society that is not functioning for the people. So I don’t want to put in too broad a scale, and I apologize for that, but the point is that cop watching is one way to confront a reality that, perhaps, you don’t see.
One of the things we always accept about law enforcement is that somehow the process itself is inherently fair, or the only way to approach a problem. It’s the only existing reality that we can accept. Cops can solve a problem, and we have to accept that that process of policing is sound in and of itself. And I think cop watching questions the foundation of that whole entire idea. And that’s what makes it transgressive, because it’s transgressing the actual social and moral code that makes policing, over-policing, policing that destroys lives, actually possible.
So I think that’s really an important way to look at it. Understand it within the context of the fact that the framework of this country doesn’t work for the people who live here, and that self-governance can lead to good things, and policing is a way to make that reality seem impossible if not improbable. And that’s f the way I think I like to look at it, in that sense.
Taya Graham: You know what, Stephen? I have to say, we actually have some breaking news in the chat now that I can see this beautiful screen. First off, hi to Corners News, Munkay 83, I think Manuel Mata is out there, and HBOMatt. Hey, gentlemen. And HBOMatt just said that his misdemeanor 911 charge from Livingston has just been dismissed. So, well done. Those are a few cop watcher names you all might be familiar with there in the live chat.
Stephen Janis: And things we’ve covered because they’re facing the organized crime charges in Texas. Yeah, Livingston.
Taya Graham: Right. Now, unfortunately, there may be a chance that these prosecutors aren’t going to give up quite so easily, but we’re going to keep our fingers crossed for HBOMatt, Brandon, Corners News, and the rest of the crew down there.
Stephen Janis: Wow, that’s good breaking news, and that’s interesting breaking news. Absolutely.
Taya Graham: So Stephen, I do think your idea was interesting, because like I was talking before about the grassroots movement that has emerged across the country, there are reasons, maybe even imperative, that set the groundwork for cop watching. And I want to dig into this idea a little bit more by what you said, Stephen, about examining the work of a cop watcher who we’ve talked about on this channel quite a bit, and that is Eric Brandt.
Stephen Janis: Yes, Eric.
Taya Graham: Now, Eric is a Denver based cop watcher, known for what some say are outrageous antics and others say is effective activism. But I think Eric is worthwhile to bring into this discussion because he represents, perhaps, one of the extremes. That is, he is perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the underlying dissatisfaction with the system that prompts people to pick up a camera and roam the streets looking for police. And it’s especially to your point, Stephen, about how transgressive cop watching is.
So to start this discussion about Eric and what his work says about police and the power play of those dynamics, I want to play a clip of Eric singing his signature “Happy F the Cops Day” song at the Denver Aerial Mall. So take a look – And please be warned, there will be some profanity next.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Speaker 1: Olay!
Group: Olay, olay, olay, olay! Happy fuck the cops day! Shit is fucked up [inaudible]!
Speaker 1: Oh, that was awesome!
Eric Brandt: Should I do a Happy Happy? Otto, I hope you’re watching. Ready?
Group: Happy, happy, happy fuck the cops day! It’s every day of the week! This is how we [inaudible]! It’s justice that we seek!
Happy fuck the cops day! [Cheering]
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Okay, now Eric’s antics got him into trouble, to say the least. And later he was charged for allegedly making threats against three Denver judges, and he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, which many of his supporters say was overly harsh and cruel. Now, Eric has appealed and is waiting to hear if a judge will allow him to be released on an appeal bond.
Now, just to be clear, we absolutely do not condone threats against anyone. But also, as reporters, we feel like Eric’s work and his life deserve a full accounting, even if we might personally disagree with some of his tactics.
In other words, the whole point of doing what we do, Report – And I use the word with a capital R – Is to explore and explain stories that can sometimes make people uncomfortable. But in doing so, it also forces us to confront realities that are not always so easy to digest. And that’s one of the only ways to bring about real change.
Stephen, from your perspective, what is the role of a journalist when we cover people like Eric, who I would say are both highly controversial but also extremely relevant?
Stephen Janis: Yeah, I think one of the things, Taya, that is really interesting to me is that there is really a distinction – And this is another aspect of the digital age that I think is worth discussing – Between platforming and reporting. These are two very distinct processes that are sometimes fused. And sometimes people say, well, if you cover Eric Brandt, you’re platforming Eric Brandt. Or, if you’re covering someone, you’re platforming. And that’s not true, because as reporters, our job is to give a fair rendering of someone’s life, the complexity of someone’s life or work or activism or whatever, a fair rendering, meaning we provide context. In proper cases, we push back. In other cases, we put counterfactual information so that people can make up their own minds.
But the whole point is we present it in a way that’s fair and broad and complex and nuanced so that people can say, okay, I think Eric Brandt’s activism is worth the tactics that he uses. Or, I think Eric Brandt is totally outrageous. But the point is that the people can decide. Our obligation as journalists is to answer to the people first. And that means broad and complex and nuanced reporting, which is why our show is 23, 24, 27 minutes long, not two minutes or one minute and 30 seconds like the mainstream media. We actually take the time to unpack things in a way that gives people the option and the ability to make choices for themselves. That’s how we facilitate governance by consent. That’s how we facilitate an ability for people to push for change themselves based on what we report.
Taya Graham: And it makes me think of something interesting that I learned from you. When I first started reporting, you were covering a case where there were four or five women who had been murdered or disappeared, and there wasn’t any other media attention on their case because these women had histories of sex work and also had criminal histories. And it made me think of something you told me, which was called a red ball, which was sort of like an insular police term that they used to say that a case that deserved to be high profile. And apparently, these women didn’t deserve to be high profile.
But there are cases where media would pay attention and police would pay attention. And in those cases, it was a very sympathetic and very attractive victim. Someone who was pure and perfect, had no criminal history. And that just makes me think, everyone deserves a fair investigation. Everyone deserves their civil rights protected, everyone deserves their constitutional rights protected, whether or not they’re a perfect person.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Well, it puts it to the mainstream media contract with this larger system that we see. There are some lives that are more valuable than others. And we in independent journalism try to turn that on its head. The coverage of Eric has just been as a menace, but Eric has done some pretty profound work, both in the courts and out on the streets.
And also, one could say that looking at what has occurred in Denver with the massive unhoused problem, and people that don’t have places to live and the lack of investment in affordable housing and the way they use police to actually deal with unhoused people in a very cruel and inhumane way, Eric’s antics were warranted in that sense. That’s one way you could look at it. And that’s why anything we talk about, any life is worth reporting on.
And I think independent media, and especially the way we’ve covered cop watchers over the past five… How long has it been? Six? Five, six years has always been to approach it as a phenomenon deserving of the same type of complex reporting that the mainstream media gives to elites, gives to university professors, gives to politicians, gives to people with power and money and capital. Those people are always given the in-depth reporting; we’re going to look at every detail and understand their lives. And that’s the function of the red ball thing where the right type of victim would get the complete eight-part series, and the people who would just disappear on the street, would get nothing. And our whole reason for being is to turn that on its head.
And I think cop watchers are, in some ways, trying to do the same thing by exploring the power dynamics between police and average citizens, average motorists, people pulled over. Just like Tom and Laura we had last week. They were the same way. They came upon a stop by the LA County Sheriff, which has a reputation for pulling people over for pretextual reasons. And they filmed it, and they changed the power dynamics in that situation. And that’s why cop watching and, I think, independent media kind of go hand in hand and why we cover it. Because it’s very similar to what we’re doing. We’re transgressive in our own right.
Taya Graham: [Laughs] That’s true. And thank you, RF is Killing Us Softly. Thank you for understanding our technical difficulties. That’s very kind. And you know what, Dustin Lenzo said something. He said, in my city, they blocked the scanners so people don’t know what’s going on. I feel like that should be against the law. Aren’t we dealing with the same issue here in Baltimore with our scanners being encrypted?
Stephen Janis: Yeah. They moved the scanners so that a lot of… People were tracking, people were going to crime scenes, doing what the First Amendment allows them to do, and they hid that. And we’ve seen throughout all our reporting, one thing that never works well is lack of transparency. But it also seems to go hand in hand with policing. Which means you should ask questions. And then of course, that’s why cop watchers exist, because they’re out on the streets and they don’t necessarily need a scanner. A scanner would help, but sometimes they come across stuff just randomly.
Taya Graham: And to your point, Stephen, the reason we are talking about Eric in the context of cop watching is because his approach, in part, answers a critical question that I raised at the beginning of the show: Why does it exist and how is it evolving? Now, let’s remember that Eric got his start as a cop watcher while he was unhoused. He was part of a group of Denver activists who pushed back against the police in a city that has a serious problem with unhoused people, which I personally witnessed when we traveled to Denver to cover Eric’s sentencing.
And in Denver, like the rest of the country, the government’s response to a growing population of unhoused people has been to use the police to crack down, not to build affordable housing. And that’s one of the many reasons Eric began protesting against cops and the city of Denver. And that’s a critical point in Eric’s story. Wouldn’t you agree?
Stephen Janis: Yeah. A lot of times when people look at Eric’s tactics, they don’t connect them to the problem he’s trying to evince or trying to bring attention to. And that’s the problem. When you have police basically cracking down on the unhoused in cruel and inhumane ways, like I said before, that’s a critical situation where people are really suffering. Eric, for example, would get on mass transit with bare feet in solidarity with people who could not afford shoes. And he was treated like a leper because of that. And he was treated as a person… Why are you disrupting this beautiful 16th Street mall? – Which, for anyone who’s been to Denver, there’s this huge outdoor mall that you can walk there, and that’s where Eric would do a lot of his work.
And I think it was because it’s very easy for people who don’t understand or aren’t connected to these problems to ignore them. And cop watchers like Eric and cop watchers like James Freeman and Battousai make it so we can’t ignore them. That things like the unbelievably, I would say, and transgressive power dynamic between police and citizen that allows people to be arrested or allows police to seize property in unprecedented amounts, all those things exist because we don’t see them. But cop watchers make sure that we see them.
Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to change them, but I think, certainly, it’s interesting that The Washington Post says that cop watchers were changing police behavior. That’s pretty profound, right? It wasn’t us, it wasn’t the Fourth Estate, it wasn’t journalists, it was people like The Battousai and James Freeman and Eric Brandt and Abade. And of course, we saw Munkay 83 and people like that who were changing police behavior.
Now, that’s something to think about. With all the politicians we’ve known who have tried to do that via legislation and all the calls for formal government reform – And we have a consent decree in Baltimore, which, of course, has spent tens of millions of dollars to try to change policing. But it was these guys, men and women with cell phone cameras going out and posting on YouTube that did it? That is an interesting, interesting phenomenon and something that, I think, contravenes all the ideas that we have about how things should work in this country and how reform should happen.
So this is pretty profound. This is not something that you can just ignore. In a way, I’m glad that The Washington Post covered it. In a way, I feel like, as I’ve talked to our editor, Max Alvarez, that he’s done some incredible labor reporting, bringing attention to the world things that people just didn’t know about, like the railroad strike when it was occurring. And some of the reasons, the labor negotiations, the lack of healthcare for workers or inability to take a sick day. And then the mainstream media comes in and acts like they just discovered it. And I know it can be a little depressing. But I think overall it is good that cop watchers are being acknowledged, because it’s just too important a movement to ignore. People need to understand what this country can do when you have a grassroots movement that is totally organic and creative and innovative like James and The Battousai. So, yeah.
Taya Graham: So just so you know, a side note, E.G. Butler says, “Get the chair or the streets will.”
Stephen Janis: Man.
Taya Graham: Ghost Rider already has your chair [Janis laughs]. And Bryon Yoder said, “RIP chair. We barely hear you.” [Laughs]
Stephen Janis: Man. Well, let me put you this way, okay? Let me make a promise to everyone.
Taya Graham: I love this chat so much.
Stephen Janis: Because a lot of people ask me questions about being outside. How do I like it? How does it affect my social life? Can I make friends? Do I get paid more? No, I get no outside pay from The Real News, but that’s all right. But I am willing, if we can raise some money tonight, if we can raise a couple hundred, like $500, I am willing to do the ultimate documentary. The Secret of Stephen –
Taya Graham: Oh, don’t say it if you don’t mean it.
Stephen Janis: …I will do The Secrets of Stephen’s Life Outside. Because there’s a lot of things that happen that people have no idea what happens when you’re… That’s why I was so excited about the chair, because standing up, or finding a place to sit, it’s not easy. And so I am more than willing to do this if we can raise some money to keep our independent journalism going, to keep us covering cop watchers and cops. But more importantly, I had done a Stephen Outside video before. It was about two minutes, and people found it very enlightening. Well, I will reveal some stuff that will blow your mind. I spent more time outside than inside in the past couple years, and it has changed me – Not just made me have healthier skin. It’s been very interesting.
Taya Graham: And actually someone has a great question: Why do they have taxpayer unlimited budgets and state’s attorneys while the public gets the cheapest public defenders fresh out of law school with 100 cases a week? Is it our budget? Innocent… I mean, isn’t that an interesting question?
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Well, I mean, everything in this country reflects the massive inequality, wealth inequality that has accrued over the past 40 years – And that includes institutions that are supposed to serve the public. So the fact that there’s very little money put towards public defenders shouldn’t surprise anybody, because the criminal justice system, in many ways, many of the reasons that we don’t trust it is because it has been bent to the will of the unequal.
And so, in that sense, it’s not a surprise that resources to defend people’s rights would be scarce, and that would be, obviously, bending to the will of how the legal system sows inequality, reinforces inequality, and creates the boundaries to make inequality possible. So you can’t make these boundaries and maintain them if you’re actually adequately funding people’s defense of their rights. That doesn’t make any sense. So in a sense, it’s just a recognition of the reality of the way this country is structured.
Taya Graham: I have to say, there does seem to not be a total consensus in the chat on whether or not Eric Brant should be in prison for 12 years. But I’ll let the chat sort it out. We report, we don’t opine. And as Eric told us when we interviewed him about his life, his demand for better treatment and an end to police harassment of Denver’s unhoused community was almost completely ignored – That is until he discovered a relatively effective but simple trick, what he called the eight magic letters. Let’s watch as he explains what they were. And again, profanity warning.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Eric Brandt: I did sidewalk chalk. I got arrested for sidewalk chalk. So then –
Interviewer: What was on the sign?
Eric Brandt: Okay, so I started doing sidewalk chalk. The sidewalk chalk I drew was at city hall. It was an upside down pig with little wiggly lines on his legs. Huge by the way, like eight feet. I put a Westminster Police badge, a badge with a W on it, had big tears flowing out into a big puddle underneath it. And I wrote, “Make a pig wail and you’ll go to jail.” And I did [laughs]. The cop that arrested me just went to federal prison for raping a woman in the back of his patrol car, after the feds charged him with civil rights violation because the state gave him 90 days.
Interviewer: So he arrested you for a chalk?
Eric Brandt: Arrested me for that chalk in particular, and a giant scales of justice bent over to one side that said, “Chalk will wash away, injustice stains to stay.” And I did all kinds of chalk all over Westminster. I went on a rampage.
I had just discovered the magic eight letters. And I discovered that because the same cop that kept giving me trouble pissed me off one day. I was building a float for a bicycle trailer because I found a bunch of chicken wire and I knew immediately what I was going to do with it. I was making a big upside down pig. And my friend, Nicole, she says, you should make a middle finger that comes out of the butt hole, that says, fuck police. That was a great idea, except this angle was more machinery. I could do this angle better. So I did this angle and I just had a piece of foam core that I cut with a knife and wrote, “fuck cops” on it.
I thought eight letters would be better than, fuck the police, if you’re going to be driving by it. And it was my prototype and it was working. And Drew Smith pissed me off again one day. And so I grabbed, I snatched that damn thing off the top of my float, and I stuck it on a stick, and I walked rusty down the street with it. I went six blocks round trip. I had a bottle of water thrown at me. I had people take pictures, I had people cheer me. I had horns honking, and I went back to the house and I’m like, guys, guys, I have found the magic eight letters.
Interviewer: And what were they?
Eric Brandt: “Fuck cops.”
Interviewer: Why were those magic?
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Now, what I think is interesting about this is not the letters themselves, but how the focus on policing led to some intriguing results. Stephen, can you talk a little bit about that?
Stephen Janis: Yeah, it’s really interesting, because in Denver they were spending very little resources, putting very little resources into homeless, unhoused people and helping unhoused people find housing. Most was going to police and law enforcement. And even in this year, the budget’s about $600 million for public safety. But Denver, in the last budget, is spending about $240 million on the unhoused and on building affordable housing and trying to address this problem.
Now, causation isn’t always correlation. We can’t say that it was Eric Brandt that completely shifted the focus. But you can’t deny that this man’s work, and the people like Abade – Who is Liberty Freak – and Brian Loma and Munka 83 and other people who worked with him assiduously in Denver didn’t have an effect on how Denver the city and Denver, the metropolitan region, has approached the unhoused.
A quarter billion dollars is a lot of money. And I can’t help but think that if some, I would say, non-traditional tactics were used – I mean, remember the cop watchers are faced with a dilemma that does not face people in the mainstream media who have the power structures of cable TV. How do you get an audience? How do you get people to pay attention? These things are dire. Unhoused people die every day in this country. So I totally understand why some people might say that Eric’s tactics are offensive, and that is fair, but you have to look at the gravity of the problem, and you have to look at what happened.
The fact that Denver is spending this much money has become so heavily conscious of the unhoused problem. I think you have to give some credit to the activists who worked to make this problem more obvious to people and to go up and down the 16th Street Mall and not let them ignore it. Because it’s very easy to ignore. And so I think that that change can be somewhat credited. And that’s why sometimes, unorthodox, transgressive tactics have a better effect than, let’s say, just sitting on a couch and talking to a professor about a problem. It’s not pretty. It’s ugly. It forces us to confront an ugly reality.
But on the other hand, you can’t quibble with the sometimes effectiveness of it. And in that sense, I think even the mainstream media coverage of cop watching acknowledges that oftentimes it’s confrontational and the tactics are unconventional, but, as they admitted it does have results.
Taya Graham: Oh, and by the way, hi Joe Cool.
Stephen Janis: Hey, Joe Cool.
Taya Graham: I think I saw a Ghost Rider in there.
Stephen Janis: Oh, Ghost Rider’s out there?
Taya Graham: I think so. I think I saw him.
Stephen Janis: Well, Ghost Rider has my chair now, so hopefully Ghost Rider will give it back.
Taya Graham: So like you mentioned, Eric’s use of the eight magic letters was offensive to some, but was actually quite enlightening to others. And it was a prism, so to speak, to see Denver’s affluence in a different light, to view the rampant evidence of income inequality in cities like Denver not just as an inevitable reality, but also the type of social neglect that is just as unjust as it is currently inevitable.
But Eric’s work also highlights another aspect of cop watching: How it has evolved, because Eric and his friend’s, Liberty Freak and Brian Loma and Ghost Rider and others – And Joe Cool – Have often continued to move the fight to the courts. Stephen, maybe you can talk a little bit about some of the court settlements and filings?
Stephen Janis: Oh, no, I can’t because I’ve been –
Taya Graham: Oh.
Stephen Janis: No, no, no. I’m saying that because I’ve tried to get a handle on all the lawsuits that Eric and Abade –
Taya Graham: Oh, they have filed a ton of lawsuits. That’s true.
Stephen Janis: – One of the ones that always stuck out to me was he would talk about his $30,000 tattoo that had “F the cops” on it, and he got arrested over it, and he ended up winning a lawsuit for $30,000. But Eric is a prolific filer of lawsuits. He was arrested for trying to inform juries that they could nullify charges.
Taya Graham: That was a really important lawsuit.
Stephen Janis: And that they went to the Denver Supreme Court, and they ruled in his favor that his arrest was illegal. I mean, they arrested him on six felony counts. They were trying to really… And then, of course, the famous suit with Liberty freak over the police officers interfering in their right to record, which made it all the way to the top of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. And the 10th Circuit ruled that the officer did not qualify for qualified immunity. And that the right to record was established and has been established in the 10th Circuit, which is – Believe it or not, people – There are still circuits out there in the US – And when I say circuits, I mean federal circuits – Where the right to record is not an established right. Meaning that an officer who takes your camera and smashes it can still get qualified immunity under [section] 1983.
But anyway, so Eric and Abade were part of the reason that now in the 10th Circuit that right has been established. So it goes on and on. The only reason I say this is because when I’ve asked his friends, like Friends in Code and said, do you know, Friends in Code, how many lawsuits? And he tells me to look it up. I am trying to figure it out.
Taya Graham: When you consider that Eric had roughly 200 arrests involving First Amendment activities and what a prolific filer of pro se lawsuits it was, there could be literally 200 lawsuits [laughs].
Stephen Janis: And he is quite adroit at winning, and it is an exceptional –
Taya Graham: Oh, he is. I think he has an over 80% success rate with his lawsuits. It’s quite exceptional.
Stephen Janis: It’s something astronomical. So take into account that Eric and his friends have really learned how to use the court system in a way that was only once the preserve of the elites. And they’ve used their brains and their wits to outwit the government in many cases, which I think we can all admire, at least, whether or not we agree with their tactics. And it’s such an interesting contrast because on the streets, he’s considered to be a high antic, high volume, high octane kind of guy. He dressed up in a Pikachu suit for Pokemon –
Taya Graham: Oh, the Pikachu suit. Oh, yeah [crosstalk]. And I remember he wore the pasta strainer on his head and he was allowed to wear it in court because he said his religion was a pastafarian.
Stephen Janis: But then this guy starts writing motions, pro se, and filing motions and filing lawsuits. And so that’s quite an interesting contrast in behavior, and something that I think shows, again, the transgressive aspect of cop watching, and why it’s such an interesting, fascinating thing to cover.
Taya Graham: And the only thing I would add to that is that cop watchers are a really disparate group of people; Eric served in the military, and there’s actually a few cop watchers that we know that were –
Stephen Janis: So did Munkay.
Taya Graham: – Munkay served in the military. Blind Justice, who’s a First Amendment activist and auditor, also served in the military. And there are probably others I’m not naming, and I apologize if that’s the case.
Stephen Janis: Absolutely. But put it in the chat.
Taya Graham: But yeah, there are actually other cop watchers that are veterans or served in the military. But it just shows what an interesting group of people it is. People from all types of different backgrounds. And that is why we’re very happy to be joined by our first guest, who has been fighting his own battle with the courts. The Battousai, of course, really needs no introduction for those who follow cop watching.
But for the very few who may not have heard of him yet, let me just reiterate what I said at the top of the show: His unique style of filming the police has led to some amazing results, namely case law, otherwise known as Turner v. Driver, which was a landmark ruling prohibiting cops from preventing any concerned citizen from recording them.
But, of course, like many stories we reported on before, trying to get law enforcers to abide by the law is not always straightforward or simple. And so tonight, The Battousai is going to explain the latest battle he’s fighting to preserve our First Amendment rights. Now, first I want to show you a clip The Battousai sent us about what happened when another cop watcher tried to exercise the right that he had fought for in court.
Stephen Janis: It’s just audio. So just audio.
Taya Graham: It’s just audio, yes.
Stephen Janis: So don’t think the screen is black. It is just audio. So take a listen.
[AUDIO CLIP BEGINS]
Police Officer: Dude, right now you can either go to jail or you can be fined. So you go and ask my question, because it is against our city ordinances to film. It says it clearly right there. It’s clearly marked. You broken our city ordinances. We had to change our laws for our privacy and security. You think it’s fun to put us on the internet.
Speaker 3: I’m not putting you on the internet. That’s not even live, dude.
Police Officer: Then why are you recording that? You know what, man? Wait until the governor dude makes it actual state law. He’s working on it right now.
Speaker 3: On what? What law?
Police Officer: [Crosstalk] The crap y’all been doing?
Speaker 3: What law?
Police Officer: You wait. You wait for the governor, man, it makes a state automate. Right now it’s just code. Right now it’s just city ordinances. But wait until it becomes a state law. Did you have a media pass?
Speaker 3: I don’t need a media pass.
Police Officer: That’s not what the governor said.
Speaker 3: Sir, it doesn’t matter what the governor said. It’s what the law say. The First Amendment is the freedom of press. You don’t understand that?
Police Officer: I know.
Speaker 3: You’re violating my civil rights.
Police Officer: There we go! Now it’s coming out! I was waiting for you to go for it. Come on. Come on, sovereign citizen. Come on. Tell me what the law say.
Speaker 3: You just called me a sovereign citizen?
Police Officer: Yep.
Speaker 4: This video comes from the channel Damaged Beyond Repair.
[AUDIO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: So you can see that law enforcement is moving the battle against transparency to the legislature and politicians. You may have heard that police officer reference the governor giving him a helping hand. But to learn more, let’s finally turn to The Battousai. The Battousai, Philip, thank you so much for joining us.
The Battousai: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Taya Graham: It is great to have you. And so I guess, okay, we’ve brought up a lot of different topics, but the first thing I have to ask you is your thoughts on the Washington Post article. How did you think of it in terms of how it depicted cop watching? What did you think?
The Battousai: I wanted to say it was a fair assessment. I do believe it was spot on. There are some things in the article that it pretty much covered, being a professional and the controversial, and some of the things that people may not necessarily agree with. However, it’s legal, and it just covers all the aspects of that. And it just goes to show you how big the movement’s actually getting, and more people are being more aware of this movement.
Stephen Janis: Well be honest, was it as good as our coverage of cop watching [laughs]?
Taya Graham: [Laughs] You can’t do that to him.
Stephen Janis: That’s okay. You don’t have to answer that question.
Taya Graham: You do not have to answer that.
Stephen Janis: But I wanted to ask you, because Turner v. Driver is, of course, a momentous decision, but it appears that you’re dealing with some pushback on how the court handed down the decision, and that it seems like some of the towns are not exactly complying with the spirit of what that decision said. Is that true? And can you talk about that?
The Battousai: So, oh man, I can probably go on for about a solid two minutes for this. So I’m going to try to sum this up as best as I can.
Stephen Janis: Go ahead. Go ahead.
The Battousai: So we all know Turner v. Driver pretty much establishes that you have the right to record police officers – However that is subject to time, place, manner, restrictions, and it pretty much left the decision up to the municipalities to come up with their own restrictions. However, those restrictions would have to be very narrowly tailored to survey governmental interests, meaning that the city can come up with their own… Like when an officer tells you, hey, you’re too close, can you take a step back?
However, that has to be reasonable. No court or no appellate court has ruled on a specific distance. And in fact, most people reference the guilt case saying that, well, 10 feet was established in that case. Well, that’s not correct. The 10 feet was just a fact. That was just describing the incident and his proximity to the situation that he was recording.
Now, they did establish that you do have the right to record police officers, and that he was within or about 10 feet away from the incident. However, that case law does not establish a 10-foot buffer or 10-foot distance or set distance. In fact, no court has. So that’s when Corgan happened, where Corgan came up with their own city ordinance. And when I’m telling you, you can –
Stephen Janis: Corgan Texas, so people know, right?
The Battousai: Yes. Corgan, Texas. And they just literally went off the rails, making up their own laws and rules, almost criminalizing recording police activity. In fact, the reasoning behind that is bizarre. For most people who don’t know, if you haven’t read the lawsuit, the lawsuit states that there was a former chief of police who was outed out, and they put in a new police chief. The community was not happy about that, and the city council members started doing ride-alongs with the police officers and taking pictures and pretty much showing, hey, look, our new police chief is putting our department in the right direction. The community’s safer. And they were posting this on their social media platforms and on their Facebook pages.
However, when cop watchers and other people started recording those encounters, they decided to criminalize it. So it was okay for the city council members and the city officials to do it, but not for you and me, basically. So, we have mediation Sept. 21, and we’re going to discuss what the options are and what we’re going to do. However, I think that this is a very important case, because this goes to show what would happen if we left it up to the municipalities to decide how we should exercise our rights.
Taya Graham: Let me just ask you this. You went through this entire process of fighting and winning the case Turner v. Driver. Have you been surprised by how difficult it’s been to get towns and police departments to comply? I mean, you won. Are you surprised that they’re doing all these little sneaky things, all these little ordinances to try to whittle away that right?
The Battousai: Honestly, I’m not surprised. It’s been an ongoing thing with police officers where they try to prevent you from recording. First it was the flashlights and the camera trying to blind you, and then they will park their vehicle in front of you. And in James Freeman’s case, they put a police tape to try to move them all the way back. And now they’re playing copyrighted music over them while you’re talking to them and while they’re talking to you, they’re playing copyright music and hoping that your video won’t be monetized or it could be possibly taken down. So they’re finding these loopholes and these workarounds to prevent people from exercising their rights, and sharing that and disseminating that with the public.
Stephen Janis: What do you think they’re afraid of being recorded, especially given your approach, which is just really to record, not to confront? What exactly do you think they’re afraid of? Why would they let council people post pictures, but when a cop watcher is standing there, not interfering, why are they so fearful of your camera?
The Battousai: It’s one camera that can’t control, and it’s a threat to their narrative. They can’t say or spin anything the way they want to because there is another piece of evidence out there that they can’t control. And in fact, they don’t want people to exercise that right, and they want to try to shut that down as quick as possible. Because the thing about the internet, the internet’s forever. Once your video’s up there, it’s going to be up there forever. And there’s going to be millions of people who are going to find it. It’s going to be watched, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But if you have a body camera, I can edit it, I can mute it, I can turn it off. I can do anything I want with that body cam footage and only release certain parts to the public that we deem necessary. And that’s the government’s way of thinking, that they can censor the real narrative, the real truth behind the situation. However, we have free press. We have the First Amendment right to the freedom of press, and we have that same ability to go ahead and document public officials and post those encounters on the internet for people to see how public officials truly interact with the public, and not what they say on the internet.
Taya Graham: Oh, I didn’t want to interrupt you. I was just curious. It was something that bothered me when I was reading over the Turner v. Driver case – And correct me if I misunderstand this, that even though you won the case, the officers were still able to maintain their qualified immunity. Is that correct?
The Battousai: That’s correct, yes.
Taya Graham: So I’m just curious what your thoughts are on qualified immunity [Janis chuckles]. I thought you might have some.
The Battousai: I’ll talk about the specifics of that case, because that was a tough decision, but we thought that it outweighed the betterment of the overall construct that we were trying to achieve. So once we got the two-to-one agreement for the judges, the two ruled in favor, one opposed, the city, or the cops, wanted to appeal it. Now, from what I understand, what my lawyer told me, if they were to appeal it in the Fifth Circuit, then it would go to all judges in the Fifth Circuit, not just the three, all the judges in the Fifth Circuit.
Stephen Janis: Oh, the larger panel. Yeah. So it’d be like 18 judges or something?Okay
The Battousai: Right. And you would have to get a certain percentage voting in your favor. And if you don’t, then the appeal is granted in their favor and they win. Now, my lawyer pretty much knew how very conservative and pro police the Fifth Circuit can be.
Stephen Janis: The Fifth Circuit, yes.
The Battousai: And he thought that it might not be in our best interest to risk it because we’ve already established what we wanted. However, if it means that, hey, these officers get away with violating my Fourth Amendment right, then so be it. And for me, it wasn’t an ego thing for me at that point. I was looking at the bigger picture, meaning, hey, we already have it established. Why risk it? Because not just me, but there’s hundreds of millions of people that can use this case law in their particular instances or their violation of the First Amendment, and let them benefit from that, and let me put my ego on the line and yeah, I’m going to stick it to these officers. Sometimes it’s better to look at the bigger picture. It’s like, you may have won the battle, but I got the war. And that’s the outlook that I look at it.
Stephen Janis: That is very well put. Just to move into the… It’s really interesting how cop watching has evolved just for you, from taking pictures to actually becoming kind of a legal expert. How do you see the movement, if cop watching is indeed a movement, which we both think it is? How do you see it evolving and changing, just even based on your own experience of being now immersed in legal decisions and actually being part of a pretty profound legal decision? How do you see cop watching evolving, Battousai?
The Battousai: It’s evolving a lot. Believe it or not, the auditing committee is a lot bigger than what we think, we just know some of the main people here. I’m not a real big fan of the whole Facebook platform. However, I started noticing other channels popping up that I have never seen before where they actively go out and they record, kind of similar to the movie Nightcrawler. So they go out, livestream and they listen to scanners, and they chase down calls, and they record it. So it’s kind of like the movement is spreading.
Stephen Janis: Hold on a second. So it’s more like – And I apologize for interrupting – Were you saying it’s more like not just tracking on police but an accident scene or… Because Nightcrawler, he would go try to get when the body was just on the ground and he’s there and no one else is there. Is it that kind of macabre kind of stuff?
The Battousai: No. Well, these people, anything they can hear on the scanner and if it’s in close proximity, they would chase it down. It could be anywhere between a traffic stop, a home invasion…
Stephen Janis: Got it.
The Battousai: …Or anything of that nature.
Stephen Janis: Wow, that is really, really, really interesting. And just to follow up, has… So one of the thesis of the Washington Post article was that cop watchers have changed the way police behave. Have you noticed that at all from your perspective, given your legal decision or whatever? Do police, when they see you, they’re like, oh God, here comes Battousai? Or is it that they don’t care? Has it changed your behavior at all? Do you think The Washington Post was right about that?
The Battousai: I kind of differ. I don’t think they’ve changed. I just think it’s only a select few people that they would change for in that particular instance. If it’s some of your prominent cop watchers are out there, they may have a shift in their behavior during that point in time. But if it was anyone else out there, the situation might be different. And I can give you a couple of instances here. [Inaudible] in Fort Worth, how they’re dealing with him, and Galveston, Texas, the guys out there in that area, how they’re constantly being arrested and harassed for just recording out there.
Stephen Janis: Wow.
The Battousai: And I honestly think that – And I was talking to someone else. I was like, you think if I was out there, you think they would’ve that to me? They said, no, probably not. They probably won’t even talk to you. They won’t even mess with you because of what you did before. You already sued Galveston. Turner v. Driver came out of Fort Worth. Those are two areas that people, they don’t want to mess with you.
Stephen Janis: But what you’re saying is people are still getting arrested just for the act of filming, nothing else, basically [crosstalk]?
The Battousai: Yeah, they’re trying to come up with these other charges, like, oh, you’re interfering, things of that nature.
Stephen Janis: Right.
The Battousai: Or I think one of the individuals that was arrested for a DUI in Galveston – And that’s kind of an ongoing thing right now where they didn’t have a… It’s interesting. So they charged them with DUI, then they changed the charge to something else, and now it’s got this whole big mess right now. So we’re trying to sort it out. So I just got a call about that today, so I’m going to get more details on that.
Stephen Janis: Well, it seems like…
The Battousai: It appears that they’re coming up with different things now.
Stephen Janis: It seems like the fake DUI concept is sort of a Texas thing at this point, because we covered a poor Dallas, Texas firefighter, Thomas C., who was falsely arrested. They used a bogus field sobriety test and then they ran him out of the department before the case was adjudicated, and it turned out it was never in the system at all. So it seems like Texas has some really weird jiu jitsu ways to charge people that, just really, I find kind of scary and appalling. Why don’t we move into our next guest because…
Taya Graham: Okay. Well, unfortunately… Well, I just have to say… Someone asked a question…
Stephen Janis: Oh, okay. Sure.
Taya Graham: …Perhaps was a little provocative. But they said, “Has Turner v. Driver, this case law, helped anyone?”
Stephen Janis: Okay, good question.
Taya Graham: And I thought, well, I could say something about that, but we have The Battousai here.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Okay.
Taya Graham: Maybe you could just mention some of the ways that Turner v. Driver, which protects people’s right to record police…
Stephen Janis: Excellent question.
Taya Graham: …How you think it may have helped people, cop watchers, or just in general?
The Battousai: Oh yeah, I can sum that up really quickly. There’s actually two people. There’s an individual out of Keller, Texas, who was filming his son’s traffic stop across the street. The officer told him to leave. He did not leave. The officer went across the street, pepper sprayed him, and arrested him. And I believe that officer was disciplined. I’m not sure if he was fired. I’m not sure. But the officers and the lawyers settled out of court for somewhere around $250,000 because they knew the officer would lose qualified immunity.
Lake Jackson, there was an individual that I helped retain a lawyer, and he was arrested for filming license plates, but it was a traffic accident. So it was really ridiculous, and they pretty much arrested him, injured him, and they settled out of court for six figures. So it seems that these cops are still trying to get away with it. However, it’s costing the city.
But in the Lake Jackson incident, that officer was fired. And he tried to go to another department, and he had to disclose that information to that department that he was applying for, and they turned him down. So he’s not a police officer anymore. The second officer that was involved, Mendoza, he’s still with the department, but he was suspended for a couple of days. But it seemed more… To me, it was like a slap on the wrist.
I have talked to a couple of lawyers who said that, hey, we’ve actually used your case law in some instances. And I believe C.J. Grisham, who is a new attorney, he told me, he said, hey, I looked up your case law, and it’s been referenced tens of thousands of times –
Stephen Janis: Wow.
The Battousai: …In other cases.
Stephen Janis: I think we can clearly say to our audience that Battousai brings the receipts…
Taya Graham: Yes, he does.
Stephen Janis: …When you push back on him.
Taya Graham: Yes.
Stephen Janis: And he has the receipt. So to question whether or not Turner v. Driver… And people…
Taya Graham: It’s made a little bit of an impact.
Stephen Janis: One thing that I think is profound about that case law is that, yes, qualified immunity ends up adding a whole bunch of extra steps to a lawsuit, because first, if a officer interferes with your recording, you have to go through the process of deciding whether or not he or she was not aware that the right was established, and therefore has qualified immunity. Well, Battousai’s lawsuit just precludes that whole battle. It’s clear in the Fifth Circuit – Which, he is right, is a highly conservative circuit – The right to record police is firmly established, so any police officer who tries that kind of stuff isn’t going to be able to take the qualified immunity shield. And Battousai, I’m correct on that, right?
The Battousai: Yeah.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. So now we know.
Taya Graham: Wow.
Stephen Janis: And that’s really important.
Taya Graham: Now we know for sure. And I just saw Freedom 2 Film there, and I think he is being supported in a lawsuit that he has an amicus briefing, some support from the ACLU.
Stephen Janis: Is this in our chat?
Taya Graham: Yeah, Freedom 2 Film is in the chat. I think they have a lawsuit in Indiana. Please let me know if I am mistaken.
Stephen Janis: Okay, so right now, we can say undoubtedly that this is a movement. People are in our chat.
Taya Graham: We have a gajillion cop watchers in our chat. I just saw…
Stephen Janis: [Crosstalk] That is beautiful. That is a beautiful thing. Bring it on.
Taya Graham: …Delete Laws. The names are flying by so quickly, so please don’t take it to heart if I accidentally miss a name, but I saw Joe Cool. I saw Sip Can See a Higher Power.
Stephen Janis: Oh, Sip Can See… Okay.
Taya Graham: It’s good to see you, Sip
Stephen Janis: The funniest cop… Well, there are a lot of funny cop watchers. Our next cop watcher is very funny. But Sip, the Higher Power is…
Taya Graham: Hi [inaudible] Attorney.
Stephen Janis: I don’t know, Battousai, if you’ve seen any of his stuff, but it’s absolutely hilarious. But anyway, go ahead.
The Battousai: James? I’m not familiar who… Who’s James? No, I’m just kidding. I love James. We’ve talked a lot. I respect his work. And I watch his videos. I’m a subscriber. So anything that he puts out, I watch.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. Who is James Freeman?
Taya Graham: You know what?
Stephen Janis: [Crosstalk] good question.
Taya Graham: I love to see that support. That’s something…
Stephen Janis: Yeah, it is.
Taya Graham: …I think really made me want to engage even more with the cop watcher community…
Stephen Janis: Yeah, it’s a real community.
Taya Graham: …Is seeing how they support each other. And it’s not just the cop watchers, but the mods, people like Noli Dee and Lacey R. They help organize bail, and they help people connect with each other. It’s really amazing.
Stephen Janis: Let me make this really clear: When I’m outside and I finally get arrested for just being outside for too damn long, I’m calling on the cop watchers to bail me out. I hope… I’m going to ask our people out in the audience, you guys, if I stay outside too long and cops finally are like, we’re going to lock you up, I am asking you for help to make my bail.
Taya Graham: Yes.
Stephen Janis: Okay? So, please. Thank you.
Taya Graham: I concur.
Stephen Janis: Okay.
Taya Graham: Philip, I wanted to thank you so much. I know we got a little bit of a late start, so perhaps we kept you a little later than we planned, but I really want to thank you for staying with us so much.
Stephen Janis: Yes, thank you so much. Thank you.
Taya Graham: We really appreciate your time.
The Battousai: Oh, you’re welcome.
Stephen Janis: Thank you for your work.
Taya Graham: Yeah. So we are going to go to the next guest, the legendary cop watcher, the aforementioned James Freeman, again, another practitioner who really needs no introduction. But let me just say this: James is not just a cop watcher, but I would say he’s a comedian as well. I say that he takes sort of an art to his humor. And to Stephen’s point, he uses it in a transgressive way.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. I think he does a great job of bringing out the faults and often destructive power dynamics that cops use indiscriminately and don’t realize how much it affects us psychologically, affects our community.
Taya Graham: The psychology of it.
Stephen Janis: …And just shows it for what it is by being absurd about it.
Taya Graham: Seeing that video clip… If you all haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Asking cops… And I believe…
Stephen Janis: Where are you going? What are you doing?
Taya Graham: I think the title is “Asking Cops the Stupid Questions They Ask Us” – I may be paraphrasing that. And to see him ask a police officer, do you have ID? Can you holster that weapon? I don’t feel safe, all the same questions that they ask us, was really quite enlightening to see the tables turned.
Stephen Janis: Very enlightening. Like good comedy, a lot of truisms beneath the humor.
Taya Graham: Yes, absolutely. Okay. So without further ado, please let us welcome James Freeman to the PAR livestream. Hello.
Stephen Janis: Hey, James.
James Freeman: Hey guys. Thanks for having me on again.
Stephen Janis: Oh my God.
James Freeman: Always good.
Stephen Janis: I don’t think we can do a livestream without you at this point in our [Freeman laughs]…
Taya Graham: No. It’s a requirement.
Stephen Janis: Yeah. So how have you been lately? Just a general question.
James Freeman: Been good, staying busy.
Taya Graham: And I know you’re quite busy, and there is…
Stephen Janis: Can you talk about it though?
Taya Graham: No, he can’t really. I know he was banned from a New Mexico courthouse because…
Stephen Janis: [Crosstalk] He can talk about that.
Taya Graham: …They didn’t appreciate him exercising his First Amendment rights. I’m not sure.
Stephen Janis: Well, look, we won’t press him on it.
Taya Graham: We look forward to hearing news in the future. We’ll leave it there.
Stephen Janis: James, You will have breaking news at some point in the future about your battle with the court authorities, right? We won’t ask you to comment on that, but there will be news in the future about that, correct?
James Freeman: Well, I can tell you right now what’s already public and what you can already look up in the court system.
Stephen Janis: Thank you.
James Freeman: And that’s that we filed the 1983 lawsuit against the District Seven court in New Mexico, two judges and two court clerks, and they defaulted in federal court, and that’s been entered into the record.
Stephen Janis: So for people to understand, when you say defaulted, they didn’t have any answer to your allegations is what you’re saying?
James Freeman: That’s right. They had no argument whatsoever. They didn’t even come and try to argue their side or their point.
Stephen Janis: And what were your allegations against the court officials in the lawsuit?
James Freeman: First Amendment violations. What had happened is I was going in, covering some stories, and so the judge, Mercedes Murphy, wrote a special judicial order saying that I can’t come to the courthouse. There was never a hearing. There was never a trial. And so essentially, my First Amendment rights were stripped by a judicial order with no due process at all.
Stephen Janis: Wow. Now, just so people know, and we covered this on our last livestream, you had decided to take your process of cop watching into a courthouse and were met with a lot of opposition, just like you were on the streets. And then the cops basically… I’m sorry. Then the court officials used an administrative process to ban you from the courthouse illegally, and that’s the focus of your lawsuit, correct?
James Freeman: That’s correct, yes.
Stephen Janis: Okay. And so, this is really fascinating to me because you’re one of the most famous, popular cop watchers. And I think we’ve talked about this, but I think it’s worth reiterating why you decided to go inside a courtroom when your work had been primarily in the streets and in parking lots of police departments where you confront police officers. Why did you decide to choose a judiciary? And I think this is relevant in the Eric Brandt case, because we talked about this offline, about why you think the judiciary is so problematic and needs the attention of cop watchers.
James Freeman: This case, this entire incident, I kind of accidentally walked into. I was going to visit my sheriff’s department just to remind them, hey, James Freeman is still around. And I noticed that there was a court hearing going on. I walked in. I wasn’t even recording or even intending to record, and the judge got sideways with me just for being there.
Stephen Janis: Just for being there?
James Freeman: Yes. Yes. One thing led to another, and I started covering… People were talking to me about what was going on in that courtroom. He was telling people that it’s illegal to cuss at each other in text messages, and I started covering that. And it was when I published the stories about the judge violating other people’s First Amendment rights and doing ridiculous things in the courtroom from their own recordings, actually, from their recordings. And they got upset about me publishing that, and that was when they banned me from the courtroom.
Stephen Janis: That is fascinating. Because I think one of the things you talked about when we were discussing this a couple of days ago – And we talked about this before in the regards to Eric Brandt – That the court operates with pretty much total immunity from scrutiny, that because they’re able to ban people from having phones or from filming or anything, they really are inscrutable. Is that what you found when you were confronting the courts in New Mexico?
James Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. They answer to nobody. And with these judicial orders, essentially, it seems to me as if they’ve been given the power to write their own laws. They call them rules, but essentially they’re allowed to write anything that they want on paper, and it’s to be obeyed by everybody, all these decrees. And as you can see from what they’ve been doing with these judicial orders, there is no end to it.
There was one in, I think it was Missouri, maybe a year ago or so, where this judge wrote a judicial order saying that nobody can record the courthouse from any distance. He said, even if you’re at your home two miles away and you have a telephoto lens, and you record somebody coming or going from this courthouse, you’ll be held in contempt of court. This is literally how out of control they’ve gotten with these judicial orders.
Stephen Janis: Wow. And now I want to ask you, just because we brought up Eric Brandt before as an example of some of the extremes of cop watching and some of the most productive aspects of cop watching, you were very upset about his sentencing. What are your thoughts about Eric Brandt and the punishment he received for what he did?
Taya Graham: That’s a good question.
James Freeman: Yeah. I heard you saying earlier today that people in the chat are conflicted about whether he was right or wrong. And I think right or wrong is arbitrary. But did he break the law? And I think not. I think that what he said to a lot of people was very distasteful, but that’s what the First Amendment is. It’s the right to say things that other people aren’t going to like. We don’t need to protect popular speech. It’s unpopular speech that needs to be protected. If it were popular, nobody would want to shut him up, right?
Stephen Janis: Right.
James Freeman: I guess he pled guilty thinking that they would have mercy on him, thinking that these people were human and they would treat him as a human, and unfortunately he was mistaken. I know he was trying to just get some of these cases off his plate and off of his docket so that he could work on the more important ones. And to him, this was, I guess, just so ridiculous, maybe.
Stephen Janis: Yeah.
James Freeman: But what he did, I will stand behind. I say it was absolutely free speech. Was it distasteful? Was it gross to many people? Absolutely.
Stephen Janis: Right. It was interesting because you actually, you monitor the sentencing. And the judge said some very bizarre things during the sentencing about punishment, and they were just very weird, how it went. And I don’t think anyone expected 12 years. And I think people need to understand that yes, Eric said offensive things, but he didn’t do anything violent, and he’s spending 12 years behind bars. That’s pretty hard to understand, given that people who have committed violent crimes and things that are much more impactful have gotten much shorter sentences.
Do you remember anything about what the judge said? I’m only bringing this up because it speaks to what you’re talking about of how the judiciary is unmonitored. I remember that you were just livestreaming what the judge was saying, and it was already on Zoom, and the judge went ballistic, which to me was very odd. And I remember the judge saying weird things about vengeance and punishment, and very, very odd and very weird. And I’m glad that people heard it, but it was strange, wasn’t it?
James Freeman: It was. And it was two years ago. I’m not going to lie, my memory is not that great [Janis laughs]. I don’t remember exactly what he said. I do remember though, that while watching it, I was thinking, man, I’ve got to get on a livestream with some people and talk about this, because I remember it was just insane. I remember the guy was talking as if he were God and he were to… It was disgusting. I remember that.
Stephen Janis: And I think it shows what you see even on the micro scale of what you’ve seen when you went into the courthouse and a judge is telling people, I’m going to arrest you because you have a cell phone, is that inside the judiciary, there is not a lot of accountability. And is that something you think that you… Since cop watchers have done their work on the street, is it time to get inside the courthouses and start to really put the pressure on the judiciary at this point? Is that something you think is going to be a focus for you going forward?
James Freeman: That was what I tried to do from the very beginning, actually. Before I even really started cop watching, I went out with Clash with Bow. And a lot of people may not remember it. Actually, that channel that I was on previously has been taken down by YouTube. We got in a lot of trouble trying to put the judiciary in check. I ended up serving 24 hours in jail for contempt of court for trying to record a court hearing about traffic court. Clash with Bow ended up serving six months in solitary confinement.
And we realized at that point, it was a seriously uphill battle. We were getting nowhere. We were getting nothing but brick walls and jail time. And to me, it seemed as if the public and the audience wasn’t even ready for it yet either. The people who were watching the cop watching and stuff were going, well, you got to have order decorum in the courtroom. And nobody was trying to take order and decorum away. Silently sitting there recording and documenting what’s going on has nothing to do with taking away order and decorum.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So do you think… First of all, I want to ask you a question just because of the Washington Post article. Are you surprised at how popular… Your channel has like 600, I don’t know how many. Does it have 800,000 subscribers? Have you been surprised how many people have shown this much interest in the movement, including the pinnacle of mainstream media? Does that surprise you? And what do you think that means about cop watching now?
James Freeman: I don’t know. I can tell you that I could tell early on that people want to be entertained more than they want to be educated. And so I realized early on that if we were going to reach people, we were going to have to be fun. It was going to have to be exciting and fun and entertaining. And I think there’s a lot of guys out there who have done a really good job of doing that. And so I think it is very, very slowly becoming a little more mainstream for people to realize, hey, maybe, just, just maybe our government is not perfect and they should be checked and balanced.
Stephen Janis: It’s interesting that you intuited that. Do you have a background in television, or is it just something that came naturally, you just figured this out? Because it’s kind of fascinating how all you, the cop watchers, collectively figured out, yeah, we can’t just be straightforward, just go blah, blah, blah. There has to be some drama to the whole thing. And that’s fascinating to me that that was something that immediately occurred to you. But come on, you got to be a little surprised at how many people are watching these videos now. It’s kind of unbelievable. Or are you surprised?
James Freeman: I think another factor too, though, is that… I’ve got that saying that I say all the time, back the blue until it happens to you. And I think that the truth is that more and more people are personally becoming victims of bad police behavior. And I guess it’s hard for people to empathize. But all of a sudden when it happens to them, they can now sympathize.
Stephen Janis: But it must be happening to a lot of people, because our inbox is flooded. Your inbox is flooded, right? It happens to more people than we think. It has always surprised me, the scale of it. Just from doing our show, Police Accountability Report, the amount of people that contact us, desperate, desperate for help, who are in bad positions already, and then the criminal justice system seems to swoop in and kick them while they’re down. Do you get the same thing where you’re flooded with people who really, really, really genuinely need help? It’s not that they want us to promote their channel, they just need help.
James Freeman: Yes. Yes, all the time. And the toughest part about that is that… I may be a little bit of a pessimist, but I’ve seen enough that I realize the real problem isn’t that, to me, that we need new laws or you need a good lawyer in court. The real problem is that we have a group of people who refuse to obey any of the laws that are already in place. And how do you deal with something like that? And to me, the only way to deal with it is to expose it, is to show people. Look, it doesn’t matter what the law says, that we can record police, that we can record our own court hearings, that you have a right to remain silent, that you have a right not to give ID. Criminals don’t care about laws. They don’t obey laws.
Stephen Janis: Wow, that’s profound. You’re talking about how our justice system just doesn’t obey the same laws that they’re meant to enforce, is what you’re saying.
James Freeman: Or even the laws that they make for themselves for that matter, they don’t obey those.
Stephen Janis: Right. Right. Well, cool. Taya, go ahead.
Taya Graham: I did have a question, and this might be something that folks in the audience – Hi, [inaudible] – Know already – Hi, Munkay 83. Oh, just for the record, Munkay 83, cop watcher, is in the chat, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cop disappear as quickly as I have when Munkay 83 has been on the case and holding up a cell phone. So just a little shout out –
Stephen Janis: That was in Denver. Yeah. He ran out and the cop just disappeared.
Taya Graham: Yeah, make a cop disappear in zero to 60 seconds, that is Munkay 83. So just a little shout out.
And like I said, people might know this story, but I was curious, was there an inciting moment that made you become a cop watcher? How did you wake up and decide you were going to start doing it? Did you have a negative interaction with police? What made you start going out with a camera and recording police?
James Freeman: I wouldn’t say that it was necessarily one thing. It was the combination of a whole bunch of things. I would say that maybe eight to 10 years ago, you would’ve found me backing the blue. But also, I believed in law and order, I wanted to live in a society of law and order, and I was unfortunately coming to the realization real quickly that the police were the ones committing crimes. More often than not, I came to the realization that the government had done more harm to me personally than any private criminal ever had, had taken more from me than any private criminal ever had.
So it was a combination of things. I was traveling back and forth between Texas and Arizona a lot at the time, because I lived in Texas, I owned a business there, and had family back in Arizona. We ended up driving through an inland border patrol checkpoint every time we went through. And I started getting sick of being stopped. And I never crossed the border, and I got sick of being stopped all the time and asked questions. And finally I decided, you know what, I’m not going to answer your questions. Sat there for 10 minutes and kind of scolded the border patrol agent and basically told him he needed to rethink his life and asked him if his mother knew what he was doing.
Taya Graham: Oh, wow.
James Freeman: I posted that online, and I actually just wanted to share that video with four or five friends at home and couldn’t figure out how to share a file that big. And my buddy says, hey, just upload it to YouTube. It’s the best place to share a file like that. So I did. It was set to public, and these other cop watchers, or auditors, I had never even heard of it at the time, had grabbed that video, started sharing it around, and two weeks later that video had a half a million views and they said, James, you got to go out and do this more often.
Taya Graham: Wow, that’s incredible.
Stephen Janis: What a story.
Taya Graham: What an origin story.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, I like that superhero origin story.
Taya Graham: Oh, I love that so much. I know we kept you for a long time, but we have to ask you, now that the mainstream media is finally starting to pay a little bit of attention, acknowledging that this work has impact, what do you see in the future of cop watching? Do you think it’s evolving? Do you think it’s changing? Do you think where the battle is going to be fought is going to switch more from the sidewalks to the courtrooms? Where do you see it heading? What do you think is going to happen next?
James Freeman: I don’t know where –
Taya Graham: More people are going to jump in?
James Freeman: I can’t say for sure. I can only say where I would like to see it go. And that’s towards accountability for government on all levels, for all branches of government. And we all talk about qualified immunity. I do all the time. It needs to go away.
But I think another thing that needs to be talked about more is that violation of rights is a crime. It’s not just a civil matter. It is a crime. And there are already laws on the books federally to imprison people for violation of rights under color of law, and I want to see more cops being thrown in prison. I wouldn’t even be filing lawsuits if I could just have these cops prosecuted and thrown in prison for the crimes that they’re committing. I would have no desire to essentially take money from the taxpayer if they could just be put in prison where they belong.
Taya Graham: Wow. James, that’s such a powerful statement, and I think that’s really important for people to hear, because so often people think that there is a financial incentive behind cop watching, that it’s about winning these lawsuits. And from my understanding – And you can certainly correct me if I’m wrong – But that winning a lawsuit can take three, four years. There’s no guarantee that you will win. It can be a very difficult and agonizing process. And during it, in a lot of ways, your life can be on hold, it can be under constant scrutiny, and that it’s no way to try to make an income, to try to win a $30,000 lawsuit every four or five years. That’s no way to try to make a living.
And the fact that you said that it’s about accountability, that if the officers who violated rights, which you consider a crime, understandably, actually paid for that crime in the same way that we citizens do, then you wouldn’t file a lawsuit at all. I think that’s really powerful, and I’m so glad you said that for people to hear. I really do. Stephen, I wanted to ask you.
James Freeman: And there’s –
Taya Graham: Oh, go ahead, please.
James Freeman: There’s even recent examples. I can’t remember who… I think I might be losing signal.
Stephen Janis: No, no, we have you.
Taya Graham: You dropped out for a second.
Stephen Janis: Oh, we dropped out. Okay. Okay.
Taya Graham: Well, obviously this. Oh, you’re back. Oh, good, good.
James Freeman: Oh, am I here?
Taya Graham: Yes.
Stephen Janis: Yep.
James Freeman: Yeah, there are recent examples of that too. 18 USC 242, that’s what Derek Chauvin was charged under. And then recently in California, there are 10 cops that have been charged under that as well. And so again, the law is there. It just needs to be implemented and used.
Stephen Janis: Well. Excellent.
James Freeman: More often.
Taya Graham: Yes.
Stephen Janis: Excellent point.
Taya Graham: I agree.
Stephen Janis: Because we’ve seen how one illegal arrest, unconstitutional arrest can ruin someone’s life.
Taya Graham: Absolutely.
Stephen Janis: If there’s no repercussions, police have very little incentive not to do it because I think they enjoy it and I think it gives them stats and all sorts of other things, and so I think James makes an excellent point.
But I also would love to see the cop watching power turned to governance in general, because there are so many boards and hearings and council meetings and subcommittees that get very little attention that, unfortunately, they’re probably not going to be as dramatic, but still revelatory. So I would love to see –
Taya Graham: Have some cameras show up at the board of estimates meetings, perhaps.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, our board of estimates meetings, all sorts of things. I think that would be a great complement to –
Taya Graham: Because there’s so many. Stephen, I’m so glad you said that, because there are so many aspects of governance that really deserve a camera on them.
Stephen Janis: Scrutiny.
Taya Graham: And really, people do complain about their local media or mainstream media, but even having them there helps because if you think your local politicians, and even national ones, behave badly while mainstream media is watching, can you imagine if there were no cameras at all? So maybe it’s time for some citizens to show up with cameras.
Stephen Janis: And I think there are people like Blind Justice who have done that, and other people. But I think James makes a really great point, that a comprehensive approach to governance in all levels, and especially in small towns where things can be really crooked because there aren’t a lot of people watching. Not so much maybe in places like Baltimore where we have four television stations, but small towns where people really can do whatever they want. I think it’s a great idea.
Taya Graham: Absolutely. James, I have to thank you.
Stephen Janis: James, thank you.
Taya Graham: Thank you so much for hanging in with us while we were having a variety of technical difficulties, and taking the time to share what you do with us, help enlighten all the wonderful people and all the amazing support you got from the chat. Just want you to know –
Stephen Janis: You lit it up.
Taya Graham: You have a lot of people in the chat that – Yes, he lit it up.
Stephen Janis: He lit up.
Taya Graham: Lit it up.
Stephen Janis: So did Battousai, they both lit it up.
Taya Graham: I know. I know.
Stephen Janis: It’s cool.
Taya Graham: So we just want to thank you so much for taking the time to join us. We really appreciate you and your work.
James Freeman: Thank you guys so much for having me on. It’s always a pleasure to be with you.
Stephen Janis: Make sure you get us some breaking news when you’re ready to break the news.
Taya Graham: Oh yes, please. Please make sure.
Stephen Janis: Call us, okay?
Taya Graham: Call us.
James Freeman: Will do.
Stephen Janis: Thank you.
Taya Graham: Well, I just wanted to say, that was wonderful, James, to join us and remind us why cop watching is so important and why it’s important to recognize it as a movement, not just a collection of YouTubers making videos to get clicks.
But again, as we talked about at the beginning of the show, just as important as acknowledging what cop watching is, is to even understand why it exists at all. What prompts so many people to turn their cameras on police, and why should you care? Well, part of that answer has something to do with the ulterior imperatives that drive policing, meaning if we want to understand cop watching, we have to understand cops. Stephen, I’m sure you have some thoughts on that.
Stephen Janis: Well, I think that the people can see with their own eyes how inequality has created so many horrific circumstances in this country. But the good thing about a democracy and the good thing about a robust First Amendment is they can do something about it. And I think just listening to James and Battousai gives me so much hope for us, and I mean us, I mean the community of people who care, and that includes everybody. And just thinking that they can say, you know what, both of them have individual experiences like this is wrong, but I had the ability to do something is why cop watching is such a great movement in a sense. Because it shows we’re not in some desolate dystopia where nothing can change. These people, these young men have gone out and said, I can change it with my camera and my YouTube channel and my wits. I can actually make change. That’s extraordinary.
And the fact that all these people collectively got The Washington Post, one of the most powerful media organizations in the world, to pay attention to them and give them a lot of copy is extraordinary. And I think it’s affirmative, and that’s something we miss about the whole idea. Yes, what they’re showing can sometimes be horrific and terrible. We’ve seen terrible things that cop watchers have brought to light. But the fact that they feel empowered to do it and they’re willing to take the risk. James was willing to get arrested, Battousai was willing to get arrested. That is phenomenal that people are willing to do that. That’s not something, as much as when I’m outside I make a lot of noise, I still don’t want to get arrested.
And that the people would feel empowered enough and also engaged enough to say, you know what, I’m going to stand up to this. This is American tradition at its best. The American real grassroots movement tradition at its best. It is not dystopian. It is actually utopian in some ways. Because I feel like when I listen to them, I’m like, wow, these guys just went out and did it. And that is extraordinary. I’m sorry.
Taya Graham: No, Stephen, it’s actually kind of wonderful to hear you so inspired.
Stephen Janis: Yeah, but everyone I’ve met from when we were talking about Munkay 83, talking to Eric Brandt, we’re talking about –
Taya Graham: Joe Cool.
Stephen Janis: Joe Cool. Joe Cool by himself with a camera has got like 50 cops watching me like, what’s Joe Cool going to do next? These guys are empowering. We should remember that. We should remember the fact that there’s something really great happening here, not just something that’s just about bad news. The good news is the fact that we can show you the bad news. And that’s why I was thinking it would be so wonderful if they would take on city hall in general, en masse, but we’ll see. So I think, yes, they see the problem, but they also see themselves as part of the solution.
And we should remember that’s a great thing, because that’s self-correcting. That’s what’s cool about a free society where people have First Amendment rights. We can assert them and we can change things, and that’s beautiful.
Taya Graham: Stephen, it’s so good to hear you feeling inspired, and also to see that the people do still have some power. And I think you also made an excellent point about the intersection between inequality and the use of policing as a tool to suppress dissent.
Stephen Janis: Absolutely.
Taya Graham: I think in our city of Baltimore, we have watched how policing has shaped a debate that has resulted in a diminishment of our civic imagination. And what I mean is that when policing dominates the debate and the discussion over how to govern, what is lost is our ability to imagine what we really need to improve our lives. When police are situated at the very heart of our community and even our culture, I literally think it constrains our ability to imagine what a better world would look like.
So to explore this idea, I want you to consider this recent story in The New York Times, a report that reveals how police are pushing back against a basic – And I mean very basic level of accountability and are actually taxing the communities that are asking for it.
So this story recounts how police unions are pushing back against body cameras in a very specific way. They’re demanding that officers be paid to wear them. That’s right. You heard it. Cities and towns across the country are being forced to allocate extra money not just to buy the cameras, but to fund bonuses for the officers who deign to wear them. In Worcester, Massachusetts, for example, officers have been awarded a $1,300 stipend for agreeing to wear body cameras, even though the department has been subject to multiple allegations of police corruption. The article also cites New York, Las Vegas, Cincinnati as other cities where unions have used body cameras as a bargaining chip to extract raises for their members in exchange for putting them on while they patrol.
Now, it’s worth noting that officers don’t get extra money to wear a taser or a firearm. They don’t get extra pay to have a flashlight or a can of mace. No, it seems only in the case of wearing what I think think we would call an accountability mechanism did police push back. More importantly, when the public demanded they wear them, the business of policing used the opportunity to profit from it. And I think this case, a pay for play accountability perfectly exemplifies our debate over cop watching. Because as we’ve learned from watching the movement of cop watching evolve, it has exposed ways, both practical and specific, the underlying and indiscriminate power police have.
But it’s the source of that power, why it’s so overwhelming that gives us an even better understanding of what makes cop watching so essential to preserving governance by consent. Because often, as we’ve discussed, when cop watchers battle over the right to record, they’re revealing in their work how little our current political establishment tolerates dissent. They show through encounters with cops how our rights are often subject to the arbitrary power of police.
So when you watch a cop try to seize a camera or handcuff a photographer or otherwise deem recording in a public space illegal or unwarranted, you are really watching how little tolerance the elites have for the agency of the people. What you’re really seeing when a cop confronts a cop watcher or a court bans a citizen journalist is how little the political establishment cares about the kind of governance people really want.
And so what cop watching often reveals, and will continue to reveal, is a reality we all have to consider and understand. The fight over rights that may seem insignificant or even trivial are actual battles writ large against a broader and more troubling allocation of power. It’s a struggle to preserve the right to dissent in ways both creative and innovative that must prevail if we are to build a more progressive and equal society.
Remember, the story of the pay for play body cameras and legislation that would make cop watching illegal all come from the same source: the ongoing and escalating concentration of power in the hands of the few that exists solely by constraining the rights of the many. It’s a pure power play that is made necessary by the lack of governance that focuses on common good or public works or a social safety net for all. It’s the direct result of how power and wealth have been concentrated in a few hands, and thus must be protected from the demands of us, the many, the dissenters, the gadflies, and generally, the people who refuse to be cowed and continue to demand fairness.
That’s why, even in my capacity as a reporter who’s supposed to remain as neutral as possible, I am thankful for people like James Freeman and The Battousai, and that’s why I continue to watch and learn from cop watchers like Eric Brandt, and Brian Loma, and Liberty Freak, and Ghost Rider, and Otto the Watchdog, and Munkay 83, and DJ KDot, and Chuck Bronson, and Rice Crispy, and Tom Zebra, and Laura Shark, and Jodie Kat Media, and High Delete Laws, and Joe Cool, and Acura Amanda, and James Madison Audits, and HBO Max, and Corner’s News, and Manuel Mata, and Sip Can See a Higher Power, and Blind Justice, and Official Misconduct, and Lackluster, and the News Now teams, and John Felix, and so many others, and Freedom to Film – Hi, thank you for joining us – And just so many others who support the community.
Even folks like Chris Powers and Noli Dee and Friends and Co and Lacey R. who help make some of our livestreams possible. That’s why we dedicated our last show in its entirety to the work of Tom Zebra and Laura Sharp, two wonderful cop watchers who continue to patrol the streets of Los Angeles, shedding light on the over-policing of the LA County Sheriff’s Department. And that’s why we’re working on a longer project that will document the work of all the aforementioned men and women who refuse to put down their cell phone cameras. And that’s why we will continue to do this show. Because if they can put their freedom on the line to do it – And I mean all of the cop watchers out there, and all the cop watchers that are in our chat right now, if you guys can continue to put your freedom on the line to do this, the least we can do is continue to report on it.
Stephen Janis: And the least I can do is stay outside [Graham laughs]. Hey, I’ll do my part.
Taya Graham: Just to let you know, the chair is gone [laughs].
Stephen Janis: It’s gone. Oh, the pain. The pain.
Taya Graham: You’ll be outside shortly.
Stephen Janis: I lost my chair!
Taya Graham: You’ll be outside shortly.
Stephen Janis: Do you think Max will buy me another one?
Taya Graham: I wouldn’t count on it.
Stephen Janis: Okay.
Taya Graham: I wouldn’t count on it.
Stephen Janis: Well, I’ll ask.
Taya Graham: So for everyone who stuck with us to the very end, I just want to thank you all for being so patient with us, for being patient with some of our technical difficulties, for being a wonderful chat. I wish I could have said hi to every single person there, but I have to make a point of saying thank you to Noli Dee and Lacey R. for being there.
Stephen Janis: Thank you, Noli and Lacey.
Taya Graham: And helping make the live chat an awesome experience. And I have to also thank my amazing patrons as well. So if you are a patron and you hung in here for this whole time, thank you so much. My patron, PAR associate producers: Lucita Garcia, David K., and John E.R., and Louis P., thank you so much for your support. We really appreciate you. And then I have my patron super friends, Chris R., Pineapple Girl, Shane B. And of course, my wonderful official patrons who are the backbone of the show.
And I’m going to read your first name and your last initial because I don’t want to accidentally reveal any personal information.
Stephen Janis: Okay.
Taya Graham: Michael W., Jodas., Joseph P., Marvin G., Dur, Devil, Nope, Patty, Angela True T., Zero M., Chemi, XXXX, Kenneth Lawrence K., Blipitz, Dante, Kipki S., John M., Joe Six, Six Estate A.Z., Kyle R., Calvin M., Steven D., Rod B., Celeste D.S., P.T., Just My 2 Cents, Talia B., Tamara A., John K., True Tube Live.
And of course, the friends of PAR who helped give me the moral support to keep going. Knowing that you all care enough to show your support means the world to me. And I appreciate each and every one of you, including David W., Rahena O., Frank F.K., Mary M.C., Mike D., Linda O., Chris M., Dean C., Prove All Things Audits, Cameron J., Farmer Jane, USA, Kimmy Cat P., Kurt A., Social Nationalist, Marsha E., Daniel W., William T.G., DBMC, John K., Potshot, Steven B., Cindy K., Sesco S., Keith Bernard M., John M., Gary T., Janet K., Rhyme P., Mark William L., Noli Dee, Guy B., Ron F., Alan J., Trey P., Julius Gezo, Omar O., Umesh H., John P., Ryan, Lacey R., Douglas P., Andrea J.O., RBMH, Siggy Young, Stephen J., Michael S.L., Default Aaron, Peter J., Sean B., Hugo F., Joel A., Tim R., Larry L., Ronald H., Artemis L.A., my very first Patron, Jimmy Touchdown – We’ll never forget you, and Kenny G..
Stephen Janis: And don’t forget to thank Cam.
Taya Graham: And don’t forget –
Stephen Janis: Cam and Adam.
Taya Graham: The people who helped make this possible.
Stephen Janis: Our wonderful staff.
Taya Graham: Kim, Adam, and –
Stephen Janis: Our esteemed editor, Max, “Touchdown” Alvarez.
Taya Graham: Touchdown Alvarez.
Stephen Janis: We know the significance of why he’s called Max “Touchdown” Alvarez.
Taya Graham: Yeah, he likes to call Audibles.
Stephen Janis: He likes to call Audibles, and he showboats before he gets to the end zone.
Taya Graham: You know what?
Stephen Janis: He taunts you with the ball.
Taya Graham: This stream is still live, so maybe, maybe you should save that.
Stephen Janis: Okay.
Taya Graham: Okay. All right everybody, thank you all for sticking around to the very bitter end. We appreciate you so much. We are done with all my thanks. And now, I just hope you feel as inspired as we do to go out into the world and help demand your rights. Do what you feel is best to demand accountability and transparency and to make sure your civil rights and liberties are respected. I will admit, I myself am hesitant to go up to Baltimore City police officers and cop watch, so that might not be your best way to hold police accountable and demand transparency. But we all can find a way to make this world a better place, and I feel confident you will go out and find yours. Stephen, you are free to go out and roam the great outdoors.
Stephen Janis: Wonderful.
Taya Graham: Be gone.
Stephen Janis: I’ll be gone soon.
Taya Graham: Be gone.
Thank you to everyone who stayed, and for joining me tonight and being patient with us. As always, please be safe out there. See you soon on another Thursday night, 9:00 PM Eastern Time for the Police Accountability Report. Take care.
Maximillian Alvarez: Thank you so much for watching The Real News Network, where we lift up the voices, stories, and struggles that you care about most. And we need your help to keep doing this work, so please tap your screen now, subscribe and donate to the Real News Network. Solidarity forever.