Videographers Poh Si Teng and Ben Laffin have captured for The New York Times a behind-the-scenes look at Copwatch, a new program to organize citizens to video Baltimore police.
The short film expertly depicts the tension between local police officers and the communities they serve, with both sides seeing the other as the problem and themselves as the solution.
Copwatch, founded in Berkeley, California, started in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. It has also taken root in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities under fire for police misconduct. Organizers sought out Kevin Moore, who shot the video of Freddie Gray’s arrest, to begin Copwatch in Baltimore. “I just want my daughters and son to live with some type of peace,” says Moore in the video.
Videographer Poh Si Teng approached Copwatch in Baltimore about following the group with her camera but was initially rebuffed. After a month of back and forth, organizers agreed to let her shadow them. The video, Copwatch vs. Cops: After Freddie Gray, interviews Andrea Pritchett, who helped to start Copwatch in 1990. “It’s not about hating the police,” says Pritchett about the organization. “It’s about recognizing that policing in America is an ineffective method of ensuring community safety.”
Copwatch trains local residents how to conduct themselves while videotaping, but the novice Baltimore videographers, who are shown both constructively engaging with the police and taunting them, still have a way to go. After watching an excerpt of provocative video of the Copwatchers, Pritchett voices her impression.
“What I see is a lot of grief and a lot of anger… I love these guys because they are willing to stand up and so many people are not, [but] if there’s an ideal of Copwatch, it’s about being strategic, it’s not about my anger, it’s not about my emotional reaction. If you’re out there trying to model good Copwatching it just looks a lot different than this sometimes.”
Poh Si Teng accompanies the video with Behind the Scenes of Copwatch, her personal account of watching the Copwatchers, an experience she sums up this way: “Policing in America is complicated. I hope this story will show that policing the police is as well.”