Younger Americans, raised on YouTube and social media, might have missed the significance of the twentieth anniversary of the verdict stemming from the Rodney King incident. Mr. King was, of course, the African American man who was badly beaten by seven members of the LAPD one evening in March 1991, in an event that was caught on videotape by amateur videographer George Holliday.
In the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and the momentous Los Angeles riots that followed the verdict, the police, community organizers and government officials all learned important lessons about race and justice. But human rights activists learned another lesson: video, in the hands of everyday people, could be a powerful tool to bring the perpetrators of abuse to account.
Flash forward twenty years, and everyone is George Holliday. With cell phones and portable video cameras, billions of average citizens are armed with sophisticated tools to record anything they see and hear, including instances of injustice and human rights abuse. And many people are doing just that, and posting their videos online.
WITNESS, founded in the wake of the Rodney King incident, has been working with citizen videos, much like that of Holliday’s, for two decades, and has now joined forces with Google, YouTube and Storyful to take full advantage of this new “cameras everywhere” world. Every day there is a video posted online – from Egypt, Syria, Congo, Cambodia – by local citizens who, like Holliday, are documenting the human rights abuses they encounter. Many of these videos are getting lost in the shuffle – undocumented, uncatalogued, uncontextualized and unshared – so they are not able to make maximum impact.
The Human Rights Video Channel, the new YouTube channel, will serve as an Internet home base for these human rights videos produced by citizen activists and amateur journalists. And if it succeeds in its purpose, it will shine a light on the perpetrators of abuse and help bring them to justice.