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On Tuesday, a young woman was brutally removed from her high-school math class and placed under arrest by a school resource officer in Columbia, S.C.

Niya Kenny, a heroic student who was brave enough to record the attack and speak out against the officer’s behavior, was arrested and released after paying $1,000. She says she was “praying out loud for the girl.” Tony Robinson Jr., another student who filmed the horrible beating, said he feared for his life.

Mobile phones and the cameras they contain are everywhere. The small devices document crimes like the attack at Spring Valley in places the media aren’t — from classrooms to community pools.

These recordings counter police cover-ups and lift the veil on the systemic abuse of people of color at the hands of law enforcement. And the open internet helps get these messages out.

The internet & the fight for justice

The internet enables people to communicate and organize. And we must fight to ensure it’s a tool for liberation, not oppression.

This violence against a young Black woman at the hands of a white male police officer is part of a history of violence against Black bodies. The attack occurred amid a present-day reign of terror being waged against Black men, women and children at the hands of police officers. The Movement for Black Lives has used the internet to publicize this violence and fight for change. 

Our phones enable documentation of these everyday crimes. Citizen journalists are filling the void left by media outlets that fail to document such abuses. People are risking arrest, harassment or worse because they’re using the power of the open internet to share images quickly and effectively.

You never know when you’re going to become a citizen journalist. Kenny and Robinson walked into class that day as students; both committed acts of journalism when they pulled out their phones to chronicle what was happening in their classroom. And their right to record police abuse needs to be safeguarded.

While filming on-duty police is legal, intimidation and harassment of people committing acts of journalism happens all too frequently. It’s disturbing — though not surprising — that Kenny was arrested and charged with “disturbing schools” simply for filming the officer taking down her classmate.

Mobile phones and the open internet are essential tools in the fight against police brutality because they allow Black Americans to tell their own stories, share what’s really happening in communities around the country, expose police lies and get around traditional mainstream gatekeepers that are complicit in sustaining a racist system of oppression.

The open internet also allows people to challenge mainstream-media figures who perpetuate racist narratives that the victims “must have done something” to deserve such treatment.

Many white Americans can’t — or won’t — believe this kind of unjustified police violence happens because they don’t experience the same things as people of color do. White privilege blinds too many people from recognizing experiences that are different from their own. But that’s changing.

And that’s why citizen journalists who expose the rampant beating, brutalizing and murder of Black people must be protected.

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