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Video Reconstructions Help Win Lawsuits Over Police Behavior

Two unprecedented settlements to protesters who were injured by police violence in 2020 were both supported by video footage that has been reconstructed, the Intercept reports. As technology advances and video footage of protests abounds, it’s becoming easier for protesters to win class-action lawsuits and settlements against cities and their police departments. While few critics of the criminal justice system think the cases will drastically overhaul how policing is done, the record settlements in Philadelphia and New York City's Mott Haven neighborhood demonstrate how powerful forensic reconstructions are for providing public evidence of police abuses and giving its victims some form of redress. Work from groups like SITU Research, which conducts visual investigations focused on justice and civil liberties, and Forensic Architecture, a group based in London that does research on state violence, has helped make otherwise esoteric forensic techniques meaningful to ordinary people.

Eventually, policing critics hope, communities will see that police departments, cities, and municipalities are having to spend huge amounts of public funds to provide restitution, thanks to the proof provided by reconstructions. The Mott Haven settlement is a critical step in the arc of recognition and, eventually, accountability, said SITU's Brad Samuels. The Mott Haven video reconstruction, created by Human Rights Watch and SITU, spelled out a chaotic and confusing situation in plain language: NYPD officers deliberately rounded up, beat, and arrested protesters, medics, and clearly identified legal observers. The "kettling" tactic, is often used to trap protesters outside so that they can’t abide by city-imposed curfews. In this case, police brutalized and arrested more than 230 people. Forensic reconstructions have also played an important role in at least two other cases related to police misconduct during the 2020 protests. An lawsuit against Charlotte and its then-police chief settled in July 2022, with the settlement terms banning several tactics depicted in an American Civil Liberties Union video reconstruction, including kettling and the use of tear gas on protesters.


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