First, let’s acknowledge that Stephon Clark, Rekia Boyd and Andre Hill are all examples of Black people who died because trigger-happy cops couldn’t pause their killer instinct long enough to distinguish a gun from a cell phone. (Or, at least that was their story.) And in the era of George Floyd—where the practicality of filming police activity has been well-proven—instances that involve cops drawing down on civilians “armed” with smartphones are looking more and more like officers trying to intimidate bystanders holding cameras with threats of deadly force.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, two police officers are being investigated after getting busted for aggressively approaching and pointing their guns at a “juvenile” who was filming them in a video that has since gone viral.
“Why are you pulling the gun on me?” the cameraman—who police identified as a minor—asked a female officer.
“Because you have a weapon,” the officer responded definitively despite the fact that the juvenile was not holding a weapon.
The teen behind the camera shouted, “No weapon, no weapon,” but the officer kept her gun on him despite the fact that, at this point, she had plenty of time to recognize that the phone he was holding was not, in fact, a weapon. Meanwhile, another cop ran up on the cameraman with his own gun drawn while shouting at the teen to get on the ground.
Here’s the excuse Fairfax County Police gave in a statement, according to Fox 5:
“Around 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, a group of 3-4 juveniles entered the IHOP, 6655 Arlington Blvd in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County. One of the juveniles threatened the hostess while another lifted his shirt, revealing what appeared to be a handgun in his waistband. The group departed but returned later attempting to get the employee to come outside to the parking lot. When officers arrived, the juveniles ran to a nearby parking lot, where officers detained two subjects and did not find a weapon. While detaining them, a third subject, who the officers believed to be involved, approached with something in his hands. Due to the nature of the call and not locating a weapon, officers ordered the subject to the ground at gunpoint. Officers determined the juvenile was holding a cell phone and filming. The three juveniles were detained and later released to their parents. The investigation has been assigned to a detective in our Criminal Investigation Division. As with all pointing of a firearm events, the incident is under review.”
It’s worth mentioning that this comes at a time when Republicans in several states have introduced legislation aimed at limiting the rights of civilians to film police activity. In fact, last week, Arizona passed a law that makes it illegal for citizens to record within eight feet of police activity. If that law had passed in Minnesota before 2020, it would have likely made the Floyd video illegal and the cops involved in his murder would have all walked free.
Fortunately, no Black people were killed by Fairfax County police officers in this incident, but their aggressiveness and apparent inability to recognize a phone isn’t a deadly weapon proves why it’s absolutely necessary to allow citizens to film them.