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Rights + Justice

Can You Believe Your Eyes?

Online vids capture moments of high drama but sometimes miss the bigger picture.

Ben Shingler 21 Oct

Ben Shingler writes regularly about online media for The Tyee.

The violent arrest of a University of Western Ontario student is only the latest of many incidents involving police that have been splashed on YouTube.

The video shows the student being held down in a university building and beaten by at least five campus and city police officers.

A second video shows the student, moments later, in another confrontation with police outside the building.

Posted last Wednesday right after the incident, the video quickly circulated online, leading to a firestorm of media reports across the country, and prompting the London, Ont. university to issue a statement defending police actions during the arrest.

As with other police videos, such as this one involving an off-duty soldier and Fredericton, N.B. police officers, the images and sounds are shocking, especially to someone viewing them online, far removed from the scene itself.

But as valuable as such videos are in ensuring police are held in check (witness the tasering of Robert Dziekanski, for instance), there is risk, too, that they will be viewed out of context.

As the university statement explains, the incident began well before the video was shot, after police received calls regarding a "disoriented and threatening individual" who was trying to enter offices on the seventh and eighth floors of the social sciences building. It was on the main floor of the building, after he had already fled from police once, that the confrontation took place.

"Our officers and London Police officers were dealing with a disoriented and violent young person who clearly required help," Gitta Kulczycki, vice president of resources and operations at Western, said in the release.

"Our officers did what they needed to do to ensure that he and others around him were safe."

The video poster, identified only by the YouTube name "dreddly," later expressed regret about how the video had been taken out of context.

"I recorded the event to document it, but this intent was lost through its dissemination," dreddly wrote in a blurb accompanying the YouTube clip.

"I believe the police response was justified and reasonable based on what I witnessed. The suspect's arm was underneath him and the police were trying to free the arm, he was clearly not complying. When the suspect got up, he did not look visibly injured or in a state worse than when he struggled to the ground."

Police charged the student, described as six feet two inches and more than 200 pounds, with mischief, resisting arrest, assault, and escaping custody.  [Tyee]

Read more: Video, Rights + Justice

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