Technology gives bracing immediacy to police shooting story

Protesters gather outside the gov. residence.
Protesters gather outside of the governor's residence on Summit Ave. in St. Paul on July 7, 2016, to protest the shooting of Philando Castile by a police office in Falcon Heights the night before.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

A live, online piece of footage of a dying man brought a shocking new immediacy Thursday to the issue that gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The video — posted by a Minnesota woman from inside the car where her boyfriend lay bleeding from police gunfire — was seized on by some as sickening proof of what they have been saying all along: that police are too quick to use deadly force against minorities.

Some viewers found it too painful or voyeuristic to watch, and some of the major TV networks chose to blur the picture.

"We'd never seen anything like this, which is what made the tape all the more remarkable," said Jim Murphy, vice president for morning programming at CNN, which chose not to obscure the image.

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The video out of Falcon Heights, Minnesota, spread only hours after the release of footage showing the killing of Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after being pinned to the pavement by two white officers. Live pictures of Sterling's son wailing in grief on live TV Wednesday added to the misery.

In the Minnesota shooting, the woman propped up her smartphone, pressed a couple of buttons and instantly was on Facebook live, explaining that her boyfriend, Philando Castile, had been shot by police. She calmly contradicted an agitated officer who was pointing a gun at her through the car window, as a blood-covered Castile moaned beside her. The video continued for 10 minutes.

Except for a technical glitch that prevented the video from being repeated for about an hour Thursday morning, Facebook said it remained available, though with a warning about graphic content. By midafternoon, it had been viewed more than 3.6 million times.

CNN executives remade the network's "New Day" broadcast on the fly to feature the story Thursday. NBC's "Today" show, ABC's "Good Morning America" and "CBS This Morning" used the video, too, but blurred images of the bloodied Castile.

"Unfortunately, people have seen worse," Murphy said. "The broadcast that she created in that car needed to be seen by the public just as we were looking at it."

To Ryan Kadro, executive producer of "CBS This Morning," the exchanges between the woman and police were key to the video. Showing a blood-soaked man didn't add to people's understanding of the story, he said.

The newfound capability to essentially show these news events live online made the story especially powerful.

"You get to see stuff here that you don't see on police cameras, at least ones that have been released that I'm aware of," said Steve Jones, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an expert on communications technology. Police bodycam footage is "filtered through the police department. What we're seeing is the immediate aftermath from the viewpoint of a witness, in a much more visceral way and unredacted way."

Sometimes it's too real: Amy Linden, a writer from Brooklyn, clicked on Facebook on Thursday morning, and the Minnesota video immediately began playing. She swiftly turned it off. A day earlier, she bawled watching Sterling's son cry.

While the video allows people to bear witness, many resisted. April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, wrote in The Washington Post that she refused to spread copies of the Sterling video online. She called it a "sick sort of voyeurism."