History of First Amendment Audits

History Graphic
On March 3, 1991, George Holliday unknowingly became the first known First Amendment Auditor. Early that morning, Holliday found himself in a position to use a new video recorder to record as a driver named Rodney King was subdued by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department.
Based on Holliday's video, which made its way to news outlets around the world, public opinion was that King had been beaten by the police in an act of extreme police brutality.

Without Holliday taking the action of recording the incident, it is claimed that no meaningful investigation into the events surrounding the traffic stop involving King would have ever been conducted.

Even though three of the officers charged in the incident were acquitted, with the fourth being released with no verdict being decided, the incident showed that people were watching the police and working to hold them accountable for their actions.

The result of the incident, while sparking riots throughout Los Angeles and the nation, is not the focus, though. The fact that Holliday was able to video record the incident and distribute the video such that it showed the world the events as they unfolded is what is important. This began a trend that has continued and expanded in the time since.

Beginning after this incident, other citizens took to the streets with cameras in-hand to video record police events and actions. In general, the videos began as observations of traffic stops. As platforms such as YouTube and others gained popularity, these videos began appearing there spreading them even further and more-quickly.

Early on, Auditors in some cases took on the duties of vigilante to an extent in that they sought to prevent or take action against officers who would mistreat drivers during these traffic stops. They furthered this notion by considering their activities to be "cop blocking." The result of this was that the public and law enforcement developed the opinion that Auditors were troublemakers and anti-police. Since most of the videos posted appeared to provide a negative light on law enforcement, there was little to dissuade this opinion.

Acting as vigilantes, as well, they were often seen on video goading officers into reactions in order generate views and to push further their narrative that all law enforcement officers are corrupt. This deepened the resentment among law enforcement toward Auditors in general and help push the divide between the two classes. When law-abiding individuals reviewed the videos, they, as well, generated and furthered the negative opinion and stereotype of the Auditors.

As this reputation was growing and pushing negative effects on the Auditors, the former "cop blockers" changed their description of what they were doing into "copy watching" instead. While still responding in what some would consider an aggressive manner, the Auditors began to smooth their reputation in some eyes by not goading officers and instead simply standing to the side recording unless engaged. As such, even though still not accepted in many circles, the Auditors began to prove that they were becoming the victims of police action instead of instigating it.

Garnering millions of views daily and beginning to develop livable income from monetization, the videos enticed others to join the effort. New Auditors joined the ranks daily expanding the community.

With more and more Auditors taking action, new styles began to emerge. Some were passive-aggressive, while others were completely passive in their videos. These new styles also would seemingly have countered the opinions and stereotypes of the community as a whole. Yet, they have done little to do so.

This has worked as a double-edged sword for Auditors.

Even with the new styles emerging, some Auditors found that the responses by law enforcement to their actions, whether simply videoing or actually goading the officers, in many cases generated cause for legal action. Similarly, even if there was not full standing for such action, agencies and governments often choose to settle lawsuits instead of continue through litigation. Some used this new revelation as grounds for turning auditing into a profession that would generate even more income than just the monetization of the videos.

This, in many minds, furthered the negative opinion of First Amendment Auditing and developed into a generalization that Auditors are concerned with views of their videos for monetization and in generating a response from law enforcement or other government officials and employees to provide grounds for a lawsuit.

The passage of time, though, is beginning to soften this image. Thanks to efforts by many of the current Auditors, people are recognizing that the Auditors are, in most cases, simply testing to see if their Rights are respected. In more and more of the videos, law enforcement is being shown to recognize the rights of public photography and videography and using that knowledge to educate others.

It is the hope of most of the Auditors that this trend continues and that their efforts eventually are unnecessary.


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