Beverly Hills police are playing Beatles songs to avoid being filmed on Instagram, activist claims

Accusation highlights the complicated role video plays in addressing police conduct

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Friday 12 February 2021 19:54 GMT
Bodycam footage shows police officers being attacked at Capitol

An activist is accusing Beverly Hills police officers of playing copyrighted music like The Beatles’s “Yesterday” and Sublime’s “Santeria” to trigger Instagram’s copyright algorithm and prevent videotaped interactions from being posted on social media.

In videos from January and February, Los Angeles-based activist Sennett Devermont says officers began playing the songs when he confronted them on camera.

In one clip, he approaches Sergeant Billy Fair, and a nearby officer begins wordlessly playing “Yesterday” on his phone.

As officer Fair continues talking to a nearby woman, Mr Devermont keeps filming, until Fair chides him for recording.

“There’s too much pressure when you’re here,” he says.

“Turn your body camera on, champ,” Mr Devermont responds.

“I know but my body camera is not waiting for one of use to make a mistake verbally, he says. “I just never know if I’m going to be that bad clip.”

In another interaction, Mr Devermont says Sgt. Fair played the Sublime song when he came in to request police body camera footage from a traffic ticket he believed was unfair.

According to VICE, which first reported the news, multiple officers have used the tactic a total of at least three times.

Beverly Hills PD told VICE in a statement that “the playing of music while accepting a complaint or answering questions is not a procedure that has been recommended by Beverly Hills Police command staff,” and that the videos of Fair were “currently under review.”

Researches have warned that police could use social media companies’ copyright protection to take down videos from activists that happen to have music in the background.

And even if that’s not the case, video footage plays a complicated role in cases of alleged police misconduct. Following years of Black Lives Matter protests, police departments across the country adopted body cameras and hailed them as major reforms.

But problems around privacy, transparency, and a lack of broader reforms surrounding police conduct and accountability have prevented more video alone from stopping and punishing wrongful police killings of Black people.

In January, attorneys for Breonna Taylor’s family alleged Louisville is keeping body camera relating to her killing from them, after the city initially claimed there wasn’t any body camera footage because officers weren’t wearing cameras.

And officers continued to violently detain and ultimately kill Black men in cases even when they knew they were being filmed by citizens for minutes, such as the cases of Eric Garner and George Floyd.

What’s more, Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed Garner suffocating on the pavement, believes he was arrested and mistreated in prison in retaliation for filming the scene. (He was sentenced on drug and gun charges in New York in 2016.)

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