University of Chicago Legal Forum


Allegations of police brutality are generally credibility contests between the officer and the accuser, and thus their resolution hinges on pre-existing assumptions about what stories arecredible. As long as aggressive policing is considered an aberration or a deserved response, legal accounts of unprovoked police violence will be considered incredible. This article explores the difficulties of overcoming the dominant story about policing and conveying the experience of living in an over-policed community. It considers the successes and failures of video evidence (body cam, dash cam, and cell phone) in conveying this experience, and also the possibilities and limits of popular cultural representations—and specifically HBO’s The Wire. I begin by examining the promise and limits of raw video footage as a counter-narrative. Video evidence has helped galvanize public outrage, but at the same time the failures of video evidence to persuade legal decision makers have been striking. I then turn to The Wire, and to the question of media’s potential to bridge the vast divide between police-saturated neighborhoods and the broader public view of police-civilian interactions. Though I do not revise my previous assessment that The Wire was “the greatest television series ever made,” I argue that The Wire, for all its immersive attention to West Baltimore, did not really capture the experi-ence of living in a police-occupied neighborhood in which one’s every innocuous move can lead to a confrontation with police. The Wire was strong on the problem of under-policing, but it did not do justice to the problem of over-policing, or the experience of living with it. I conclude with thoughts about the role of data analyt-ics, media, and storytelling in bridging these experiential divides.

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