Another day, another YouTube video (or two) for the police to explain

Technically Incorrect: In McKinney, Texas, a police officer is videotaped bringing a 14-year-old girl to the ground. In Austin, Texas, a mounted policeman grabs a bystander's cell phone and throws it down. Is this just the beginning?

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

In McKinney, the action seems clear. The adults do nothing. Brandon Brooks/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

In our instant, shiny digital world, the law is an old ass.

It takes too long. Obfuscations created by lawyers blur what actually happened until it's a referendum on the lawyer, not on the actual facts.

Sometimes, it's years before a case comes to trial. We lose interest in a case after days. So the advent of YouTube makes it much simpler for us to look at a video and decide who's guilty.

This weekend, two videos from Texas involving suspect police behavior have raised emotions.

In one video, a McKinney police officer (one of three) arrives at the scene of a private pool party on Friday night. There had reportedly been fighting. Some people at the pool party allegedly shouldn't have been there.

But the 7-minute clip (which is disturbing) shows an officer who did not remain calm. The most vivid part of the video is when the officer, who is white, brings to the ground a 14-year-old black girl in a bikini. He handcuffs her, having pulled her by her hair. As she weeps and complains that he's hurting her, he seems not to care.

The officer pulls a gun on other teens who try to come to her aid.

The people's jury watches the video (which has, at the time of writing been seen by more than 5 million people) and sees egregious police action in the face of what -- to this viewer at least -- seems not a terribly threatening situation. No weapons are seen to be drawn by the kids. No one appears to be making threats to the police.

The police department went to its Facebook page to announce that it was investigating and that "one of the responding officers has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation."

On Monday, the police held a press conference. How many arrests had been made during the disturbance? One. An adult male who had allegedly interfered with the duties of a peace officer.

McKinney Police Chief Greg Conley insisted that his force exists to treat everyone fairly. He also announced that the 14-year-old girl was detained but then released to her parents. Conley pleaded for patience.

The first question he had to face, though, wasn't about policing in his department. It was his thoughts of the video. It was the video's posting that brought the police's action into question. Conley wouldn't say what about the video led to the investigation. He wouldn't even be drawn into whether he was disappointed in the officer's actions.

He did confirm, though, that there were no reports of injuries from the alleged disturbance.

Conclusions, though, have surely been already drawn. You look at the video and nothing seems to contradict that this officer behaved appallingly. However, what of the other adults who seem to stand around and do nothing? The people's jury mulls it all.

Cut to Austin.

On the city's popular Sixth Street very early Sunday morning, there's a party atmosphere. There are also police officers trying to control the crowd. In come mounted police.

Someone starts to film them with his cell phone. As KXAN-TV reports, there's soon a video of the action on YouTube. The video is accompanied by this message: "All we saw was someone get tackled by a single police officer (he looked a bit young to be drinking) and then this. Make your own judgment. Sorry for the language."

What the video (NSFW, by the way) shows is a police officer grabbing a bystander's cell phone and throwing it to the ground. Then the bystander is pepper-sprayed.

Make your own judgment.

KXAN-TV reports that the poster is called Tucker. He lives in California and was in Austin for the X Games. On Twitter, he describes himself as a "game player and entertainer."

Just as in McKinney, local police were made aware of the video. A spokeswoman for the Austin Police Department told me: "The Austin Police Department is aware of this incident and is conducting a review to determine if the officers' conduct is compliant with our policy."

Did the bystander encroach too far when the police were ordering everyone back? Or was this, again, poor police conduct?

Is the YouTube video the only consistent defense people have against alleged police misconduct? Is it the automatic reaction of so many these days at the mere sight of a police officer?

When the fatal shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina was caught on video, it was just the latest in a series of videos laying bare what seemed to be pure action caught live, unedited and exposing real life.

The fear is that police investigations often take a long time and result in a quiet rehabilitation for the officer concerned. That's the old world still in action. The new world displays the evidence now.

Of course, such videos don't necessarily reflect the true state of policing nationwide. Being a police officer isn't an easy job, and split-second decisions must be made in what are sometimes life-threatening situations.

Some will watch these two videos, though, and conclude that the first principle of some of today's peace officers isn't to enact peace, but to impose themselves with aggression.

So people put their videos on YouTube as soon as they have them and tell everyone out there: "Come to your own conclusion."