December 6, 2014

Some Unsung Heroes Of The Struggle Against Police Murder

I have written elsewhere in praise of the heroism of the people of Ferguson and, more broadly, St. Louis. In a few short months, the ripple effect from their protests have created what is shaping up to be a new historical moment in this country. I have been half-joking for a while now that I have a second hero, the weedy tech who nervously approached his boss and said, "Mr. Jobs, sir, you know we could put a video camera in our iPhones and charge an extra seventy bucks or so for them. People would take videos of their sweethearts and their pets and their kids' school play and then they'd send them around! What do you think?"

Today, there's been an enormous amount of commentary, online and in the press, on the national wave of demonstrations protesting the Staten Island Grand Jury process that walked killer cop Daniel Pantaleo. It is crystal-clear that that much of the outrage is fueled by the readily available cell phone video shot by Ramsey Orta as his friend Eric Garner was choked to death by police. There is no way to deny or spin what you are seeing. And what you are hearing: "I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe…"

So instead of my mythical nerd, I decided to see if I could find out who my hero really is. Credit where credit is due. An hour or so spent with Comrade Google has given me some good candidates at least. Dr. Eric Fossum headed the NASA team that developed the CMOS ASP, the camera-on-a-chip in the early '90s. A gent named Kazumi Saburi developed the first peer–to-peer video-sharing phone for Kyocera, a Japanese firm in 1997. Doubtless there were others. J-Phone, a Kyocera rival, produced the first commercially successful phone with still and video capability in 2002.

(Perhaps I ought to do some research on the originators of commercially available cloud computing too. Recent court rulings, even by the Roberts Supreme Court, have declared that citizens have the right to videotape police officers in the performance of their duties, that the contents of their cellphones cannot be inspected without a warrant and the police are completely prohibited from erasing any content on phones they have confiscated. This has been a boon to CopWatch programs. The Cloud enters into it because the po-po have repeatedly ignored these rulings. But if a video is automatically uploaded to the Cloud in real time, as in this very recent case, the record of police violence is preserved.)

Should any Alpha Geek deeply versed in this history wants to school me, I welcome corrections or additions. And meanwhile, I sincerely thank Dr. Fossum and Kazumi Saburi, their coworkers and others laboring in the dark satanic mills of the cellphone industry for letting us see, with our own eyes, what happened to Eric Garner.

And Kajieme Powell.

And Oscar Grant.

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