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Protesters find value in Facebook Live and other live-streaming apps

The revolution will be live-streamed

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At about the 23-minute mark in an untitled Periscope stream posted by Jamil Gill under the username KingMillion, he covers most of the screen with his fingers and steps into a Jimmy John's in Uptown that was being looted by other protesters on the night of September 21.

Over the sounds of crushed glass beneath Gill's feet, you can hear someone else yell "Grab that register." Gill stays quiet, however, and doesn't appear to join in the looting. He records audio for a short time before leaving the Jimmy John's, taking his finger off the lens and continuing to document the unrest happening that night in Uptown, which followed the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by an officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department the day before.

Surveillance photos of Gill in the Jimmy John's show him holding his camera out, streaming live to hundreds of thousands of followers he had gained while streaming the previous night's reaction to the Scott killing in University.

In a link to the Periscope feed that he posted on his Facebook account under the name Mills Shaka Zulu Gill, he wrote, "Proof that I didn't steal anything. Proof I didn't break anything. I simply just protected my people from being indicted. I didn't want charges placed on them. I'm always watching out for my people. That's who I've always been."

Jamil Gill streams the protest directly following the shooting of Keith Scott. - RYAN PITKIN
  • Ryan Pitkin
  • Jamil Gill streams the protest directly following the shooting of Keith Scott.

The CMPD, however, didn't see it that way. Gill has since been arrested twice for charges related to the two nights of unrest that followed the Scott killing. He's become an inspiration to other protesters — who have continued to march peacefully and plan actions focused on police brutality throughout Charlotte — many of whom believe he was unfairly targeted because of his work documenting the protests through live streams.

Gill has been charged with a slew of crimes ranging from breaking and entering to larceny to assault with a deadly weapon on a government official resulting from allegations that he struck three police officers with his car on Interstate 85 on Sept. 20.

In an interview posted to Facebook on Oct. 2, Gill shows an electronic monitoring bracelet he's been ordered to wear in the lead-up to his trial and acknowledges that the police may be among his most faithful followers.

"They're probably watching this live feed right now," Gill says. "So we've got to be very careful in what we say and what we do and what we publicize."

Gill's experience underscores a new trend that has played an integral role in Charlotte protests since Scott's killing: live-streaming apps and their use in growing the movement and in prosecuting the movement.

"[The use of live streaming] goes hand in hand with what occurred in the Arab Spring around 2011," says Jose Mujica with Charlotte Uprising. "You saw the internet revolutionize the way we can share information and it democratized media. The mainstream media outlets can no longer act as sole gatekeepers of information. Information can disseminate quickly and without approval or any corporate sponsors. For something such as this, which is essentially the people against the state, it's hugely important."

Mujica praised the work of Gill, who also goes by King Mills, at a press conference held by members of Charlotte Uprising on Sept. 26. Speaking for this story, he expounded on how important Gill and other live-streamers were following the Scott killing.

"The Charlotte Uprising during those first couple days — without the King Mills live streams, without Lyric Scott's initial viral video — it would not have gotten the attention that it did and that would've played into the police's hands. With so many eyes on you, it's harder to hide."

Local organizer Kass Otley says she first heard about Facebook Live, which allows users to stream live to all Facebook users, when the girlfriend of Philando Castile used it to record Castile's death at the hands of a police officer in July.

"I just happened to get on my phone and at first I was like, 'What is this?' And then I realized, 'Oh my God this is actually happening right now and he's dying,' and I felt like, what am I supposed to do?" Otley says.

What she did was make calls to the St. Anthony Police Department after Diamond Reynolds, who had streamed the shooting, was arrested. She asked questions and demanded that Reynolds be released.

When Otley showed up at the scene of the Scott shooting on Sept. 20, she remembered that experience and decided to begin streaming live rather than hope the media got the story right.

"This was the first time I ever used Facebook Live, and I noticed that people can comment while it's going on, people can ask questions while it's going on, people can offer help and assistance while its going on, which is great, as opposed to after the fact people saying, 'We should've asked this or we should've done this or don't do this,'" Otley says.

"I think when you're actually live, people understand that this is actually going on while they're watching it. That's a different feel to it as opposed to me filming something and later just uploading it. I really do like it and I definitely plan on doing it all the time," she says.

CMPD spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for an interview for this story, but they have not been secretive about the fact that they are constantly using social media posts to help in investigations of wrongdoing during the protests.

A wall of photos being used by those investigating looting and vandalism cases during unrest following the Keith Lamont Scott killing were taken from surveillance video, news footage and social media feeds.
  • A wall of photos being used by those investigating looting and vandalism cases during unrest following the Keith Lamont Scott killing were taken from surveillance video, news footage and social media feeds.

During a press conference on Sept. 22, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney thanked everyone who posted from the protests for helping investigators.

"We appreciate that people are posting things that they see," Putney said. "Because I can tell you, we use those opportunities to fully investigate all crimes and all allegations relative to what goes on in a chaotic scene."

On Sept. 24, a picture was posted to the CMPD's official Twitter feed showing a collage of photos of those who they say took part in looting. It's made up of surveillance stills, news photos and pictures taken from social media feeds.

"I think something that we could do a little bit better is to give people trainings on how to do live streams so we're recording what we should be and there's nothing that could incriminate people," says Dhruv Pathak, whose stream from the protests at the scene of the shooting on Sept. 20 garnered about 4,000 views. "We understand the way that the police work and they can find any little thing to arrest people. I do worry about it but I also think the benefits do outweigh the negatives in terms of surveillance, because they're clearly watching everything that we do in general already."

To Kass Otley, however, she welcomes police to watch any feed she streams and believes they should use it as an opportunity for introspection and training.

"I don't have anything to hide. Anything that I say publicly, I have no problem with anyone knowing, so I'm fine with that," she says. "If they want to look at my video they can knock themselves out, because they're going to see a lot of their people doing things that they weren't supposed to be doing. They're going to see a lot of inappropriate behavior by officers. They definitely could have de-escalated that situation and they did not, so I would love for them to actually watch that."

Otley believes the CMPD used jammers to disrupt service during the protests, making it tougher for live-streamers to get a signal. She cited the department's secretive use of the StingRay phone tracker since 2006 as evidence that they're willing to use any technology available to their advantage.

"They're saying, 'We're going to watch your feed,' but they don't want that, because they can't control it," Otley says. "The local media, they can control the narrative. Even with some of the bigger media, they can control the narrative, but when you have someone streaming live and everybody is seeing it, there's nothing you can say to that. So even though they're saying that, they don't want that."

Some protesters cite the recent implementation of House Bill 972 as all the more reason why it's important for protesters to live-stream. HB 972 went into effect on Oct. 1, and made it harder to gain access to police footage in North Carolina, whether it be body camera or dashboard camera footage, in the event that police misconduct allegations arise. Also, in light of reports that officers confiscated phones of bystanders following a recent police shooting in El Cajon, California, some say live-streaming is the only way to ensure your video is seen.

In Charlotte's activist community, at the very least, it seems the new reliance on live-streaming technology will be more than a trend. If there's one thing the Charlotte Uprising has taught Mujica, it's the importance of this new platform, filmed for and by organizers like himself.

"In Charlotte, in the organizing community, we all know, we're out there fighting to get coal ash out of our water, for a higher minimum wage, we know each other, we know that all we care about is justice for the people," he says. "So to have all of us agree on the same narrative and be such at odds with what's being pushed out in the mainstream media, it really brings it home and makes it hit harder that the media is really just the fourth branch of government."

For him, the risk associated with the police attention that popular live streams garner is worth the growth it brings for the movement.

"Yes, I make myself a target, yes the police might come get me, but it's more important that the movement carries on because it inspires other people to step up," he says. "So even if you do take out one of us, or a couple of us, hopefully the message that we helped spread inspires 10 other people to come out and start live-streaming. You don't need media, you don't need a college degree to come out here, you don't need any approval or accreditation from any establishment or institution, you just come out here. If you have a phone you have a voice, so come and use it. That's what democracy is about."

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