What Can—and Can’t—be Known by a Short Video Clip

Anyone who goes near the internet or a television has at least heard of the Cotati police who kicked the door down at James and Jennifer Woods’ house after being called on a domestic disturbance charge and tased Jennifer.

Crime reporter for the Press Democrat Julie Johnson wrote a story about the video going viral, and a follow-up that went a little more in depth about the incident and addressed the use of tasers.

All of these things are relevant and worth discussing. The video undoubtedly produces a visceral reaction—cops kicking in doors, a lot of yelling, a woman screaming before, during and after her tasing experience and the man with her who shot the video and who was yelling back and forth with the cops about not coming in.

Yet whatever one’s thoughts are about cops, when they are called on a domestic disturbance, they are required to check to make sure there is nothing abusive or salacious going on.

I also want to state clearly that I am not justifying in any way this particular situation or the police’s action. I am not a police apologist, I have in fact participated in Cop Watch and am very skeptical about a lot of things police-related.

But in terms of the viral video and the media issues surrounding it, my mind quickly went to ask questions about what had happened first. Why were the police there? Why was the man in the house yelling at them to go away? What was actually going on? And until there was some reporting done, and some questions were answered, what I saw was a man yelling at police who seemed to think it was very important to get into the house and used force to do so and then responded to the screaming woman by tasing her.

Certainly there are corrupt police who take advantage of their power. In my poking around into this situation, it is pretty clear this officer doesn’t have the best track record. But what interested me about this was my instantaneous negative reaction of a clip of a situation. It reminded me that in addition to “just the facts” the media needs to provide context and some analysis of a situation to create understanding. Understanding about what happened as well as understanding as to how to prevent it from happening again.

Sonoma County Library