Video project scrutinizes RPD tactics

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A community talk-back next week aims to challenge narratives and educate the community on tactics used by the Rochester Police Department.

Visual Studies Workshop, which supports makers and interpreters of images to create works of social commentary, helped create the film, “Holding the Line Against Police Violence,” which uses historical footage from its archives. This is the latest in the Spring 2021 Film Series, originally released on May 27, a year after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

The video is divided into five themed sections—policing protest, police brutality, analysis of police brutality, policing and the media, and police accountability—and includes interviews with victims of police violence, news coverage of events, and bystander footage. 

Loret Steinberg, a member of the Police Accountability Board Alliance and co-creator of the project, says the clips were selected to spur questions and discussion about each of the themes.

“We hope people will recognize and ask the question, ‘What are police supposed to be doing? What should be their duties, responsibilities, and training be?’” Steinberg says.

The footage—from 1972 to 2019—jumps back and forth in time, illustrating how issues with policing have been in existence for more than 50 years.

“If anybody thinks it was recently that we became enlightened and realized we need somebody to provide police oversight, that would be a mistake. There have been people trying to call attention to police for many, many years,” Steinberg says. “Someone who says ‘the violence has increased so much,’ or ‘the police never did things like that before’—that is a mistake.”

One difference Steinberg and her co-creators did notice from 1972 to 2019 was the more prevalent police equipment and military technology seen in modern-day footage.

“Police were more vulnerable then; they wore ordinary officers’ clothing,” Steinberg says. “Now, we have riot gear and new high-tech billy clubs. Police vehicles too. It’s not just tear gas anymore. It’s militarization, really.” 

Watching the constant police violence in “Holding the Line” can be a traumatizing experience, Steinberg admits, but a necessary one if change is to be made. The project concludes with a presentation by PABA on educational and legislative steps to improve policing in Rochester. 

“We have a window of opportunity to do something about the situation in our own communities,” Steinberg says. “We need accountability and it has to come from the people. We need a third party. And a police accountability board represents that.”

Recently, an Appellate Division panel upheld a state Supreme Court ruling that the Rochester Police Accountability Board does not have the power to discipline officers.

Participants will have a chance to learn more about policing conditions and voice their reactions to the film on June 23 at 7 p.m. here

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is pursuing a graduate degree in journalism at City University of New York.

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