CopBlocking: More Than Meets the Eye
by Ethan Glover, Sat, Jun 06, 2015 - (Edited) Sun, Oct 23, 2016
With the immense amount of content that comes out of the CopBlock network, or to be specific, J.P. Freemans Keene CopBlock Raw, you might think there would be nothing left to see.
In fact, it's what's not on camera that people might be most impressed with. A larger audience might feel empowered by someone standing up to police. Especially when they use spotlights as a weapon against civilians.
What they don't get to see is the journalistic integrity, and principled manner J.P. uses. One could argue that, in the video above, the situation escalates too fast. It would be reasonable to say that the tone in the video below was unnecessary.
What you can't see is how easy it is for an official to have a pleasant interaction if they give it a chance. J.P. has clear boundaries between when he raises his voice and when he doesn't. Those lines show no evidence of getting blurred in any situation. On an emotional level, J.P. is in complete control.
If the cop doesn't escalate, neither will he. J.P. can turn the tables on police entirely. Police are public officials and shouldn't feel immune from citizen arrest or correction.
And of course, it's always possible for police to get an informative answer out of him. Unlike some police officers, J.P. is always responsive and ready to keep local police informed of the CopBlock mission.
On a late night, I went with J.P. to Claremont, NH. Many complaints on local cops to CopBlock.org made it a necessary target. While talking to some old-timers about the city's history, a sheriff's car sped by.
"They're always going down there," a man said about the street the cruiser turned on. J.P. handed the men some CopBlock literature, thanked them, and we were on our way.
After crossing the street, J.P. yelled back, "Is there assisted housing down here?" - "Yeah!" This made me nervous. Chasing cops in the projects? I was there when J.P yelled at Officer Bomberg for shining a light in his face. I thought I'd get arrested until Bomberg backed towards his car. J.P. was telling him he had no authority to determine how safe it was to park in the breakdown lane. That was one thing, now this?
At the scene, J.P. introduced himself to two women who were standing outside. They were watching for the cops who were inside an assisted housing complex. What's most impressive is how fast J.P. can develop a friendly rapport with anyone.
My "CopBlock host" was excellent with communication. But everyone appreciates the goal of police accountability, no matter how sociable you are. It's easy to make friends this way. But for J.P., accountability isn't even the whole story.
J.P. tells most people he meets that if they have issues with police, he'll file complaints on their behalf. And that he'll help them through the process. This is an incredible service for those who feel too scared, hopeless, or unsupported.
What we found out about the police at this stop was that they were investigating a possible break-in. For that reason, J.P. didn't record, even when the police came out of the house. A crime with a victim, J.P. says, deserves privacy.
When the police emerged, J.P. had a pleasant conversation with one of the officers. They talked about the a recent string of thefts in the area. And how it would be better if they could dedicate resources to thefts instead of drugs.
By the time we shook hands with the officer and he had gone, the small group of people that had gathered outside was in a friendly mood. While waiting for police to finish their search, J.P. inserted himself into the community. He was joking with all those who were present in no time.
He even stuck around to talk to a single mother who was having trouble in her housing arrangement. It didn't take long for J.P. to discover that social workers were not informing her of all her options. They do this to "save money" (that isn't theirs). J.P. offered to help her through the process and get her a better place.
I don't condemn, or even disagree with criticisms of J.P. Freeman yelling at cops. At the same time, I think his military experience showed him how to use a command voice. A rare skill that isn't taught, but earned. Most people don't know the difference. But there's a reason only a rare few can give a cop an order and get them to back down.
What's most important is the constant outreach. J.P. stopped and talked to almost everyone we came across. Most stops led to a beneficial conversation. Even more led to someone saying, in some way, "You watch cops? That's amazing, I'll call you guys if I see trouble."
J.P.'s altruism shined brightest when he recognized someone in trouble. He didn't think twice about jumping on the opportunity to help.
It can be easy to think that CopBlocking is dangerous. Or that it is only for those who can't afford to spend even 24 hours in jail.
For the most part, it's all about talking to people and helping where needed. When you find police, and they see the cameras, they're likely to behave. That simple act of recording is a great act of kindness for the community. Asking them to do the same is the CopBlockers way of saying, "pay it forward."
There are risks to CopBlocking. But with the help of a veteran like J.P. Freeman, my fears are minimal. Nerves turn to joy when you realize, in the middle of a third conversation with strangers, that what you're currently doing is hanging out with a city.