Rikers seems an unlikely destination for perhaps the most important citizen journalist of the last year. But though the video Orta shot was shared around the world, he stayed right where he was, a young, working-class Latino man in Staten Island. Anyone in circumstances like those would be vulnerable to police harassment—and doubly so when you make it your business to watch and record the cops and their abuses …
Orta described police violence as being endemic to Staten Island, and in the summer of 2014, he began to document it. Of the videos Orta told me he shot, he posted a just one on his YouTube channel, on July 12, 2014. In it, a gang of white cops force a handcuffed black man into the pavement. As two officers hold the victim down, another officer systematically beats the man’s legs with his baton. The man is not seen resisting arrest.
“Y’all tough as hell with them sticks,” Orta can be heard saying while holding the camera. When a bystander complains, police slam him onto the pavement, then arrest him.
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Molly Crabapple is an artist, journalist, and author of the memoir, Drawing Blood. Called "An emblem of the way art can break out of the gilded gallery" by the New Republic, she has drawn in and reported from Guantanamo Bay, Abu Dhabi's migrant labor camps, and in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank, and Iraqi Kurdistan. Crabapple is a contributing editor for VICE, and has written for publications including The New York Times, Paris Review, and Vanity Fair. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
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