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 and writer in New York. She is the author of two books, Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun, (with Marwan Hisham). Her reportage has been published in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. She has been the recipient of a Yale Poynter Fellowship, a Front Page Award, and shortlisted for a Frontline Print Journalism Award. She is often asked to discuss her work chronicling the conflicts of the 21st Century, and has appeared on All In with Chris Hayes, Amanpour, NPR, BBC News, and more. Her art is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the United States Library of Congress and the New York Historical Society.
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