The STL First Responders
A project of the Canfield Watchmen and WeCopwatch.
What do we do when the police shoot someone in our community?
In Oakland California, a coalition under the Anti Police Terror Project have been deploying to the locations of shooting to conduct independent investigations.
Here in St. Louis, we have begun to do the same. . .
First Responders are a coalition of people trained and dedicated to responding to police shootings and other high profile incidents involving police with the intentions of collecting evidence, identifying witness, and conducting independent investigations.
Within 24 hours of a police shooting, “official statements” are almost always released to justify the officer’s use of force. These narratives are often disseminated to convey an officer in fear for their safety, and to demonize and criminalize the person shot. These “official statements” often change in the falling months as more accurate information surfaces. But by then it is too little, too late.
Deploying first responders after a police shooting allows concerned citizens to challenge and scrutinize the police narrative, encouraging police investigators to do more honest and transparent investigations.
When deployed to a shooting, First responders wear many hats.
1. They are collecting information and evidence to contrast and challenge the “official narrative.”
2. They are documenting evidence that can be used for records requests, independent investigations, and to help in criminal and civil cases.
3. They locate witnesses and help link them to lawyers so they are protected from police retaliation.
4. They pass out information to recruit more first responders and to educate people about the dangers of talking to the police and the media.
There are four different groupings of people who can be essential in a First Responder Network, and they often overlap and are not mutually exclusive.
1. The local community
2. The activist community
First Responder deployment
When responding to a police shooting, people are often walking into chaotic, traumatic events. It is crucial to have people from the local community to lead in these deployments. It is also helpful to have activists and journalists to follow their lead and assist in helping where they can with documentation and evidence collecting. It’s also crucial to have a lawyer on the scene who can immediately connect with the family and with witnesses.
When conducting an independent investigation it is important to involve the people who were First Responders to the incident. It is also helpful to have lawyers and journalists who specialize in investigations and in requesting/demanding information. Activists and advocates can also play a helpful role in using the case and information collected to advocate for justice and more lasting change.
Another aspect of building an effective coalition of First Responders is providing trainings to build capacity. Trainings include
- Evidence Collecting
- Filming crime scenes
- Supporting people dealing with trauma
- Interviewing witnesses
- Filing records requests, preservation letters, discovery
- Authenticating video and photos
- Releasing findings and investigations