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News & Insight

#myNYPD | NYPD Photo Contest Is A Colossal Disaster

By Kishore Sawh on April 23rd 2014

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Tuesday, the New York Police Department (NYPD) threw out into the Twitterverse a campaign to raise warm feelings about ‘New York’s Finest,’ with hashtag #myNYPD. With it, they threw themselves out like sheep amongst the wolves, or perhaps, showed themselves as wolves in sheep’s clothing.

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The premise was simple, engage with the public by telling them to tweet photos they had with the NYPD, and a select few would be chosen for the NYPD Facebook page.The initial photo (directly above) published was no doubt meticulously chosen, showing three people, two of whom are police, one a woman, and all together 3 different races, and smiling. It was a triumphant media shot.

Soon after, the campaign began to look more like a failed, wild shot in the dark. Very quickly, thousands of tweets began pouring in with photos depicting the police as people had recorded them; inflicting all kinds of brutality on the public. Effectively the photos captured told the story that the NYPD had failed to demonstrate what they claimed to value.

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Things really began to take off when Occupy Wall Street weighed in, and the PR nightmare has now garnered attention from all over the country and beyond, and doesn’t show signs of slowing.

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Adding insult to injury were the seemingly pathetic, or possibly offensive, responses from the NYPD themselves. @NYPDnews’ response was to retweet the positive images, and neglect the rest. The NYPD’s Deputy Chief also offered up a response later stating that the NYPD is creating new ways to communicate with the community and that Twitter provides dialogue that’s beneficial.

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Thoughts

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but… no, who am I kidding? I’ve got mountains to say, but there isn’t enough webspace in web-dom to say it.

 There seems to be this overwhelming notion of surprise, that the NYPD could lack the forethought that would’ve canned this idea before it left someone’s mouth. Yet, judging from the photos being shared and the stories told, I would reckon many aren’t surprised at all. Clearly the NYPD are too busydoing any number of things. But this is not simply a shining beacon to all on how essential it is to fully think through a social media strategy.

The most surprising aspect of this, is that the #myNYPD hashtag is being touted as a branding failure, instead of as staggering, photographic evidence of malignant, systemic, savage abuse of power, and illegal violence. To further pour salt in the wound, if you spend a little time reading the tweets and between the lines, you’ll begin to see in the discourse, a divide between races.

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I’ve seen my fair share of uniformed inflicted injustice, and also been witness to pious police. But it really does leave you pondering, what on Earth were they thinking? Maybe they weren’t. Maybe, those involved don’t have the required equipment. And once again, photographs are at the heart of it all.

What do you think this whole debacle will do for photojournalism, and do you think this will begin a tide of good change?

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tim L

    I couldn’t disagree more, Kishore. This story *is* a branding story. That you look at the response and assume that what you see is a brutal and corrupt police force abusing a completely innocent populace that is minding their own business completely undermines your credibility as a journalist. Or maybe I’m wrong, because prisons and jails are full of productive, innocent, law abiding citizens—just ask anyone there and they’ll tell you.

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  2. Cass

    I agree with Will 100%. Context is everything; or maybe sensationalism is everything. It is easier/more fun/money-making for people to post negative pictures. I have been to New York City 8 times now, each time for no less than 4 days. I have seen at least 8-10 arrests happening. I have stayed in Manhatten, Queens, and Brooklyn. I have seen hundreds of police officers out in the city helping people, talking to people, and just watching the people to try to keep the peace. I’ve seen a few officers who were drinking coffee/eating. I saw a few who were taking care of their horses or letting little kids see/ pet the horses. I never once saw any officer abusing their authority and certainly not brutalizing someone. Do I think that brutality doesn’t happen? Nope! Cops are people and they are subject to the range of personalities you find in the general population (despite their “testing”) not to mention they are under extreme pressure and stress, low wages, and I doubt it helps that you get spit on for being a cop because of a mistake that another cop made. Add on that 90% of the images and news coverage about cops is negative and I’m betting that even the best cops get worn down after awhile, to say nothing of the cops who were subpar to begin with. There are good and bad in every industry in the world… good and bad lawyers, politicians, fire fighters, doctors, IT professionals, photographers, etc. They can all go to the extremes: photographers who will brave anything to get the shot and photographers who use their job to exploit children, lawyers who work pro-bono and at community firms that pay little in order to really help people and lawyers who will take money from anyone to be able to make a buck even if it means illegal activities, etc. Our society tends to highlight the bad to the point and “innocent” people are thrown into a “guilt by association” group that is unfair to everyone.

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  3. Will

    I once covered a ribbon cutting ceremony and got a picture that looked like the town mayor was trying to stab a small child with scissors. The problem with a lot of these pictures is that without a reliable and unbiased narrator to explain the situation, they could easily be used out of context. It’s easy to look at a picture of a policeman being aggressive during an arrest and be put off by the violent content, but what we lack is the story behind the picture. The one shot above claims that the man had his spine “crushed” by the police and that he lost all feeling below the neck, but how can we as conscientious observers believe that without knowing the whole story? Surely that man was not just walking down the street and suddenly had police pounce on him. Did he resist arrest? Did he create the initial aggression? What was he even being arrested for? Was he really permanently injured by the arrest, or is that the poster’s own version of the story?

    I’m sure the NYPD has committed many acts of unnecessary violence, but I also know that many criminals like to paint themselves as victims and many people in the public have a pre-established “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to the police. To believe that all of these pictures depict unprovoked acts of brutality would be irresponsible.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Will, thanks for taking the time to come share your thoughts. I agree largely, and probably not my place to be the judge. I think the objective among us understand that nothing is one sided, and that ‘police’ isnt’ a byword for ‘brutality.’ One does, however, have to step back and consider that this amount of negative response surely is indicative of something – even if you’ve never been on the receieving end. Cheers

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    • George

      I can’t help but agree with Will. I may be from the UK, but I see this constant barrage against your own police to be a little silly. Media can be twisted and turned much like will has indicated. Arrests will need to be rather aggressive if the suspect is not cooperating, otherwise it would be impossible to actually arrest anyone.

      Sure, there is the odd policemen that will abuse his rights, but what solution are you all calling for? It seems you take the police force for granted, I would very much like to see every police officer take the week off and watch the consequences (obviously I realistically would not, that would be a horrible mess, I imagine thousands would die).

      There job must now be so hard whilst under constant watch by smartphones. Imagine if you were shooting a wedding and each shot you took was questioned and reviewed by a random member of that event? How frustrating would that be?
      Imagine then if that member went to the bridge & groom to relay his opinion of your photography? It just feels wrong.

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    • Ironymous

      Well said by the two commenters above. There must surely be a few no-good members of the police force, but how many are there, really? For all we know they are just a small minority. The media loves to play up bad news and bad people, it sells their tickets. Look at how American police are portrayed in TV shows. Even in supposedly pro-leaning shows there are still plenty of bad cops around.

      At the end of day, who would be derisive or afraid of the police, unless you are a lawbreaker?

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