The role of the viewer is changing in the age of live streaming. The standoff in North Carolina shows how

CHARLOTTE, NC — Saing Chhoeun was locked out of his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday when police officers with high-powered rifles entered his yard and garage and used a car as a shield when they were hit by a hail of gunfire from the direction of his neighboring house.

As the bullets flew just meters away, Chhoeun pulled out his phone and began livestreaming the confrontation between officers and a man wanted by a former offender for possession of a firearm and who was on the run.

By the end of the ordeal, five people, including four officers and the gunman, were dead and others injured in the deadliest one-day incident for U.S. law enforcement since 2016.

The deadly shooting also showed that passersby with smartphones don’t always take cover when bullets start flying. They are increasingly trying to livestream their view of the attack. Experts say the reaction reflects the new role played by bystanders in the age of smartphones.

“It’s become kind of a societal norm,” said Karen North, a professor of digital social media at the University of Southern California Annenberg.

People have always had difficulty defining the responsibilities of a bystander in a crisis situation, North said. It is not always safe to intervene, as in Charlotte’s case, and people can feel helpless if they do nothing. Social media offers a third option.

The viewer’s “new responsibility” in the digital age is to record the action on their cell phone, she said.

“It used to be, ‘If you see something, say something,'” North said. “Today they say, ‘When you see something, start recording.’”

Chhoeun was about to leave for work when U.S. Marshalls blocked his driveway and he had to huddle in his garage for safety, the keys in the ignition of his truck. He crouched next to the door and tapped his son with one hand to let him in while he picked up with the other.

Chhoeun said he would never have risked his life to shoot a video if he hadn’t been locked outside. But since it was him, he thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just live it, you know, so everyone in the world can see that I lived through this.’ I didn’t see that coming.”

Rissa Reign, a youth coordinator who lives in the neighborhood, said she was cleaning her house when she heard gunshots and went outside to find out what was going on.

She started recording when she heard sirens and thought she would pass the video on to Charlit Facebook Group with 62,000 members where residents post about news and events. She had no idea how serious the situation had become until a SWAT vehicle pulled up behind her.

“When we got outside it was like, ‘Oh no. “This is an active situation,” she said. “And the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of something much bigger than you thought.”

Reign saw livestreaming as a way to keep the community informed, she said.

“Seeing that really puts things in perspective and lets you know that it’s actually real, not just when you read it or hear about it on the news,” she said of the live stream video. “When you really see it, you can, you know, you know it’s real.”

Mary Angela Bock, a media professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said there are many reasons why someone might pull out their phone in a situation like the one in Charlotte. There will always be people who try to make videos because they have a human attraction to violence or want to catch someone in an embarrassing situation.

“There are also good reasons for good people to respectfully record police activity or any kind of government activity from a safe distance, for the sake of citizenship: to bear witness on behalf of other citizens, to bear witness on behalf of the community,” she said. We’re all in the same boat.”

Bock, who studies people filming law enforcement, said police leaders often tell her they support the idea of ​​respectfully distanced citizen videos because they provide more evidence. But in a crisis situation on site, that is sometimes easier said than done.

“Police officers often talk about how videos don’t always tell the whole story, and that’s true. The video must start and stop. Someone may not have been there at the beginning, someone may not have seen everything. One perspective is not the whole perspective,” she said.

“That’s why I recommend people shoot respectfully from a distance because the more perspectives the better when we triangulate. “When we have more than one view of a scene, we have a better idea of ​​what happened,” Bock said.

Numerous federal appeals courts have upheld the right to publicly record police work.

Stephen Dubovsky, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said connecting with others through livestreaming could give someone in this situation a sense of security.

“You go out there and you might be in danger, but you look at it on your cell phone,” he said. “You watch it through the video, you’re one step away from it.”

In Chhoeun’s video, two agents can be seen hiding behind a vehicle. Another agent is seen at a fence in his yard, falling to the ground as what appear to be bullets spray the area around him.

“It was so, so sad for law enforcement,” he said. “I know they don’t choose to die in my backyard, they just choose to do their job. And that’s exactly what happened to them, they left their family behind.”


Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia.

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