HomeEditorialHow smartphones have turned commoners into vigilantes

How smartphones have turned commoners into vigilantes

The advent of mobile phones has brought about a whirlwind of change in how we do things. We now find dates on apps, shop for groceries in e-carts, scratch coupons on our screens and even play Ludo on a ‘glass board’. Cameras on these ‘wonder malls’, in particular, have advanced to a level where today’s generation doesn’t even know what point-and-shoot cameras are. And the very development of these mobile cameras has brought about a particularly interesting development in the world of crime.

With everyone having a mobile phone, it’s never been easier to record something happening around them. It’s only a matter of taking out the phone and clicking a button to help deliver justice like never before.

The ‘Grant’ed powers of a mobile phone

Oscar Grant, who was unarmed, was fatally shot by a police officer named Johannes Merserle without any rock-hard reason. This incident was fortunately caught on several mobile phone cameras by witnesses who were present at the scene. Realising what just happened, these witnesses broadcasted the video online and made sure media houses around the country had a whiff of what had just happened. It was only a matter of time before hundreds of thousands of people in America witnessed the happening of unjust and came down on the streets to protest, fuelled in anger.

A screengrab from a video shot by a civilian at the scene

When the witnesses were asked why they started recording the ordeal they said that the officers were acting way too aggressively. These videos, as Orloff (the district attorney), claimed, were “very helpful” in the investigation and for passing judgement. This went to be one of those cases of police killings that contributed to the nationwide Black Lives Matter Movement.

Do we realise how a video shot from a handy phone has changed the lives of millions of people who were just tired of being oppressed? That’s the power a simple phone yields. Now, on the contrary, you might think why those witnesses didn’t try to help Grant rather than shooting the entire incident. Firstly, this was an official interrogation by the police itself, a force that all of us have come to trust. Secondly, it all just happened too quickly for anyone to react.

Anyway, I’m definitely not the best source to know how the events unfolded that night and what was right and what wasn’t. My only job was to point out the fact that how the ownership of mobile phones turned those commoners, who witnessed the unfortunate, event into vigilantes.

An active effort to instil vigilantism

Seeing the growing popularity of mobile phones and their ability to disseminate the information so easily, the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez came up with a brilliant idea that would help reduce the rampant crime prevalent in the city.

The Taxistas Vigilante (Vigilante Taxi Driver) program was introduced in the city that aimed at improving public safety and quality of life by involving the citizens of the community itself. About 3,500 taxi drivers in the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez make use of their mobile phones to receive and send information to a platform where the respective city agency can gather intelligence and act accordingly.

How Taxistas Vigilantes works

These taxi drivers report almost anything that hampers the daily life of the citizens of the city. From alerts on accidents or potholes to illicit bars and crimes in progress, the vigilantes have their eyes on everything.

The program has been a wonderful seed for the city that has bored some handsome flowers for its citizens. Since the program was initiated, the lives of more than 130 people have been saved, 2,500 car accidents have been reported, more than 110 stolen cars have been recovered and 30 illegal bars have been shut!

“The Taxi Driver Vigilante program is one of the most successful public participation programs in Mexico. It shows the importance of how technology can contribute to the development of cities, and allows citizens to have the tools to be harbingers of change in their community.”, said Juan Sabines Guerrero, Governor of the State of Chiapas.

The program was also bestowed upon with the 2012 Founders Award by the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), an NPO, that works in the area of economic and social development of the 21st Century community.

A coin has two sides

Law enforcement forces around the world have started deploying body cameras for personnel. While this has added a new layer of transparency, individuals too now have the option of recording their side of the story. In the court of law, both the sides are better equipped to present their case.

Similarly, mobile phones have also enabled commoners become a source of information for the press. While the media is often given access to riot and conflict zones, recordings from a normal citizen offer a better and candid view of how things are unfolding. In many cases where the press isn’t allowed under regressive regimes, every person is equipped to bring forward the truth.

You might be the next witness

Mobile phones have quite often been labelled as distractions and as a source of all kinds of psychological illnesses like depression and anxiety. But a little regulation and a little awareness can not only change the negative perception but could also go a long way in both solving and avoiding crimes that we hear and read about on a daily basis.

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