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On Aug. 14, after a night of unrest prompted by the fatal police shooting of a black man, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his review of body camera video of the incident proved the officer had acted appropriately.
“The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand,” Flynn stated, later saying the man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, “was raising up with” the gun.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still photo he was shown from the video “demonstrates, without question, that (Smith) had a gun in his hand.” In fact, Barrett declared, the officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun.”
This purportedly exculpatory video itself was not promptly released, despite requests from Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that this occur. It still has not been released. But we know now that public officials did not give an accurate account of what it shows.
We know that because, in mid-December, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm filed criminal charges against Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who killed Smith. (Heaggan-Brown was fired over an alleged sexual assault shortly after the shooting.)
According to the criminal complaint charging the officer with first-degree reckless homicide, Smith held a gun as the officer fired his first shot. Smith, struck in the arm, pitched the gun over a fence and fell to the ground. The officer then fired a second, fatal shot to Smith’s chest.
“A review of the body camera video from (both officers at the scene) confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head,” the complaint says.
A 2014 state law governing investigations of police shootings requires that gathered materials be released if a decision is made not to file charges. The law is otherwise silent as to whether and when these materials are released.
Barrett has renewed his call for release, while Flynn has weighed in against this. Chisholm told me his office will not release this evidence prior to its use in a criminal proceeding.
In this case, I believe, it is already too late to restore confidence in the integrity of the process. Flynn’s representations about the video were at best misleading, and Barrett’s statements suggest he was misled, as was the public.
The whole point of outfitting police with cameras, at taxpayer expense, is to ensure truthfulness and enhance accountability. That did not happen here. And many more months may pass before the video is released.
Other jurisdictions have more enlightened policies. In Chicago, for instance, videos of police shootings are normally released within 60 days, and posted online.
In the legislative session that begins in January, there will likely be renewed efforts to establish consistent state policies regarding police body cameras; a bill to do so in the last session went nowhere.
Now is the time, in the wake of this regrettable case, for the citizens of Wisconsin to insist that the video records they are paying for are not kept secret, or used to mislead them.
Netflix subscribers can now binge on many of their favorite shows and movies even when they don’t have an internet connection.
The long-awaited offline option announced this week gives Netflix’s 87 million subscribers offline access to videos for the first time in the streaming service’s decade-long history.
Netflix is matching a downloading feature that one of its biggest rivals, Amazon.com, has been offering to its video subscribers for the past year. It’s something that also has been available on YouTube’s popular video site, though a subscription is required in the U.S. and other countries where the site sells its “Red” premium service.
The new feature puts Netflix a step ahead of two other major rivals. Offline options aren’t available on HBO’s internet-only package, HBO Now, or Hulu, although that service has publicly said it hopes to introduce a downloading feature.
Netflix subscribers wishing to download a video on their smartphone or tablet need to update the app on their Apple or Android device.
Not all of the selections in Netflix’s video library can be downloaded, although several of the service’s most popular shows, including “Orange Is The New Black,” “House of Cards,” and “Stranger Things,” are now available to watch offline.
Downloadable movies include “Spotlight,” this year’s Oscar winner for best film. Notably missing from the downloadable menu are movies and TV shows made by Walt Disney Co. Those still require an internet connection to watch on Netflix.
The Los Gatos, California, company is promising to continue to adding more titles to its offline roster.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had long resisted calls for an offline-viewing option, much to the frustration of customers who wanted flexibility to use their subscriptions to watch a show or movie when traveling on a train, plane or car where internet connections are spotty or completely unavailable.
Earlier this year, Hastings finally indicated he might relent and introduce downloading.
The change of heart coincided with Netflix’s expansion into more than 130 countries, including many areas with shoddy or expensive internet connections that make the ability to watch video offline even more appealing.
Netflix ended September with 39 million subscribers outside of the U.S.
The offline option may accelerate the decline of Netflix’s steadily shrinking DVD-by-mail service, which offers the ability to watch video without an internet connection. Netflix’s DVD side still has one distinct advantage — access to recent theatrical releases before they are available for streaming.
Netflix’s DVD service ended September with 4.3 million subscribers, a decrease of nearly 10 million customers during the past five years.
On the web
Confront the Climate: Flowchart of the Peoples Climate March
In response the Wisconsin Department of Justice declaring it will not release video footage of the officer-involved fatal shooting in Milwaukee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin again called for transparency in the investigation of the underlying incident. ACLU executive director Chris Ahmuty wrote the following letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel:
Dear Attorney General Schimel,
It is time for you and your agency to give the public more information about your investigation into the officer-involved fatal shooting of Mr. Sylville Smith on August 13, 2016 in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.
In an August 14, 2016 news release you stated “The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), at the request of the Milwaukee Police Department, is leading the investigation of yesterday’s officer involved death. DOJ will work expeditiously to ensure a thorough and transparent gathering of the facts.” According to an August 16, 2016 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, your spokesperson said, “In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner. However, we are not prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”
To date you have promised transparency, but provided little information on your investigation to the community and Mr. Smith’s grieving family and friends, who seek understanding of the deadly incident that transpired on August 13.
In your news release and your spokesperson’s statement as reported in the media, you don’t even mention Sylville Smith’s name. It is important for you to recognize that a Milwaukee police officer has killed a specific person, with family, friends and neighbors.
You have said that you will not “release any of the video evidence at this time.” Failure to timely release video of similar incidents has been a source of unrest in Chicago, leading officials there to adopt a policy of prompt release of video. Note that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has already expressed conclusions drawn from a video the public has not been allowed to see.
You have remained silent regarding a host of other questions that would help the public ascertain whether your agency is conducting “a thorough and transparent gathering of facts.” We ask that you please answer the following questions about your investigation:
- Are any of the investigators/analysts assigned to this case former Milwaukee Police Department employees?
- Has DCI interviewed the officer(s) who encountered Mr. Smith on August 13? If so, when were the officers interviewed?
- Has DCI or MPD interviewed neighbors/witnesses?
- Who gets access to Smith’s companion (Is he in custody? Does he have an attorney?)
- Does DCI have the body worn camera(s) (BWC)? Does it have access to evidence.com?
- Did the officer or other witnesses review the BWC or dash cam video before your agents interviewed them?
- Was the officer given a blood test?
- What was the basis for the stop? Are there radio communications that would reflect the basis for the stop?
- Is there audio from the dash cam or from nearby Shotspotter microphones?
- When will the medical examiner issue a report?
Nearly all of these questions are procedural and address aspects of your gathering of facts. None call for details regarding the evidence, much less conclusions.
Please answer these questions. If you refuse to answer any of these questions, please let me know your justification for refusing at this time.
Thank you. I hope to hear from you shortly.
Live video is growing more popular as a way for families to share big moments and for artists and athletes to connect with fans.
Livestreaming has also made the news in recent weeks as House Democrats used Periscope to broadcast a sit-in over gun control after the Republican majority cut off television cameras.
It also got attention when a Minnesota woman used Facebook Live to stream footage of her dying boyfriend after he was shot by police.
Below are some of the most popular ways to livestream from your phone:
Anyone with a Facebook account can livestream anything using Facebook’s app.
To use it, tap the empty box where your status update would go. A menu should pop up with the option for “live video.”
A couple of taps later, you are live, broadcasting to your friends.
You can change the privacy setting to make your live video public, too.
The video is available for replay once you are done. You can delete it or save it on your phone if you want.
The Twitter-owned video-streaming app made its debut about a year ago, well-timed with the exponential growth of people watching and taking videos on their smartphones.
You can broadcast to select followers or the broader public.
You can share your precise location or keep it private.
Viewers can send comments, and streams can be shared on Twitter, Facebook or other social media services.
Seventeen months ago, Meerkat was the darling of the South By Southwest Interactive tech confab, seemingly destined to make livestreaming the next hot thing.
Then came Periscope and Facebook Live, and Meerkat’s popularity dropped.
The company is no longer focused on livestreaming and has instead “pivoted” — Silicon Valley speak for shifting resources elsewhere when your first (or second, or third) idea doesn’t work.
You sign in with their Twitter, Facebook, Google or Instagram account to stream live videos.
YouNow also lets you “discover talented broadcasters” and video chat live with people around the world, as its website touts.
Music is an especially popular broadcast topic, but you’ll find the usual stuff as well, such as people livestreaming themselves as they sleep. Zzzzz.
The Amazon-owned livestreaming service started off as a way for gamers to stream their gameplay and show off their skills.
Now, Twitch is broadening its reach. It has added channels in its “creative” area for people to broadcast live music, drawing, programming and so on. You can pay a subscription fee for certain benefits on channels, and even tip performers.
People can livestream from traditional computers, too — not just smartphones, as most other services require.
On the web
Live streaming pays off: http://apne.ws/2auELV4
A live, 10-minute video of the aftermath of a police officer shooting a black man in Minnesota was the latest example of the riveting power of video streaming and the complex ethical and policy issues it raises for Facebook Live and similar features.
The graphic video taken by the victim’s girlfriend and broadcast on her Facebook page shows Philando Castile covered in blood in the driver’s seat of a car as the officer points a gun into the vehicle.
By early July 7, the footage had more than 4 million views and together with another police shooting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, topped the items on Facebook’s Newswire, which promotes stories of broad interest.
Facebook this year has made its Live feature, which allows anyone to broadcast a video directly from their smartphone, a central component of its growth strategy. Rivals Twitter and Alphabet’s YouTube are also pushing live video as a new frontier in Internet content.
While traditional TV broadcasters are subject to “decency” standards overseen by the Federal Communications Commission — and have a short delay in their broadcasts to allow them to cut away from violent or obscene images — internet streaming services have no such limitations.
That easy accessibility and openness are fostering a new type of intimate, personal broadcasting that proponents said can be extraordinarily powerful, as evidenced by the demonstrations that began shortly after the Minneapolis video.
But critics said the lack of regulation can allow a somewhat cynical exploitation of tragedy.
Facebook and others can “rush forward and do whatever they think will get them clicks and users” without concerns for potential legal consequences, said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami who helps run the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. She advocates on behalf of revenge porn victims and would like companies to do more to prevent dissemination of such content.
Indeed, internet companies enjoy broad protections under federal law for content users posting on their services. Merely hosting third-party content that is objectionable or even illegal does not expose those companies to litigation as long as they adopt reasonable takedown policies.
The companies do enforce their own terms of service, which restrict many types of images. They rely heavily on users to report violations, which are then reviewed by employees or contractors for possible removal.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, head of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate project, said live video provides unprecedented opportunity to seize public awareness and cultivate political pressure on a topic such as police brutality.
But Cooper said the technology also raises concerns. “The availability of a live broadcast, unencumbered, becomes a horrendous tool in the hands of a terrorist.”
Facebook said last month that it was expanding the team dedicated to reviewing live content and staffing it 24 hours a day. The company would also test the monitoring of broadcasts that go viral or are trending even before they are reported, giving Facebook a way to stop offending broadcasts quickly, just as a TV network might do.
In the July 6 shooting in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, the footage was taken offline for about an hour, leading to outrage on social media. It was then restored with a warning labeling it as “disturbing.”
“We’re very sorry that the video was temporarily inaccessible,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement. “It was down due to a technical glitch and restored as soon as we were able to investigate.”
Details of the technical glitch were not immediately known.
Facebook’s push into live streaming assures that such violent or otherwise disturbing events would not be the last.
About 1.65 billion people used Facebook monthly as of March 31, spending at least 50 minutes per day on the social media platform. In Facebook’s most recent quarterly earnings, it reported a 50 percent surge in revenue, handily beating Wall Street expectations as its promotion of live video won new advertisers and encouraged existing ones to increase spending.
Facebook pays some companies, including Reuters, to produce content for Facebook Live.
The Minnesota shooting followed other violent events that were streamed live on the Internet and went viral.
Just last month, a 28-year-old Chicago man, Antonio Perkins, filmed himself on Facebook Live spending time with his friends outside when shots rang out. The graphic video showed Perkins falling to the ground and what appears to be blood on the grass.
Days earlier, there was a double homicide in France in which the killer later took to Facebook Live to encourage more violence in a 12-minute clip.
In April, an 18-year-old woman was charged after she live streamed her friend’s rape on Twitter’s Periscope. In May, a young woman in France recorded herself on Periscope as she threw herself under a train.
When the makers of the globe-hopping video game Overwatch were coming up with the backstory for a character with the ability to freeze enemies and erect ice walls, their initial inclination was to make her homeland a stereotypically chilly place, someplace like Iceland, Canada or Norway.
“That’s what you would expect,” said game director Jeff Kaplan. “We asked ourselves, ‘What if she was from somewhere else? What if she was from China? How would that look?’ It’s not your normal expectation, and that’s what is cute, adorable, endearing and exciting about that character.”
Inspired by Chinese ice sculpture festivals, Overwatch lead character concept artist Arnold Tsang crafted a look for Mei, the bespectacled climatologist among the 21 characters of various races, genders, nationalities and sexual orientations which players can portray in the superhero-inspired multiplayer game out May 24.
Mei’s unlikely heritage and ability to encase her body in a chunk of ice aren’t her only unique attributes. She doesn’t sport a busty, Barbie-like physique that most female characters have in video games.
“From a visual standpoint, we want every character to have a different silhouette, not just because that’s more interesting to look at but because you want to be able to know which character is coming at you from a distance when you’re playing,” said Tsang. “With that sort of philosophy, it’s easy to embrace diversity.”
For years, the video game industry has been criticized for relying on stereotypes and not depicting a wider array of characters. Many games invite players to construct their own avatars, but a new wave of multiplayer games such as Battleborn, Paragon and Overwatch are providing dizzying rosters of defined characters – each with different looks, abilities and histories.
The initial line-up of 21 heroes for Overwatch features 10 men, eight women, a pair of robots and one genetically engineered gorilla. (By contrast, the original Mortal Kombat featured six men and one woman when it was first released in 1992.)
Kaplan said the top three most popular Overwatch characters in the game’s open beta, which was played by 9.7 million people earlier this month, were nefarious French female assassin Widowmaker, hardened American male vigilante Soldier: 76 and high-flying Egyptian female security chief Pharah.
The decision to construct such an assorted cast apparently wasn’t motivated by the bottom line. Kaplan said the studio didn’t use any player demographic data gathered by publisher Activision Blizzard Inc. over the years to conceive characters that might generate more sales in particular regions of the world. However, actual Chinese gamers will be able to play as Mei. Blizzard tapped Chinese online company NetEase Inc. to release Overwatch in China.
“I think diversity is a nice byproduct of us trying to create heroes that people will love,” said Kaplan. “We didn’t set out to have a hero of every race, nationality, body type or gender. That’s not the goal – or really even possible with a game like this one. However, by not limiting ourselves creatively, it steers us back to this diverse place.”
Overwatch is the first new franchise in nearly 20 years from Blizzard, the studio behind the wildly successful Warcraft and StarCraft fantasy and sci-fi series. It also more closely resembles the real world, despite all the futuristic laser guns and over-the-top superpowers.
“When we decided to set Overwatch on this optimistic, near-future version of Earth, the most exciting thing was that we could take inspiration from all these different places and cultures,” said senior game designer Michael Chu. “For me, that was exciting after working on Blizzard games that took place in totally fantastical worlds.”
Chu noted that the developers aren’t attempting to appease every fan or create a character to represent every region. He’s hopeful players will find different aspects of themselves in the heroes of Overwatch.
While the game’s focus is more on squad-based action than a detailed storyline, Blizzard is expanding on the fiction in animated shorts, comics and other material outside the frenetic matches that make up Overwatch gameplay.
Other characters include a pink-haired Russian bodybuilder named Zarya, who is equipped with a cannon and gravity bombs, as well as a Brazilian disc jockey with the power to heal or speed up his teammates with his beats. His name is Lucio, the game’s only black character.
“We do have a level set in a first-world African nation called Numbani that is a place that humans and robots built together in harmony,” said Chu. “We’ve got so many ideas for more characters. If we could make 100 characters, we’d still have more ideas. This is just where we’re starting.”
On the Web
Bruce Springsteen’s generous gesture to snowbound followers this winter was the first time many music fans became aware of Nugs.net, a website that offers concert experiences to those who can’t make it to the arena.
Phish, Metallica and Pearl Jam also sell recordings of their shows through Nugs.net.
The website’s emergence illustrates the growing importance of the live music industry at a time recording sales have sharply fallen, giving acts with strong live reputations a new revenue stream.
“As the future unfolds, I think every touring act is going to have to do something along these lines,” said Marc Reiter, who manages Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers at Q Prime.
The website’s roots date back to the 1990s when two friends who grew up in the Philadelphia area, Brad Serling and Jon Richter, created it to share their recordings of Grateful Dead concerts. They reached out to the band for permission and the response, basically, was “what’s a website?”
By the beginning of the century, their recordings had become so popular that the band’s lawyers gave them two choices: shut it down or go into business together. Serling worked briefly for the Dead.
Nugs officially became a business when the men offered copies of Phish’s 2002 New Year’s Eve concert for sale. As its only client at the time, the site grossed more than a million dollars.
“That’s when we knew we were on to something,” Richter said.
Nugs has expanded to stream audio and video of live shows on a pay-per-view basis; Metallica streamed a concert through the site the night before the Super Bowl. For a monthly or yearly subscription, Nugs also grants unlimited access to a library of more than 10,000 shows.
Springsteen offered a free concert recording for a limited time after he had to postpone a New York City show due to snow. More than 100,000 copies were downloaded. His concert downloads generally cost $9.95, with CD copies $23 and audiophile options also available.
The top eight sellers listed on Nugnugsnets.net last week were from Springsteen’s current “River” tour.
The jam band community is big on Nugs because its acts view each concert as a unique experience. A band that follows the same setlist every night, hitting precise cues for dancers and lights, isn’t made for Nugs. The acts must be confident enough to sell all their shows without editing, even on lousy nights.
If something is held back, fans notice and conspiracy theories begin.
“Sometimes I can be somewhat hesitant,” admitted Aron Magner, keyboard player for Disco Biscuits. “The segues don’t go as planned or there was a wrong note, or a series of wrong notes. But that’s what this genre is all about. It’s walking on a tightrope without a net. Everyone understands that and it’s part of the fun of it. You don’t get these amazing moments unless you are willing to jump off a cliff.”
If Springsteen hadn’t spent time surfing YouTube and come across snippets of his concerts with terrible sound quality, he might not have reached out to Nugs, Serling said.
The recordings come from a mix of a band’s sound board at a show and from the venue itself, a combination that promotes clarity and avoids sterility. Nugs sells recordings through their acts’ website and on their own, trying to make it an easy experience for the musicians. Financial details of the arrangements aren’t released.
Take away the recording costs, and it’s essentially found money _ a way to profit from a concert outside of ticket sales. It’s primarily a service for the die-hard fan: Springsteen offers a discount to fans who purchase every single show of the “River” tour.
“Our fans are both loyal and rabid and have always been voracious to devour as much content as we are willing to deliver,” Magner said. As Disco Biscuit members get older, they don’t tour as much, he said. Nugs offers them a way to stay in touch.
The recordings sell at a consistent level, he said. “But if there is a specific show that rises above (the norm), the word will spread pretty quickly,” he said.
Reiter said that for the bands he manages, Nugs has been great service to their most loyal fans. “It has been better than we ever thought,” he said.
Serling hosts a show on SiriusXM radio, featuring both archival material and concert recordings from the previous week. The Nugs founders are looking to expand into more musical styles, like country or electronic dance music.
“A majority of the artists we work with have a family business around them,” Serling said. “If you’re not just a one-hit wonder, if you have a live concert following, then we are right for you.”