This week we got a chance to talk with Davy V., an award winning filmmaker, writer, an activist from Rochester NY. Some of his most famous work is ‘RPD: Exposed!’, which uncovered the police brutality in our city. We met up at Mt. Hope Diner to discuss his first documentary, how he is treated by the RPD, and what we can do to help fix the problems in our city.
Was it hard getting your first documentary out there?
It was hard in the sense that back then there was now Youtube, etc. It is realy easy now for something to go viral. I drove around with boxes of VHS tapes stacked in the back. I made my own covers, copied a ton of VHS tapes. But it’s in my blood. I love the street thing. I am more comfortable talking on the streets than I am behind a computer.
In 2001 was my first documentary. It was all before YouTube, back then I sent VHS tapes to all of the City officials. I sent one to Thomas Rodriguez, a Rochester police officer who beat Lawrence Rogers to death back in 2003. He filed a complaint against me for harassment. I got arrested and went to court facing a year for just sending my documentary to a police officer.
The media seemed against you when your first tape came out.
Yes, the news wouldn’t say I was a professional journalist, or that my dad was an activist. The media is funny, they love to spin and sensationalize stories. They are quick to bring you down a couple levels. The media tries to dictate to you how you should think about something. It is a way of them to knock your credibility down. Everything they do they do for a reason.
All of my stuff has an edge. That’s the point, to hit a nerve, to show the injustice that happens on a day to day basis. I like to hit on stuff that most people don’t pay attention to, or become complacent to. I can’t see something and overlook it.
Your roots weren’t always in showing police corruption though.
Unfortunately I have been labeled as someone who only exposes police corruption, but my roots were in entertainment. I’ve worked with a number of famous rap artists over the years, and have been featured in The Source Magazine. I grew up with hip hop so I started a half hour show dedicated to hip hop called ‘KEEP IT ON THE REEL’. Every show I would dedicate five or ten minutes to a story about the guy who got shot on the corner or beat up. These stories that they local news overlooked about someone’s rights being violated, so that’s how I got started with what i do.
Our city has a history of being the center of human rights movements. Do you think our city now hides behind that history to deny police brutality and corruption?
Absolutely. There is a saying in Spanish that translates to “One man can not control everything”, like Sheppard, there is no way he can oversee the actions of 800 people. But it has gotten so out of control that there is no way that he is completely oblivious to what’s happening.
Rochester holds a lot of history. It’s ironic that in a city that was the birthplace of modern film, that a women got arrested for filming the police on her front law. With all of the history we have, with Susan B Anthony, and Fredrick Douglas, and with all of the progress that the United States has made as a whole, Rochester should be embarrassed of all of the human rights violations that occur here. With the ties to the civil rights movements that we have, it’s almost like the more things change the more things stay the same. We have billboards saying that police have our back, but a chief that refuses to take accountability of his police force. It is a double standard.
Our police force lacks transparency, and it laughs in the face of the history that Rochester has.
Do you think the attitude towards police in our city can be fixed?
I think the community could start to trust the RPD and believe what they do is in our best interest if Sheppard was to show that he had a no nonsense stance on corruption. I wasn’t a huge fan of Duffy but when he was chief he was known as a cop that was very vocal against corruption. In 1991 with Gordon Urlacher the chief who the embezzled money and had the hit squad that would go beat people up, Duffy was against all of it.
Everything you heard about Sheppard and his career is shady. He started his career on the east side then he became a commander of the east section. There are a lot of stories and dirt behind his position during that time.
This is why I have been pushing for years for a true civilian review board with real subpoena power. What they have now is a joke; the chief still has the ultimate say. It goes through the Center for Dispute Settlement, which is funded by the city, so there are all of these lines and connections attached to it that make it hard for CDS to be truly impartial. The chief has the ultimate say of what goes through or not, so the whole system is this round about way of getting back to the same end process. There is no accountability or a true checks and balance.
What kind of backlash do you get from your work?
Do you remember Emily Good? I was arrested back in 2004 but Indy Media has always had my back and supported me during the arrest and I have always supported them. When Emily Good had her thing I went to bat and supported her. We caught a lot of retaliation from the RPD. I don’t know if you ever saw the video with the pink rulers. I was at the meeting when they came. They showed up at a meeting, and gave people tickets for being parked too far from the curb. I recorded it all.
I have been doing it so long that they fuck with me, but they won’t do what they did with Emily Good. They would never arrest me unless I did something way out of line. But what they do to me now is worse. It’s a psychological thing. I’ve seen it happen with my father, how it wore him down, and broke him down mentally.
I live in Brighton right by the South Wedge. Not even two weeks ago, a cop followed my car the ten blocks from the Cinema to the Brighton town border. They will do little stupid shit, but nothing in my face that would raise a lot of attention. They know the line, and they do stuff that wouldn’t hold up in court but still fucks with you.
It’s getting bad as far as some death threats and a lot of stuff that I try and keep separate from my kids. It is not an easy thing to do. It burns you out and there is a big risk attached to it.
Is your relationship with the police always strained?
It’s awkward I just went into the [Boxing] fights with my kids recently. Sheppard was there and he came to greet us. I think he know everyone has their roles. Mine is to document police misconduct. I don’t trust him.
You’re the first one I am telling this, I had two RPD officers approach me at Rhino’s Stadium. They were cool, one of them I went to school with, everyone has that one friend who grows up to be a cop. One of the cops was an African-American and he pulled me aside and said that he wanted to reach out to me. He is working on a project called “Too Black to Be Blue, Too Blue to Be Black” It’s about stuff that he sees within the department that he disagrees with as an African-American.
I asked him what Sheppard thought about this. He told me that Sheppard had green lighted the project. My fantasy has always been to get a Frank Scerpico type character, which is on the inside and would be willing to speak out. It’s going to be hard for that individual to finish his project I think. It’s hard to be on the inside and speak out about the things you see.
There is that black police showing out for the white cop thing. It’s something psychological where minority officers are caught in a class system. When dealing with other minorities its like they have a chip on their shoulder. You would think they would be more culturally connected but there are a lot of cases where there is an opposite effect.
Do you think the Occupy Movement and the recent revival of protest culture is helping or hurting?
I wrote a piece on my blog and on minority report called “Occupy Rochester, what a waste”. I believed in the movement and the whole occupy thing. Elements of movement touched me personally because of the police misconduct and brutality. I think police took advantage of the protest to do their dirt to the occupy movement, New York especially.
When it comes to the message this is how I look at it. There was so much division, here locally, within the occupy movement that it became, in my opinion, a joke. They fought so hard to occupy a parcel of land in the middle of downtown that they forgot why they were occupying for in the first place.
They struggled so much, fighting the city, getting arrested, fighting for land. In the end I went to the hearings at city court. The judge ruled in their favor, dismissed the charges and agreed that the police were wrong in the arrests of protestors.
The crazy thing is this; Its summer right now its 80 degrees its nice out, but if you go down to Washington sq park right now, there will be no one there. You might find a couple of homeless people down there but that is it. Where are the occupiers now? They are there during the sub-zero temperatures throughout the winter, but now they are no where to be seen. I think they got so carried away with the fight for the land, I think they dropped the ball on the goal they originally working for.
They dropped the ball on picketing businesses like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, the banks that were responsible for foreclosures and a lot of the credit problems our nation has.
I am all for the protesting. But I quickly got turned off by the joke the movement became. All of this focus to occupy the space and the movement, and it was all wasted. They literally just sat in a park. It just seemed like there was a ton of division in the camp. Their priorities became twisted over time. A lot of these people are smart people, they are intelligent, but they diluted their message to the point were it became irrelevant.
So what is the next step?
Man, that is the most common question I get, but it’s probably the hardest one to answer. I never want to say lose hope, because when you’re alive you always have to have hope. The short answer to that question is to continue to fight and continue to be vocal. It has become a war of documentation, and again there is a double standard.
When you videotape a police officer there is a problem, but in this city you can’t go more than two or three blocks without being filmed. Cameras are used when it benefits them. Mayor Richards just said that even though they weren’t looking on profiting on red light cameras, the city has made two million dollars off of the cameras.
When it comes to what’s next, people need to educate themselves better on the law. I get people who call me on a weekly basis with stories of police coming to their home and intimidating them to the point where they go into their home without a warrant.
I always ask the same thing. What did you do about it? The answer is almost always that they did nothing. I always tell people, if a cop violates your rights, they are not going to come back to your house a week later and tell you they fucked up.
You have to file a complaint with the city, get something on record. If you do nothing to help yourself, the city is not going to help you. Documentation and action is key; be more aware of your rights, and documentation is the key.
Check out Davy V.’s Blog HERE