Hand-Held Journalism in Harrowing Times – New York Times

Advertisement

Image
The Venerable Luon Sovath in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.CreditOmar Havana for The New York Times

Some of the most harrowing and urgent reporting these days comes from everyday citizens armed with smartphones, and three new documentaries explore the breadth of their reach. “City of Ghosts” (the only one so far scheduled for release, on Friday, July 7) follows members of the Syrian watchdog group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently as they chronicle the Islamic State’s atrocities. “Cambodian Spring” tells of a Buddhist monk who defies the authorities by standing with the poor, and “Copwatch” looks at American activists training others to monitor the police. All of these citizen journalists are driven by the conviction that the camera is often mightier than the sword. The following are edited excerpts from conversations with a number of them.

Image
CreditJustin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Hamoud 25

Undisclosed location in Germany

“Having a baby hasn’t kept me from doing this work, because my son is no better than other Syrian children. But he is outside of Syria, and safer than millions of children. Every member of my family is supportive of this work, and I’m 100 percent sure even my son will grow up to be . The main thing to solve in Syria is defeating Assad. Asking whether the bigger problem is Assad or ISIS, it’s like asking me to pick one of two hells. Both are bad, both are criminal, but way more Syrians have been killed by Assad than by ISIS.”

Image
CreditJustin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Abdalaziz Alhamza, 25

Undisclosed location in Germany

“This year the U.S. and international coalition airstrikes have killed civilians much more than what ISIS has killed. And now the U.S.-supported militia is committing human rights violations. ISIS is not losing power. We’ve seen them everywhere, in Europe, in Iraq, they’re able to recruit thousands of fighters in more than 84 countries. They keep spreading their propaganda online. My colleagues and I are afraid if ISIS is defeated in Raqqa and Iraq, no one will focus on their ideology, and we will end up in five or 10 years with a new generation of extremists, something worse than ISIS.”

Image
CreditAlbrecht Fuchs for The New York Times

Hussam Eesa, 28

Undisclosed location in Germany

“For us, there are tensions. ISIS is everywhere, and if anyone wants to attack us, we can’t stop it. This is not like work. It’s a dream for us to defeat ISIS, to defeat the Syrian regime. We can’t stop, we can’t sit out and just watch. The risk of our work will be continued even if ISIS is defeated in Raqqa and other territories, because ISIS is an idea. Like any other terrorist extremist group, they use religion as a tool to do whatever they want, to take people as slaves.”

Image
CreditAlbrecht Fuchs for The New York Times

Advertisement

Mohamad Almusari, 36

Undisclosed location in Germany

“Focusing on what’s happening in Syria and Raqqa means you can’t focus on anything else. The risk to us didn’t start with this movie. We lost colleagues who were assassinated before, not only in Syria, but also in Turkey. But we have a duty we have to do.ISIS has long arms, but ISIS won’t be able to stop us from sending out our message.”

Image
CreditOmar Havana for The New York Times

Venerable Luon Sovath, 38

Phnom Penh

The Buddhist authorities in Cambodia have repeatedly threatened to defrock the Venerable Luon Sovath for his advocacy work with poor families forcibly evicted from their land. Armed with a camera, he records their protests, the destruction of their homes and his multiple near-arrests. “The problem in Cambodia is the ruling party controls everything — the money, the courts, the monks,” Luon Sovath said. But as a Buddhist, he says it is his imperative to defend human rights, to educate and to try to stop violence. “This is the rule of the Buddha,” he said. “Except I use a smartphone and Facebook. This is modern monk technology.”

Image
CreditKristina Barker for The New York Times

David Whitt, 37

Ferguson, Mo.

“On a day-to-day deal with people who get stopped by the cops, in neighborhoods where people say, ‘Yes, the police jumped all over me, and laid me on the ground.’ If we can bring down harassment, we can curb those interactions where people get shot. What does keep me inspired is when I do go to a cop stop, and cops let people go. We act as a deterrent. We changed conditions in our community just by being concerned. We’re not waiting on police or politicians to come up with new laws. There are laws on the books we’re not utilizing because of people not knowing their rights.”

Image
CreditKristina Barker for The New York Times

Jacob Crawford, 39

Oakland, Calif.

“While [We] Copwatch is a police accountability group, we consider ourselves journalists, because we’re fact-finders. It’s on us to bring information to people; so often it gets convoluted through police narratives. The concept of being a good witness is nothing new. We can’t stop just because the police murders someone and gets away with it — they’ve been doing that for years. You still have people jacked up and harassed, families being broken up. There’s no way to give up. Especially if we know we can make a difference. It behooves us to train as many people as possible.”

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*