Old pal and former Fault Lines colleague, Greg Doucette, has done yeoman’s work chronicling videos of police violence during the protests, in most cases, and riots in some cases, following the killing of George Floyd. He’s been numbering the videos and, if I’m correct, is up to 753 as of now.
7️⃣5️⃣3️⃣ St. Louis, MO: how many SLMPD cops does it take to break up camping protestors at 4am? 🤔 People on scene put the count at 150+, including stacked in buses behind the videographer
10 July 2020
— T. Greg Doucette (@greg_doucette) July 11, 2020
As a result of his efforts, Greg has not only disseminated a huge catalogue of videos, but he’s accumulated a substantial following on twitter, over 130,000 at the moment, and not insubstantial notice of his labors. I’ve seen his name appear a few times in posts as being the docent of police violence, proof of which is the fact that Greg gave it a number and put it on his twitter feed.
I’ve seen quite a few of the videos Greg has posted to twitter. Many reflect inexplicable police violence. Some, however, raised questions about what came before, and some, well, appeared to be the justified use of force. Most of us don’t like to see any use of force, but that doesn’t necessarily make it unjustified. But for the followers, if Greg put it on his list, then that proved it was police abuse.
It raised the question of who is master, Greg or the following he amassed. The dopamine rush one gets from vast displays of validation is Pavlovian. They push a person to do more. And more and more and more. As the fans eat them up, they demand more. Feed me, they cry.
Granted, twitter is a platform for the least nuanced among us, so twitting a sentence and a video with neither context nor analysis can lead to grossly flawed conclusions. But most followers don’t know, or care. They follow because they want to see videos of police violence and abuse. They want to hate the police, and they want Greg to validate their hate.
What’s Greg to do when the videos run dry and the hungry followers demand more from him? What’s Greg to do when the videos fail to show the police behaving badly, and Greg, as a criminal defense lawyer, knows it, but the videos appear to show abuse to the unwary? Can he explain it to them, that what they feel they see, what they desperately desire to see, isn’t what they see? Can he tell those people who follow him only to validate their hatred of cops that these cops weren’t wrong?
A kerfuffle arose during the course of Greg’s chronicling police violence. Mark Bennett, the Texas Tornado, questioned one of Greg’s twits, and rather than reply directly to Mark, Greg quote-twitted to his followers. Under some circumstances, this would be understandable, as most of Greg’s followers aren’t also following Bennett, but this was odd. Mark knows Greg. Greg knows Mark. Both are criminal defense lawyers, although Mark is by far more experienced and accomplished. On the twitters, Greg is the Big Man. In real life, he would be fortunate to second-seat Mark.
It wasn’t a big deal issue, but it was one in which I would have expected Greg to give some serious thought to what Mark was trying to tell him rather than to score a W on twitter and rustle up some validation from the groundlings. Whose respect, I wondered, would Greg prefer to gain, that of Mark Bennett or that of random cop-haters on twitter?
Most (but not all by a long shot) lawyers have the capacity to analyze complex situations with some reasonable degree of detached accuracy. Good lawyers don’t lie to themselves or their clients by pretending that the story that matters is the client’s. That’s for the unduly passionate, looking for the latest reason to proclaim how they’re heartbroken.
We want to know what the evidence is against out client. That’s the battle we fight, and if we do it well, sometimes win. So feeding shallow fodder to an echo chamber isn’t really meaningful for lawyers. It’s no challenge convincing grandma that our client’s not guilty, but she’s not the person whose opinion matters.
There are a few criminal defense lawyers on twitter who have amassed a significant following on social media, and they have the opportunity to put this to use. They can choose to twit what will juice up the echo chamber or they can explain that sometimes, the black guy did it, the protester was wrong, the cop wasn’t evil. Or can they? Having accumulated followers who demand a simplistic, one-sided view of the world, can they twit something that “offends” the sensibilities of their fans? Can they take a video that all the passionate followers are certain reflects exactly what they want it to reflect and say, “Nope, not this time. This time the cop was right”?
This isn’t the way to grow one’s following and establish greater “cred” on social media. This is the way to lose followers. This is the way to enrage followers, who aren’t at all shy about turning on their heroes the moment they fail to give them what they demand. Are lawyers prepared to risk the mob turning on them? Integrity demands no less, but those followers can be vicious. Or they can be adoring, if only you don’t introduce nuance into their timelines.
Greg has done a terrific, and time-consuming, job of putting together an array of videos reflecting police use of force. He didn’t have to spend his time this way, and we enjoy the benefit of his efforts. But I hope he, and other lawyers who desire the validation social media offers, remembers that for all his great many followers, a challenge by Mark Bennett, by someone whose opinion is substantively more meaningful than ten thousand likes by twitter randos, should be shown the respect Bennett has earned. Be very careful about dismissing valued colleagues for fear that it will tarnish your shine on social media. It’s all too easy to become a slave to adoration at the expense of integrity. Are you master or slave? Are you a social media star or a criminal defense lawyer?