Duncan Kirkwood admits he was scared. Last year, as the Montgomery, AL, resident was visiting Charlotte, NC he was pulled over by police.
"You know, I'm a black man who grew up in the inner city. I know that when the police pull you over it's probably gonna be a bad day," he told Fusion.
Ultimately, nothing drastic happened in that situation. But it did spark the idea for “Hands Up 4 Justice,” a new app that is meant to record interactions with police officers.
"I realized that I should not have to be afraid of the police. If I break a traffic law, I should get a ticket and that's it," he said. "I shouldn't have to be worried about getting dragged out of the vehicle, being shot, getting tased, and just having the officer's word against mine."
Kirkwood, 29, says he started thinking of ways to protect regular people of color like himself in dealings with the police. Recording encounters with a video camera or on your smartphone would be out of the question, he said, "because I saw videos online of police taking people's phones, and I even saw a video of police smashing someone's phone."
Ultimately, Kirkwood figured out how to address these issues with the new app he created with the help of his brother and sister. It was released on the Android market earlier this month, and will be available on iTunes in about two weeks, Kirkwood says. Here's how it works:
- Set up an emergency contact for yourself.
- Turn on the app and begin recording once you have an encounter with police.
- Click the camera on the screen to activate the app. It is best to place the phone on your dashboard during a traffic stop, Kirkwood suggests.
- After 10 seconds of recording, the screen will go black, and you will be recording discreetly.
- The app will automatically save the video to your phone every two minutes.
- The app can be linked to a Dropbox account, where it will automatically upload every two minutes.
- It can also be linked to a YouTube account.
- A GPS feature will geolocate the videos.
- Your emergency contact will be sent an alert once you activate the app. They will be granted instant access to the videos that are uploaded to your Dropbox account.
"God forbid if something bad happens to someone, it won't be another Mike Brown situation because there will be video evidence to show exactly what happened," he said. "Think of it like having insurance: it's better to have [video] and not need it than to need it and not have it."
According to the ACLU, it is entirely within your rights to record interactions with police officers, even if they don't know it, though Kirkwood says it is best to be transparent about the fact it.
The point of the app is to promote safety for individuals, Kirkwood says— not to encourage people to "act a fool" and provoke police into aggression. On the app's website is a do and don't list, including the suggestion: "Don't be a jerk to the officer."
Since releasing the app, Kirkwood says that he has heard from advocates who have noted the app might have other applications, especially for women in abusive relationships or elderly people in abusive nursing homes.
"We think that this will be a game changer," he said. "It is giving the power back to individuals, and allowing for accountability in all kinds of different situations."
But if the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island was caught on video, and the officers still got away without an indictment, how would a situation captured with Hands Up lead to a different conclusion?
"If next week, the same officer does something else, and that is also caught on tape, then you will be able to see a pattern, and the departments are gonna start telling their people to stop abusing their authority," he said.
"When people start to learn or assume they are being videotaped, most times they will change their behavior and do what's right."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.