Why document injuries?
If you are thinking of suing the police or filing a complaint, evidence of their brutality can build a stronger case. Clear, organized records can also help with medical care and when talking about your experiences later on. This documentation can be useful in hearings and other advocacy. This is true for injuries from counter-protestors as well as from the police.
Documenting your injuries means pulling together written and visual proof, with supporting evidence. Photos, videos, paperwork, and a diary are important for proving an injury happened and backing up your experience. Proper documentation of your injuries doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win, but it can greatly improve your chances. It’s harder for the police to claim something didn’t happen when you have photos of giant bruises on your neck or cut marks on your wrists from where the handcuffs were on too tight, reports from a doctor of torn muscles, concussions, or other injuries that may not leave marks, and a diary of relevant information.
Experiencing or seeing violent confrontations can cause mental trauma. Seek support and help when you need it.
It is best to start documenting with photographs and a diary as soon as you are in a space where you are safe, but documentation can help even if you start more than a day since you were injured. You should still document injuries without physical marks. The effects of some injuries may not show up for days or even weeks later. Just like you are documenting and collecting evidence, so are the police. If you or your injury caught their attention, they may be monitoring your social media so that they can claim the injury wasn’t as serious as you say. When in doubt, document it.
Even the marks of severe injuries can disappear quickly. Generally, the darker your skin is, the less clearly your injuries will show up on photos and video, and the more important it is to follow these guidelines.
How to photograph your injuries
- Take the first photo of your whole body. After that, the photographer should take pictures that slowly get closer to the injury. If you’re alone, move closer to the camera gradually or make a video going from full body to close up. This proves that you’re the injured person in the photos, and they’re not close-up photos of someone else’s injuries.
- If you have multiple injuries, document each of them, one at a time, to keep the photos from getting mixed up.
- Take at least six pictures of each injury that provide different views and lighting, not just a burst from the same angle. Don’t rely on any single photo.
- Take photos every day to show how the injuries change, until they are no longer visible.
- If you are injured on different days, make it clear in your diary which day and event each injury is from. Keep documenting all of your injuries.
How to make your photos useful in court
- Use the best camera you can – the better your camera, the better your photos will turn out. The rear camera on your phone is often better than the front or selfie camera. Get help from a friend to take photos. If you can’t, use the timer and prop your phone up with a phone holder, against a soup can or inside a glass or mug.
- Have a neutral expression and stance: don’t smile or frown, and don’t flex your muscles or pose more than needed.
- Have a blank wall behind you in the photos – no clutter or personal items in the background, if possible. Remember that these photos are intended to be seen by the courts and the police.
- Take photos as close as possible to the injury to show the most detail. Bring the camera closer to the injury, and don’t use the zoom (zoom just crops the image but doesn’t enhance resolution).
- Do not use filters or manipulate the photo in any way, including cropping and color balancing.
- Avoid using flash for close-in photos. Try setting up multiple lights from different angles to avoid shadows. Flashes, bright light, and spotlights right on the injury tend to reflect off the skin and make the photo less clear.
- For larger injuries, put a ruler next to it in one of the photos for scale. Make sure you take some photos without the ruler to show you aren’t blocking anything. If you don’t have a ruler, use something with a fixed size, like a dollar bill.
- Keep a list of who took the photos and when you took them, as well as other evidence, in a diary. This will help you find what you need later, as well as reinforce the legitimacy of your photos.
How to keep a diary of other evidence
- Write out an account of everything you remember about the events leading to each injury, as soon as you can. Write out any exact quotes or conversations that you remember, as well as names and badge numbers (even if they are only partial).
- Draw a birds-eye view of the scene when you were injured. Start with a map, Google Maps image, or satellite view. This will help people understand what happened and help you retain the information.
- Record all your injuries – even ones that are not visible – in the same place you list your photos. Write down the date and time, how your injuries are feeling, any new aches or pains, and any new symptoms you are experiencing from the injuries.
- For injuries that are not visible, add diary entries for daily status and any notable changes in pain, tingling or numbness, migraines, any other neurological symptoms, and any respiratory symptoms from tear gas or pepper spray.
- With head injuries, note if there was any loss of consciousness, seizures, or memory loss. It is especially important to have head injuries documented as soon as possible and keep follow up appointments to track recovery.
- With wrist injuries from handcuffs: note the length of time in handcuffs or zip ties; any impact on circulation, sensation, or movement of the hand; any visible changes like swelling, bruising, or discoloration; and what problems or pain you are continuing to experience.
- Do not write anything in the diary that you would not want submitted to court.
- A handwritten, paper diary is best, as long as you can keep it safe and make a backup by photographing each page.
- If you can safely return to the scene and there are visible signs of what happened, document them. Just like with your injuries, start far away to show the overall scene. Take closer and closer photographs for detail, with panorama shots and photos from multiple angles with different lighting.
- Keep evidence! If you have bloody clothes, put them in a garbage bag or large ziplock and put the bag in a freezer. Tape them shut, and write the date and contents description on the tape. Put things like rubber bullets and tear gas canisters in plastic bags, tape them shut, and date and sign on the tape.
- Hold onto all paperwork you get from cops or the court, like arrest reports, property receipts, booking photos, etc. Originals are best, but make a digital copy in case you lose them.
- Find photos or videos of the injury or confrontation online or from friends, if there are any. Keep copies and add them to your diary, including who the source is or who took them.
Backup your documentation
- Backup the photos, diary, and other materials to make sure that you have them when you need them. Having copies of the documentation means that you will not lose them if your phone is stolen, seized, or damaged.
- Options include copying them to another device, a flashdrive, or cloud storage (like Google Photos, iCloud, or Dropbox). Keep in mind that if you use cloud storage, the provider could hand over copies or that someone could break in and delete them. It is best to make more than one backup in case anything happens.
- Make your backups from the original photos and videos if possible. Photos on social media sites or sent through apps often have their metadata removed, which makes them harder to verify.
Talking to doctors about your injuries
Doctors’ testimony is given a lot of weight by the courts and the press. Having a doctor’s report on your injuries, especially ones you can’t see, can really help your case.
It can be risky going to a hospital right after you’re injured by the police. Emergency room staff sometimes call the police when people come in looking like they’ve been in a fight. If your injury is potentially life-threatening, consider taking the risk of going to a hospital immediately. If you have already been cited and released, or gone to jail and been released, you risk less going to a hospital and telling them exactly what happened to you. Taking care of yourself is important.
While your interactions with healthcare are confidential, medical notes can be subpoenaed and entered into court records. Sometimes, seeing a different doctor just for protest related injuries may limit what health information is discussed in court.
- Go to a doctor you trust as soon as possible. If you can’t afford to pay for one, look for clinics where you can get treatment for free. You can also ask or have a friend ask on social media for referral to a sympathetic doctor.
- If you go to a hospital, tell every nurse, technician, and doctor who looks at you about each of your injuries (including less severe ones) and how you got them if you feel safe doing so. Ask them to put it in your chart. Doctors see injuries all the time and might not remember yours if they don’t document them on the spot.
- Don’t let doctors or medics rush you or their records might be incomplete. Ask them to write down your injuries in detail, especially injuries you can’t take photos of, like sprains, strains, broken noses or ribs, or injuries that disappear quickly and are hard to see – like the marks from handcuffs.
- Go to any follow-up appointments or treatments. This will give you more credibility and let the doctors continue documenting your injuries.
- Hold onto any forms you get from anyone at the hospital or clinic and add them to your diary, including bills.
Provided by Black Movement Law Project, based on work from Midnight Special Law Collective. Edited by New Design Congress and Cypurr Collective. Last substantive update June 18, 2020.
Human rights, not IP rights. Please remix responsibly.