California officer plays Taylor Swift song to keep video confrontation off YouTube

"We have a code of conduct all officers must follow," a department spokesman said.

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James Burch, policy director of the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), and a group of protesters gathered outside the Alameda Courthouse in Oakland on Tuesday where they became the target of a police officer weaponizing YouTube’s copyright takedown policy. 

The advocates appeared on the courthouse steps to listen to a broadcast of the pre-trial hearing for police officer Jason Fletcher, who was charged with manslaughter in the fatally shooting of Steven Taylor, a Black man, inside of a Walmart last year, as reported by The Verve.

COVID restrictions prevented the group from entering the courtroom, and one officer identified as Sgt. Shelby took issue with a banner the protesters had displayed outside the building. 

When Shelby and Burch exchanged words over the “Justice for Steven Taylor” banners, Shelby noticed he was being filmed. That’s when he pulled out his phone and started playing “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift — in an apparent effort to exploit YouTube’s copyright flagging system.

“Are we having a dance party now?” Burch asked when the music began, initially confused about why the song was playing.

Burch then realized the tactic being used and told the female who was filming the incident: “He doesn’t want you recording, so he’s playing music in the back.”

“You can record all you want. I just know it can’t be posted on YouTube,” the sergeant responded.

While citizens are allowed to record police under First Amendments rights, music in the background can trigger a takedown notice on social media due to copyright laws. 

It appears APTP was able to upload the clip to YouTube and Twitter on Thursday without being flagged by the platforms.

“The fact that these members of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department would go to such lengths to deny us the ability to publicize their actions speaks volumes to how they perceive their relationship with the People of Oakland,” Burch said in a statement.

officer James Burch
(Credit: Anti Police-Terror Project @APTPaction)

“There are family members there, listening to testimony from the Walmart asset protection agent who’s talking about witnessing the murder of their son or their sibling,” Burch said, per Gizmodo. “We just want these cops to leave because it’s a very traumatic situation and these people are very sensitive. And seeing a cop at that time, it’s very triggering.”

He added, “Before the cops came, we were just hovering over the speaker, within a couple feet trying to pick up what he was saying because that’s the only way we could even get close,” Burch explained. “And still we couldn’t really pick it up. It’s important context because people are frustrated, are having a difficult time trying to hear this hearing.” 

APTP posted on Twitter: “At a time when the Oakland Police Chief is spreading misinformation, with support from Mayor Libby Schaaf and Council Member Loren Taylor, about 911 response times and fear-mongering about a decrease in public safety following the reallocation of $18.4m from the police budget to alternative police-free services, it’s remarkable to see two highly paid sergeants & two deputies spend time policing family members of a man shot by police outside a hearing.”

Sgt. Ray Kelly, a department spokesman, said the actions of Sgt. Shelby, “is not something we condone or approve. We have a code of conduct all officers must follow,” adding that the incident is being investigated by Internal Affairs.

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