Cloaked in the green glow of a friend's night-vision lens, a 17-year-old Tacoma, Washington, boy vows on film that he will get revenge against another teen. Shortly after, footage shows the boy and his friend jumping the victim and viciously pummeling him — even after he falls helplessly into the bushes.
The attacker then gloats to the camera about his victory — right before he pumps a shot gun and issues a warning to anyone else who wants to "play."
As is the case with most street fights, the July assault could have easily flown under the radar of authorities. Instead, the teen was arrested and charged because of indisputable evidence available to anyone with a computer: The assailant posted the incriminating video on his own MySpace page.
"If we hadn't seen the posting or hadn't gotten wind of that, we would've never known," said Fred Wist, a deputy prosecutor in Tacoma. "It would've just been another fight."
What went on secretly in the school parking lot or the woods just a few years ago is now on the Net, forcing some pugilistic teens to face the consequences of their actions. The combination of ubiquitous camera phones and the popularity of video file-sharing sites, including MySpace, YouTube and Google Video, have converted the masses into amateur filmmakers. But what is entertainment for some is proving to be damning for others.
"This year has been the first time that we've really seen it," Wist said about the incriminating videos infiltrating the Web. He speculated that camera phones might play a part in the flurry of amateur recordings of fights. "But the other thing has been the use of MySpace.com," he said. "The use has been phenomenal this year especially."
Another violent video was posted on MySpace this past April that tipped off authorities to an assault that occurred between two teenage girls in California. The recording also landed the aggressor's mother in hot water with authorities because it filmed her watching the fight without attempting to intervene.
Similarly, 13 New York teens were charged with inciting a riot after exchanging trash talk until a violent brawl broke out between several girls. Once again, police tracked down the kids involved after seeing the video posted on the Internet.
Some teens are posting these videos for kicks or bravado. Others, however, are turning pain into profit.
Several Texas teens found themselves in trouble with the police after taping the severe beating of a 16-year-old boy who sustained a brain hemorrhage and other serious injuries. An investigation found that the teens frequently filmed fights and were setting them to music and selling them over the Internet at between $15 and $20 apiece.
"I just used my business-savvy mind," Michael Jackson, the 19-year-old alleged ringleader behind the fight films, told USA Today. He told the newspaper that he decided to capitalize on something that was occurring naturally around him.
Indeed, with the exception of the case in question, many of the documented scuffles allegedly involved willing participants. Jackson, however, has denied on his MySpace page and to the media that fights were staged.
"It's not necessarily gangsters or gang members involved, and that's the most frightening part," Arlington, Texas, Deputy Police Chief James Hawthorne told the local Dallas/Fort Worth NBC affiliate. "These are just regular kids."
As a result of the mayhem, Arlington officials are cracking down on these voyeurs of violence. Police have announced that spectators of these organized frays can be held accountable and will be hauled into jail as an accomplice to fighting in public. Actual brawlers may be charged with fighting in public, disorderly conduct or engaging in organized crime, Hawthorne told the network.
The upside, however, is that the Internet is enabling authorities to take action against some of the rowdy youth, complete with proof.
"[In] a lot of these fights, the witnesses aren't coming forward to law enforcement. ... They're out there and don't want to be involved," Wist said. "By using this media to essentially videotape and get it out to other people, they have created criminal cases that may not have otherwise come to light."