by Joe Giambrone
“Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”
-Brown Family Statement
Let a real evolutionary leap come out of this Ferguson fiasco. Police will be required to wear body cameras at all times when on duty. Their actions will be recorded and not fall into the black hole where only one side of a story remains, as dead men tell no tales.
Police are to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us for several reasons. It is their job to enforce laws, and they are given discretion as well as deadly weaponry to do so. Regular citizens have no such priviledge. Police are a special case where accountability, oversight, accuracy, and the public trust need to be maintained. Right now these are all at an all-time low.
Paterson, Newark and Jersey City plan on equipping their forces with body cameras, and this is just the beginning. “The federal court in New York has ordered some police officers to carry cameras, while departments in Albuquerque, Fort Worth, Texas, and Oakland, California, have voluntarily started the practice.”
This is still a land of sovereign citizens with Constitutionally protected rights. As such we need to make sure that these rights are not systematicallly stripped away by law enforcement that operates above the law, beyond the law, outside the law. How much more difficult would it be for a dirty cop whose shifts are recorded? Think about it.
The Michael Brown slaying, whether one wishes to believe it or not, is an unclear situation. We have only the testimony of the officer, and some forensic evidence that may or may not have come about as claimed by the officer. If the officer was wearing a body camera then this entire shooting incident would be recorded frame by frame without the possibility of embellishment or of deception. It would also provide clear evidence against the assailant… or not.
The body camera has proven to be one of the most powerful and revolutionary tools of community policing to come about in decades. Where they have been in use, “public complaints against officers plunged 88% compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60%.”
In a land where the police are turning into militarized organizations from out of 1984, or The Hunger Games, we are now at a crossroads. Either all that rhetoric about freedom, liberty, rights, law and order was meant to be taken seriously, or else we are to tolerate a fascistic system of double standards and unaccountable state power, including the wholesale murder in the streets of the poor and of minorities.
It’s time we put the solutions on the front page. Sixty percent decrease of police use of force. Nearly ninety percent reduction in citizen complaints. That means better policing, honest policing, trust built with the communities they are meant to serve. That is a solution that is beyond money, beyond empty slogans and has already been proven to work.
The White House has already responded to a petition demanding body cameras on police officers. Empty rhetoric so far, the usual bland say nothing, do nothing vapidity of politiicians. This is going to take citizens to stand up and demand a just system of justice. It will take awareness, political pressure and local action across the land. The structures of police departments are largely local and respond to local pressure.
Even the ACLU has gotten on board the recording of on-duty police officers. While the unaccountable surveillance of the public remains a violation of the 4th Amendment, the oversight of policing falls into a different category. ACLU policy analyst Jay Stanley said that, “all parties stand to benefit — the public is protected from police misconduct, and officers are protected from bogus complaints.” Interactions with police tend to be kept to a higher standard when there is a video record of everything said and done.
I have no idea if Michael Brown is the best icon for this cause, but he is clearly one of many, many victims of police violence against civilians in the US. Today there are 8,790,000 videos of “police brutality” searchable through Google. These are not taken as seriously as an official record, from the officer’s own body camera. Yet they are all one would need to make a reasoned case that it is time to hold police to the standard of the law.
Society only works when the social contract is honored by all parties. The citizens of Ferguson are telling us this week that one party has broken this contract.
Joe Giambrone publishes Political Film Blog.