A solution to the shocking videos of police brutality and misconduct: Don’t allow videos to be released
Peter Rugh writes for The Indypendent:
“There is a phenomenon in this country that we need to examine and it’s just not in New York,” NYPD Commissioner William Bratton told reporters in May, after addressing a national conference of police chiefs at the Times Square Marriott Marquis. “This has become very serious. I would almost describe it as an epidemic.”
Bratton, who announced his retirement on August 3— much to the delight of Black Lives Matter demonstrators who set up an encampment at City Hall calling for his resignation one day previously — was not speaking of zika or ebola. He was talking about civilians filming police, a viral occurrence in recent years.
Bratton went on to equate recording law enforcement with intimidation and attempts to free individuals in police custody. “The community has to make up their mind if they want law enforcement or if they want mob rule,” Bratton said.
Much to the chagrin of top cops like Bratton, new technology has helped in recent years to pull back the curtain on policing in America. The widespread availability of smartphones and increased implementation of police-worn body cameras has meant acts of racialized brutality inflicted upon civilians by those sworn to protect them are being made more visible. This in turn has helped to fuel the Black Lives Matter movement with its calls to radically change the criminal justice system.
“The issue of police misconduct, police brutality, police killings particularly in Black and brown communities — none of that is new,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). “But for a portion of America who hasn’t been experiencing it on a daily basis, it’s been really important for them to witness what’s actually going on and for people of conscience to join together with one another.”
Facing heightened public scrutiny and a powerful protest movement that began two years ago this month in Ferguson, Missouri, law enforcement officials, police unions and their conservative political allies are diligently working to throw the spotlight off of police and roll back attempts to hold them accountable.
“As you see steps forward both in the capacity to shine a light on what police are doing and expose it to the world,” cautioned Verheyden-Hilliard, “you are going to see a parallel effort to try and push back against that because it is not in the state’s interest to have police accountability.”
On July 11, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a law exempting police body and dashboard camera footage from the state’s public record laws. North Carolina — together with South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Oregon and Illinois — is the sixth such state to do so.
Under House Bill 972, citizens who are filmed can view the material, as can interested reporters, but to do so requires filing a written request with law enforcement that police departments have the discretion to refuse. If such is the case, citizens and journalists must seek redress in court. Members of the public who are granted access to the footage can be prohibited from copying or distributing the material under the law.
McCrory has sought to portray HB 972 as a measure that strikes balance between open government and officer rights.
“If you hold a piece of film for a long period of time, you completely lose the trust of individuals,” McCrory said upon signing the legislation. However, “we’ve learned if you immediately release a video, sometimes it distorts the entire picture, which is extremely unfair to our law enforcement officials.”
The governor neglected to cite specific examples of body camera footage distorting the “entire picture.” When contacted, his office referred The Indypendent to Frank Perry with the North Carolina Office of Public Safety. Perry couldn’t provide any examples either but argued body cameras can render “an unfair angle or unfair picture of what happens” between law enforcement and the public. . .
When government begins seriously to protect government misconduct, as is happening in recent years in the U.S., the trajectory of events is headed in a bad direction.