Put Body Cams on All the Cops

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I ran across this video yesterday of an interaction between a law enforcement officer and a young black man in Pontiac, MI that as far as I can tell was filmed on Thanksgiving morning. The video graphically and starkly shows a young man being harassed for the crime of walking while being black on a Thursday morning, also helpfully illustrates the power of video recording devices to prevent escalation of what could otherwise become dangerous situations:

I have long been a proponent of increased video recordings of the activities of police. This interaction helpfully indicates at least part of the reason why. Here we have an interaction between a young man who is clearly (and justifiably) resentful of the unjustified interruption of his daily routine by the police on a cold day where he did nothing wrong other than walk with his hands in his pockets. And despite the fact that there’s some clear level of resentment and mistrust that goes both ways in this interaction, at the end of the day everyone walks way peacefully and we have a full record of what occurred, both from the perspective of the young man and from the cop. And here we have a scenario where we can post this peaceful video on YouTube and have discussions about why these interactions take place in the absence of any dead young men or rioting in the streets. And I think that the fact that both parties knew they were being recorded played no small hand in that.

Now, in the situation in Ferguson, it’s probable that no amount of cameras would have served to de-escalate that situation. But after the fact, wouldn’t it be better to have some sort of actual record of what occurred? Wouldn’t it be great to not have conflicting eyewitness statements about whether Michael Brown had his hands up or was charging Darren Wilson? Wouldn’t it be better if we had video? I think it’s incontrovertible that if we did, one way or the other, this situation would be resolved much more peacefully than it currently is.

To my mind, the first and easiest solution, at the state-wide level, is for states to pass laws making it explicitly clear that the recording of police officers is legal. Judicial precedent makes it clear that it is legal under the First Amendment, but it would nonetheless be helpful to send a message to …read more    

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