Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For

I have to give the self-appointed "leaders of the African-American Community" who are calling for mandatory use of cameras and microphones on police officers working in urban settings some credit.  By doing so they are taking the risk of losing control of the narrative in incidents like the one that happened recently in Ferguson, Missouri.

Right now, every young black man shot by a white police officer was innocently minding his own business until that member of an "institutionally racist" department started harassing him for no good reason.  That harassment continued until the confrontation turned physical--and the officer shot and killed the victim despite the young man not having any weapons.  Because the police response will always be "The matter is under investigation and we will not comment until that probe is completed", that leaves the media with just one version to present over and over and over again.

But when you introduce a camera to that same situation, you now have a dispassionate witness to all of the events.  A witness that doesn't have an agenda, a witness that doesn't know anything about race and a witness that can provide near-instant recall of what happened on video time after time after time. 

And if that video shows suspicious activity on the part of the victim, if it shows resistance or defiance, if it shows attempts to flee, if it shows sudden movements, if it shows an attempt to attack, or if it shows something that appeared to be a gun or another weapon in the hand of the victim--then the element of "complete innocence" is lost.  And once that is gone, so too will be Anderson Cooper 360, the busloads of out-of-town protesters, the break from Presidential vacations to issue a special statement from Martha's Vineyard and the celebrities at the funeral.

Obviously, the call for cameras on all cops is meant to be a form of intimidation--a sort of "we've got our eyes on you at all times" idea that they want to plant in the minds of officers.  But will that self-doubt override their training in dealing with potentially dangerous situations?  Will an officer really think "How will this look on video?" before he pulls his weapon to protect himself or others?  I doubt it.

I have no problem with officers being mobile recording devices.  As I said before, having an unbiased witness to all incidents is a valuable resource.  It's just that not everyone is going to like what they see and what they hear.

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