The Need for Police Body Cameras in the Wake of Ferguson

One thing I noticed while watching mainstream coverage of Ferguson was how any place reporters had set up a stationary camera, the police would shine a bright light at the camera. One CNN reporter actually commented on it, and said he didn’t know why the cops were shining a light at reporters. Seems obvious to me: at night, the light messes with the camera’s light meter, and essentially makes everything on the far side of the light source invisible to the camera. The police do not want to be watched. They want their activities to go unrecorded. They want the activities of the people they are policing to go unrecorded. They know that if anything that happens leads to legal action, they will be completely protected so long as there is no recorded proof of the incident itself. It’s the same reason the airspace over Ferguson was declared a no-fly zone, and media aircraft were kicked out.

Thankfully, the courts have decided that it is not unlawful to record the police, but why should it be incumbent on the policed to make those recordings? The White House issued a bullshit response to the original petition calling for police to be required to wear body cameras. Make no mistake, it is a bullshit response, one that boils down to, “we will do nothing,” because no politician wants to be on the wrong side of the police unions when election time rolls around.

Police need to be held accountable for criminal actions. There is a preponderance of evidence that, if nothing else, the investigation into Mike Brown’s murder was massively mishandled, to a degree that conspiracy seems much more likely than incompetence. At every step along the way, from the crime-scene tech with a dead camera battery to the prosecutor who seemed to be working for the defense, there was an absolute unwillingness to challenge the police. The people who work closely with the police, who rely on the police for their jobs and personal success, will always be unwilling to challenge the police in any situation where there could be even a whiff of subjectivity.

And this makes a police officer’s uniform a symbol of otherness, of immunity from the laws they enforce, of unchecked authority, and power without balance. It demeans the uniform, it undermines the ideas of protection, service, and justice. It makes the police an invading force, operating from a different culture, morality, and rule of law than the people they police.

Body cameras should be required for all on-duty police officers. They should be a part of the uniform. Not as a symbol of mistrust. Not as a way of saying that the police must be watched. But because the police should be representatives of the people. So that the police and the policed know that when they stand before each other they are equal in their accountability. The actions of the police are not the actions of some other, but the actions of the community. No more than a criminal should believe himself in opposition solely to the badge and gun, but not the community he preys on, or than an innocent man and his community should fear victimization by outsiders, should any community be allowed to choose ignorance, to turn away when vile things are done in its name.

Justice is not a game of cops and robbers, it is the accountability of the community to itself. Unjust laws and policies can not change, and the just ones will forever lack credibility, so long as they are enforced out of sight.

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One Response to “The Need for Police Body Cameras in the Wake of Ferguson”

  1. reagonforpresident Says:

    Interesting observation.

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