Friday, December 05, 2014

He Can't Breathe

The biggest topic in the US is what happened in the grand jury decision on Staten Island concerning the killing of Eric Garner and the protests following it.  The twin concerns of the protesters (and, slowly, of many, many more in the country) are racism and police brutality and the intersection of the two.

The list of similar cases is getting far too long, though in at least one recent case the white police officer killing an unarmed black man was charged with murder.  That is one exception in the long line of dismal judicial decisions where grand juries tend not to find further cause when the offender is a police officer.

One practical proposal to do something about these injustices is to furnish all police with body cameras.  That the death of Eric Garner was caught on camera tells us that body cameras are not a perfect solution.  On the other hand, evidence from trials suggests that body cameras can help by changing behavior:

In Rialto, citizen complaints against the police declined by eighty-eight per cent during the year that the cameras were used, while the use of force by police officers fell by sixty per cent. Moreover, the incidents involving the use of force by camera-wearing officers all started with a suspect physically threatening the officer. The numbers suggest that such provocation was not an essential element with officers who weren’t wearing cameras.

The article I link to  argues that body cameras won't save us, and that's probably correct if "saving" means that these problems would completely vanish with the use of such cameras.  But they can help by affecting behavior and by recording some information.  Remember, the alternative is to have no body cameras.

It is the movement which is building because of Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and other cases which has the potential to make a difference.