With the recent death of Eric Garner at the hands of the
NYPD, a bit more attention has been placed on the police in America
lately. The incident in Ferguson,
Missouri has also helped people realize that the police are not always the
great heroes they are made out to be.
Actually, it is the reaction of the police to the protests in Ferguson
that has been even more glaring.
Like anything in life, there are good cops and bad
cops. The problem is that they
hold a legal monopoly on the use of force. And this often leads to a lack of accountability. How many times do we see wrongdoing of
cops, only for them to go on administrative leave (usually paid), while their
own buddies supposedly investigate?
It usually takes a really serious incident with absolute
proof before the other police will finally turn on their own. It is only at that point that the person
might be fired. It is rare that
there are criminal charges.
Personally, I think the police should be held criminally
liable for their actions, even when on duty. Some say this will restrain them from doing their job. But that is the point.
If Eric Garner had been in a shopping mall or some other
event with a private security firm, do you think it would have ended the same
way? Private security guards tend
to want to de-escalate situations.
In 2011, Jose LaSalle witnessed the abusiveness of some cops
in Harlem. His stepson, who was
only 16 at the time, was stopped by NYPD officers and had the sense to record
the incident. The police officers
threatened the boy with physical harm, and even used racial slurs.
Frustrated with the incident and others like it, along with
the lack of accountability, LaSalle later took matters in to his own
hands. He fought back with video
cameras and volunteers.
He formed a group called CopWatch, which involves a small
group of people going out on the streets to film the police, particularly when
they are doing their stop-and-frisk activities.
LaSalle’s organization does not directly file complaints on
behalf of victims of police abuse.
However, the work of him and his group has a strong deterrence effect. It is amazing the difference in
behavior of some cops who know that they have a camera recording their words
Technology and Civil
Many people today believe that our world of advanced
technology is a detriment to our liberty.
Just look at the NSA and the revelations by Edward Snowden. The federal government is collecting
most of our electronic data. We
really don’t have any privacy from the government when it comes to email, phone
calls, and any other computer-based communications.
However, I believe that technology, while playing both a
positive and negative role towards liberty, is a net positive overall. This story about CopWatch is a perfect
example of where technology is on our side.
The majority of people in the U.S. now have a cell
phone. Most of the new cell phones
have video cameras. So most people
walking around are walking around with a video camera available in their
pocket. They can usually turn it
on in less than 10 seconds.
Politicians like to say that if you have nothing to hide,
then you shouldn’t be afraid. This
usually applies to each new invasion of our privacy and civil liberties. While it is a completely false and
absurd statement, it is more accurate when it comes to the police.
If the police have nothing to hide, then they shouldn’t mind
having cameras on them. The good
police officers have nothing to worry about as long as they keep doing their
job and acting in a professional and non-abusive manner. It is the bad cops who should be afraid
of the camera.
Ironically, the NYPD recently announced its own plans to
have some officers where video cameras while on duty. This may just be to quell opposition. But this should really be a goal of
liberty activists and those concerned with police abusing their power.
Let’s have all police where cameras, or at least audio
recorders, at all times while working.
Technology is cheap enough now that it is feasible.
Aside from privatizing the police, I can’t think of a better
way to significantly reduce the abuse of power and to hold the police more
accountable. We can fight back
with technology on our side.