Will video cameras reduce police brutality?
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE | 12/13/2014, 11:31 p.m.
(NNPA) – “I can’t believe that in the 21st century in the United States of America, we can’t get a simple indictment for a murder of a man that was caught on videotape,” said New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke hours after the news of a Staten Island grand jury failed to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
Pantaleo, a New York City cop, has two lawsuits against him. One was settled by the city of New York. The other is still pending. Pantaleo strangled 48-year-old Eric Garner to death on July 17, less than a month before a White Ferguson Police Officer shot teenager Michael Brown to death.
But in Garner’s case it was all on video.
On Dec.1, President Obama asked Congress to approve $263 million for police body cameras and training. The $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for police has been a primary focus of what many hope is a solution to police brutality – or at least a tool that will make it easier to prosecute police involved in misconduct.
But with a partisan fight underway over the president’s immigration executive order, there’s a real question about whether Congress will take action on his proposal. But the bigger question is: Will video matter? If a cop can’t be indicted for choking a man to death on a city street, then under what circumstances can a cop be indicted?
Garner was begging for his life and said 11 times, “I can’t breathe” when Pantaleo held him in a choke hold that even New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton called “disturbing” and a violation of police procedure. And even with all of it caught on video, there was no indictment.
Several elected officials are focusing on the question of whether cameras are the solution.
“What good is a body camera? A body camera is supposed to be utilized so you can see what facts took place. So in effect we had a body camera here; we see it all,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y.
“It brings into question whether body cameras will make any difference. The whole incident was on camera, but if prosecutors mishandled the presentation of the charges to the grand jury, you come up with no indictment,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “Given what’s happened in Ferguson and the tenor of where I see a lot of people in this country, I’m not surprised” at the outcome.
“When you have an apparent felonious action on videotape, someone engaging in an illegal chokehold that causes someone’s death, it’s very difficult to understand how there’s not an indictment, and not at least probable cause,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
The timing of the grand jury non-indictment and the body-camera issue could not be more relevant. Not only did Obama focus on the issue on Dec. 1, but body cameras will soon be in widespread use by the largest police department in the country. Starting over the weekend, 50 NYPD officers began wearing body cameras. The program is then expected to expand to 35,000 officers after a three-month trial period.