This weekend we are seeing the media engaged in endless navel gazing as to what comes next for those who remain angry over the grand jury’s decision regarding Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown. There are additional marches and demonstrations being planned for those who still wish to “seek justice” somehow, while rejecting the idea that our system of criminal justice was precisely what was at play in that courthouse. But on a separate and potentially more productive front, others are working on passing new laws requiring body cameras and monitors mounted in police vehicles for all officers. Supporters are hoping to assign the rather inappropriate name, Mike Brown’s law to such measures.
Since a grand jury blamed the non-indictment of the officer who killed their son on a lack of evidence, Michael Brown’s parents have called for a law in his name forcing every police officer in America to wear a body camera. The Mike Brown Law would mean that “we won’t have to play this game of witnesses, mirrors and secret grand jury proceedings” with future cases, the family’s attorney told reporters on Tuesday –“so we won’t have to see this play out over and over again all across this country,” Brown’s father said Wednesday on the Today show.
Evidence suggests that cameras may well reduce some of the egregious police misconduct long in existence but made most visible by Ferguson. But recent events show that body-cams alone are not enough to prevent systematic abuses by officers or to ensure their victims receive justice.
As the editorial above notes, body cameras alone will not be some sort of panacea for all racially charged encounters between police officers and suspects, and I’ve wrestled with the idea of such a law myself. But after lengthy consideration, I have to conclude that it would be a net benefit to the entire system if the costs at local levels can be managed and the technology is implemented with sufficient transparency. The Michael Brown case should wind up being a powerful argument in favor of such rules now that the grand jury evidence has been trickling out. Had there been cameras inside of Officer Wilson’s car and on his uniform, we likely would have seen Mike Brown’s fist hammering repeatedly into the squad car toward the cop’s face, as well as a heated struggle where the suspect attempted to wrestle away the officer’s weapon. Outside the vehicle, as the blood evidence revealed, we would almost surely have seen Brown turn after his initial flight and charge at least 21 feet back toward Wilson. With all of that video evidence in hand, how vigorous would the protests have been? How many homes and businesses would not have been burned and looted? How many cars would not be smoldering, burned out wrecks today?
So this could be a good thing. But why would we choose to call it Mike Brown’s Law if there is a serious desire to get legislative buy-in for the proposal? A law like this would not only be designed to protect the rights of suspects in the event that do actually have a run in with a rogue cop, but it would also prevent police officers from unfair accusations. Naming the law after Darren Wilson would probably be a bit too much of a poke in the eye for many elected officials and be seen as too much of a hot potato to handle. So what say we think about passing the Jim Parker Law?
You may remember officer Parker from our previous coverage of the story of Daniele Watts. The actress accused Officer Parker of horrible, racist actions when she was questioned by police following complaints from citizens that a couple was seen having sex in their car on a public street. But being Hollywood, cameras were rolling on the entire incident and Parker was later fully vindicated to the point where civil rights leaders were calling on Watts to apologize for concocting this story. What if there had been no cameras present that day? The story would still probably be dragging out and Parker might have eventually been forced from his job by a pitchfork wielding political correctness mob, despite having done nothing wrong.
Those cameras made the difference, and Parker should serve as an ideal “poster officer” for such an initiative. (In case you were wondering, Parker remains on the job, while Watts and her boyfriend still face one count of lewd conduct, with their hearing having been recently postponed to December 8th.) Ironically, this is one issue where you can find supporters in both liberal and conservative circles for such legislation, though often for essentially opposite reasons. As I noted before, we’ll have to work out how this gets paid for and make sure the technology actually works in ways which are transparent and can be trusted by all parties. But if that can be done, passing Jim Parker’s Law could solve quite a few ills.