There’s a great clamoring for police to wear body cameras at all times. I completely understand this desire. Even if, as some people claim, abuse of power incidents are not increasing, public awareness of them is certainly on the rise. If you are guilty of Driving While Black or have the bad luck to run into a demented power freak who wants to use his badge to kill you or fuck you up, then it would be nice to know the camera was rolling.
Why not? I can think of two reasons. The first, and most important, is that it increases the number of surveillance cameras spying on us by hundreds of thousands, or probably millions, eventually. I don’t like living in the surveillance state and I certainly don’t want to give editorial power to bad cops who can point their cameras wherever they want. They can film you without cause, they can use images in their video to inspect you and your surroundings. They can point their cameras away from any wrongdoing by fellow officers to undermine claims of abuse. It’s a very imperfect solution.
The second reason is that most cops are not abusive. They protect communities and risk their lives. They should not have to be burdened with the stress of recording every move they make during a shift if they are not doing anything wrong. Would you like to wear a camera all day at work and have the public inspect your every move. Every conversation you had, every off hand comment, every stop for a cup of coffee? It seems we are presuming guilt in a large population of workers in order to stop the horrific abuses of some of them.
I don’t have the perfect answer to this, I’m just raising the question. It seems that the prevalence of cell phone cameras addresses a lot of the problem, but that’s cold comfort if you are alone and under threat by an abusive cop. But if you are in that situation, what compels the police officer to accurately record his abuse? Is the penalty for turning off your recorder worse than the penalty for murder?
It’s all very crazy. Very crazy. And an outcome of the increasingly polarized society we live in where brutality and bullying became acceptable behavior when George W. Bush began his tinhorn cowboy phase after 9/11. After two terms of completely off the rails behavior, Barack Obama was elected and it became acceptable in many places to let your inner-racist roam free. We have seen a precipitous decline in civilized behavior, cheered on by unregulated media conglomerates and we now find ourselves begging to be spied on to protect us from our abusers. That isn’t freedom.