By Staff Writers Gloria Chang & Julia Park
From Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson to the recent police shooting of Carnell Snell Jr. in Los Angeles, police violence against African-Americans has become a sensitive topic on social media. While potential discriminatory shootings and alleged misuse of body cameras deserve outrage, irresponsible and inflammatory posts on the Internet have hurt both police officers and the victims of discrimination. Despite the temptation to be combative, we must be civil in our search for justice.
On September 20 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Keith Scott was shot by a police officer who alleged that the 43-year-old black man possessed a gun. But the resultant violent protests stand in stark contrast to the peaceful vigils honoring Terrence Crutcher, another black man shot by the police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. What caused such different reactions for these two similar deaths? The answer lies in the Tulsa Police Department’s use of body camera footage. While Tulsa County quickly charged Police Officer Betty Shelby with manslaughter and the police department released body camera footage, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released footage only after a week of protest. Even then, the video was difficult to follow and had missing audio.
Introduced to police forces two years ago, body cameras seemed highly promising to both activists and police officers. The US Department of Justice has invested more than $23 million in body cameras for state and local departments in hopes of increasing transparency. Indeed, a new Cambridge University study suggests that complaints about police conduct decreased drastically when officers wore body cameras.
But Tulsa is an exception, not the status quo; more often than not, body cameras are accidentally (or conveniently) turned off, and consequences for these breaches of protocol are light. Additionally, laws allow police officers to review footage before filing their preliminary report. This defeats the accountability that body cameras are supposed to provide. When officers have the ability to make their own version of events based on the camera’s limited footage, protesters assume the worst.
Due to the inconsistent use of body cameras, people have been believing claims alternative to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s statements. Already, the Facebook video produced by Scott’s daughter offers a different narrative to the official statement. Public opinion influenced by these different accounts can make finding an impartial jury for police officers on trial difficult. On social media, provocative rhetoric and mistrust damages policemen’s reputations. Thoughtless, exaggerated comments on these mediums generalize the actions of a few police officers and disrespect the sacrifices of others.
The attacks on the police show that people are more concerned with proving their own political position than examining the problem. Squabbling on social media distracts from reality, turning African-American victims into mere talking points and transforming what should be a civil discussion into an argument about who stands on higher moral ground. For example, many discussions of police brutality, even among MSJ students, revolve around a mere hashtag. But claiming that #BlackLivesMatter is more direct or that #AllLivesMatter is more inclusive does nothing towards solving police brutality; these disputes simply serve to display the supporters’ own righteousness.
People as a society must act in a more constructive way. While it is reasonable to demand better body camera policies or more transparency, change must also come from within. Discussions on social media must be thoughtful and productive. Although it may be cathartic now to passionately condemn the police officers, demand video evidence, or blame the victim in question, we must reflect on what our purpose is in doing so.
Photos Courtesy Huffington Post