Filming the police

Dear Editor,

While all eyes were glued to their television screens, smart devices, waiting with bated breaths just to hear the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial as it was announced in real time, cities around the USA braced for riots in the event a not guilty verdict was returned.

Judge Cahill read calmly the verdict arrived at by the 12-panel jury. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Sighs of relief came from most quarters: the police, the national guard, the business owners, commuters headed home around the country could now relax as the “mobsters” got what they wanted. But is it fair to call people who are fighting for justice mobsters? Should our forefathers be labelled as mobsters for having fought against their colonial oppressors?

Other countries to which the protests had spread last year after George Floyd’s death were also relieved that they wouldn’t have to deal with more protests while trying to curb the spread of this albatross around the necks of their economies known as COVID-19.

I have read some distasteful and harsh comments on social media about the case, which suggested that the defendant was already tried and convicted in the media. Others claimed that a guilty verdict was only arrived at to quell the masses and prevent further destruction of property by the hooligans who were waiting to capitalize on the protest to become lawless and commit crimes.

These comments are an affront to the justice system which is trying to evolve from its systemic racist position. Could any court of law really disregard the eight minutes and 46 seconds video we saw? We later learned during the trial that it was even worse than that — nine minutes and 29 seconds! Only those who still believe that it is okay for police officers to commit murder while being filmed felt that justice was not rightly served.

I’m no legal mind, but the witnesses for the prosecution were rightly selected to recount what happened on that fateful day, May 25, 2020. The prosecution made their case, and the defence had a difficult task of casting doubt on what was captured on camera or the first-hand testimonies of eyewitnesses along with expert testimonies from the medical and use of force experts.

The conviction of Derek Chauvin reminds us that we need to encourage more responsible policing across the world. Locally, we are grateful to the government for introducing body cameras to prevent the “your word against mine” scenario.

However, since not every police officer is fitted with a body camera, citizens should be encouraged to film their actions. These said videos can help either to exonerate or to incriminate the police officers of misconduct.

My idea of excessive force, harsh behavior, and tone is completely different from yours. Let the objective scale — the camera — do the talking and the jury through the court of law make that decision.

Police officers should not become uneasy or weary of being filmed if they are doing their job in a professional manner. The bystanders’ videos could also provide additional evidence to the prosecutorial team when dealing with difficult cases involving the police or any other person for that matter.

Derek Chauvin would probably have gotten away had it not been for those bystanders whose cameras gave a different perspective from the body cameras worn by the four officers.

Too often, a police officer’s report conflicts with the bodycam video, as we have seen in the recently released video of Adam Toledo, who was gunned down by a police officer in March.

In no way am I advancing an anti police stance. As a matter of fact, my father served some 27 years in the force and taught me how to respond to police officers. I too would have been a part of the police force had my mother not discouraged me.

What we, the citizens, want is plain and simple, proper policing. We want police officers who care about the safety, and well-being of the public as well as know how to address the public.

Every person regardless of their legal status, skin coloration, educational ability and mother tongue must be treated with the highest respect and decorum by police officers.

I maintain that once a relationship is built up between the police and the public there might be more people willing to come forward with pertinent information regarding various cases.

Kudos to those hardworking police officers who love their job and risk their lives to maintain law and order in our society. We are grateful for those police officers who are making every effort to serve, protect, and reassure citizens that their complaints will be dealt with in a timely manner.

However, the minority – the bad apples – bring shame and are sowing seeds of doubt and distrust in the hearts of the public.

Now, let us not fool ourselves, the police force was always used to maintain the status quo even during slavery. So, naturally, it has a stain and a bad taste in the lives of the many blacks who were dehumanized, endured hardship and injustice at the hands of police officers.

We are no longer in slavery or any oppressive period of history; therefore, the behavior of police officers must be humane, reassuring and less confrontational. Police officers must always attempt to de-escalate the situation as they are aptly trained to do.

So, the next time we encounter the police we should not be treated based on how we look, how we sound and the car we drive. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Isn’t that still the legal mantra?

We all have our prejudices but as professionals, we need to deal with the public whose interests we serve with dignity. So, I say to police officers, do not forbid filming unless you have something to hide.

Pastor Carlyle Peart

Associate pastor of Christian education,

Grace Community Church

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