No matter how far you live from Ferguson, Missouri, if you’ve picked up a newspaper, watched TV news or read online reports, you know that the St. Louis suburb has descended into chaos. On August 9, 2014, a young black man named Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white policeman. Versions of the incident critically differ: some claim that the shooting of the unarmed Brown was unjustified, occurring merely because Brown and his companion walked in the street without otherwise provoking the shooting; however, the police chief claims that Brown was shot after physically assaulting the officer, first during a struggle with the police officer when Brown reached for the officer’s gun, and then immediately afterward outside the car.
Ferguson took a brief collective breath, and then all Hell grew and broke loose. A candlelight vigil held on August 10th to honor Brown’s memory quickly degenerated into rioting, vandalizing and looting. On August 11th, school was canceled and now remains closed until August 18th for the safety of students walking to and from school, police received death threats, and some protesting crowds were dispersed with tear gas. Since that time, there have been violent protests met with police use of teargas and smoke bombs to disperse protesters and media, some of whom were arrested.
Ferguson is merely the latest in a recent series of violent altercations between police and citizens: on July 1st, 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock was repeatedly punched in the face by a CHP officer near Culver City, CA; on August 1st, 43-year-old Eric Garner died from a police chokehold in New York City; on August 5th, 22-year-old John Crawford III was shot and killed by police at a Dayton, Ohio Walmart. Pinnock is white but the 3 other victims were black. In each case, one version indicates abject police brutality while the other version indicates reasonable force by the police.
What can be done about the violent confrontations and the confusion caused by wildly divergent versions? Perhaps police should wear small video cameras. A number of miniature, quiet body cameras with features preventing video alteration are available and even made specifically for law enforcement. Experts assert that video cameras improve the behavior of everyone, police and citizens alike. Police in Rialto, CA are living proof of the devices’ effectiveness: when Rialto police wore cameras, there was a 60% reduction in “use of force” occurrences and an 88% reduction in complaints about police. If wearable cameras become common police equipment, there may be: fewer violent incidents; fewer complaints against police; and video/audio proof about violent incidents.
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