What do you think would have happened had footage of Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of Baton Rouge police not been captured by a bystander on a cellphone?
And what would we have been told of the murder of Philando Castile during a traffic stop outside Minneapolis if his girlfriend had not live-streamed the immediate aftermath to her Facebook page?
This footage, on both instances, refuted the initial narratives posited by police, suggesting that perhaps, in shootings like these, police tend to protect their own.
This is not to disparage the city police departments — and, more directly, the men and women who serve them. By design, law enforcement agencies have constructed mores and processes that relieve officers from the type of accountability regular citizens face when they kill people. Any cop, at any time, can be called upon to draw his weapon and shoot someone with it. Some degree of protection is necessary.
Also necessary is public access to the police body-camera footage of these incidents, because in light of past performance, the public has lost trust in law enforcement’s version of events.
One would imagine, although it’s impossible to know for sure, that body-camera footage exonerates police officers at least as often as it disparages them, and that most police act entirely within the ethical and legal guidelines of their profession.
Unfortunately it only takes a few rogue officers to besmirch the whole bunch, especially when the department does nothing to expel them.
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory this week signed legislation taking police body camera footage off the public record, suggesting that he is perhaps not as confident in the actions of law enforcement as we are — why else would he want to hide their activities?
In any case, police accountability must come from within — from the silent majority of sworn officers and brass who thus far have not spoken out when one of their own takes human life unnecessarily and without legal justification, for fear of violating the sanctity of the blue line.
Because it’s becoming obvious that a solution will not be forthcoming from our elected officials.
So we’re calling on the police to police themselves: to ostracize racist cops, monitor illegal activity and pursue accountability when the actions of a few endanger the reputation of all the rest.
Most people become cops because they consider themselves to be the good guys. And until we’re proven wrong, we prefer to believe that most of them are.
But we won’t know for sure until they step up.