It’s been more than two years since Chieu-di Thi Vo took a fatal bullet from the gun of a Greensboro police officer.
It was a grisly scene, we’re told: Out on the front lawn, Vo, 47 years old and diagnosed as bipolar, came at Officer TJ Bloch with a knife. Bloch ordered her to stop. Vo, who didn’t speak English, kept coming. Bloch fired five times. Vo went down and didn’t get up. Her mother was standing there the whole time.
And though a video camera on Bloch’s uniform captured the entire episode, the only history we have of that day is the official one, written from a specific point of view.
Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Miller contended that the footage was classified as a part of a personnel file back in 2014 — protected under public records law — and Mayor Nancy Vaughan was unable to whip enough votes on council to have the video made public.
Now she’s got another shot.
Council will vote on Tuesday, May 3 on whether the Vo footage will be released to the public. This time they must get it right.
A lot has happened in the two years since the shooting. Bloch left the force, according to an article in the News & Record, and we as a nation have begun to come to grips with police body cameras and their proper use. Whether one believes that every minute of the footage recorded on them is public record, or that officers should somehow be protected from this type of scrutiny doesn’t really matter at this point. It is inevitable that footage from police body cameras will one day be properly classified as public record. It might as well be, because everybody’s recording everything on their cell phones anyway.
And the fact is that objective footage of police interactions gone wrong likely protects officers from false accusations as often as it convicts them. As body cameras proliferate, the bad actors in our police departments will either knock it off, knowing they will be held accountable for their actions, or be forced out.
Nevertheless, every second of footage recorded by the body cameras is public record, paid for on the public dime and worn by the people we pay to maintain law and order. We must insist on it.
Without the intervention of an engaged citizenry, this issue could easily take a dark turn. Even now the NC General Assembly is planning to enact HB2-like legislation preventing cities from calling their own shots on this issue.
Like many other laws passed by this crew, this one looks illegal on its face.
Soon enough, the arc of justice will bend toward the light. In Greensboro, it needs to start right now. Two years is already too long to wait.