Transparency: Now You See It, Now You Don’t!

It’s time to Break It Down!

Monday night’s first Presidential Debate between Secretary Clinton and billionaire tycoon Donald Trump is in the books. It has been deemed the most watched tete-e-tete in the history of Presidential Debates, with an estimated 84 million viewers, according to CNN. There will be two more debates between the duo competing to become the 45th President of the United States. So while a number of polls, analysts, as well as men and women on the street assessed Clinton to be the winner of the contest, it is worth recalling that Mitt Romney took sitting President Barack Obama to the woodshed in their first debate in 2012, and yet POTUS rallied to prevail in the next two meetings, and to recapture the Presidency.

Meanwhile, it’s been a tough week in my adopted hometown of Charlotte. While the entire state is reeling from the consequences of standing foursquare behind HB 2, familiarly known as the “Bathroom Bill,” in Charlotte, two black men were killed on successive days last Tuesday and Wednesday, civil unrest erupted as protests ensued, Governor McCrory declared a State of Emergency and called out the National Guard, numerous protesters were arrested, and just yesterday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department was forced to evacuate due to a bomb scare. Suffice it to say, in any number of realms, there is a lot to hold our attention, a lot about which to be concerned, and most certainly, a lot worthy upon which to focus a blog post.

I considered all of the above, and after doing so, I opted to spend a few moments elevating another topic that I believe is critical, or at least should be, to all people who consider themselves concerned about truth, justice, and the American way, particularly as it is practiced in The Old North State (North Carolina, in case you are unfamiliar with the appellation). At a time when African Americans in particular, seem to be under siege and threat of death by what should often be the most routine of police encounters, North Carolina is joining a number of other states in enacting a dubious law, HB 972, that will limit citizens’ access to police video.

The new law goes into effect in North Carolina October 1st (Saturday). In a seemingly ironic twist, a number of states, most importantly (to me), North Carolina among them, have opted to respond to a growing outcry in the wake of black men shot and killed by police by dramatically tamping down public access to police initiated video, including video from dash cameras, and from body cameras. That the official enactment follows so closely the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer simply added more fuel to an already active debate. That debate was further stoked by Chief Kerr Putney’s initial position that he would not release video related to the Scott shooting. In a community with already frayed relations and fleeting trust between community and police, the mere prospect that the Chief would run out the clock until the new law took effect upped the ante and heightened the tension as the protests continued day after day.

To provide some idea of how…and more importantly why concerned citizens have every right to be (concerned), the short title for the law primarily sponsored by Representatives Faircloth, McNeill, Boles, and Hurley is Law Enforcement Recordings (Body-Worn & Dashboard Cameras)/No Public Record. The phrase to the right of the slash, No Public Record pretty much says it all. The idea behind body and dash cameras was that they would help provide a record of law enforcement’s actions when interacting with the public, and establish a basis for ensuring that the rights of citizens engaging law enforcement officers are not abrogated. This new and very unimproved law effectively disconnects the utilization of cameras from protecting the rights of citizens. In effect, in the prevailing environment when citizens are demanding transparency, accountability, and protection of their rights, they will now be thrust into an environment that looks and feels a lot like life before video cameras.

Upon signing HB 972 into law in June, Governor McCrory justified the law by insisting that body-camera footage, along with footage from dash cameras can “mislead and misinform” the public.” In an amazing display of disregard for other peoples’ common sense, the Governor added that the new law, as configured, will actually “ensure transparency.” Of course it will!

The operational framework of HB 972 is stated thusly:

“AN ACT TO PROVIDE THAT RECORDINGS MADE BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES ARE NOT PUBLIC RECORDS, TO ESTABLISH WHETHER, TO WHOM, AND WHAT PORTIONS OF A RECORDING MAY BE DISCLOSED OR A COPY RELEASED, TO ESTABLISH THE PROCEDURE FOR CONTESTING A REFUSAL TO DISCLOSE A RECORDING OR TO OBTAIN A COPY OF A RECORDING, TO DIRECT STATE OR LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES TO PROVIDE, UPON REQUEST, ACCESS TO A METHOD TO VIEW AND ANALYZE RECORDINGS TO THE STATE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION AND THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE CRIME LABORATORY, TO AUTHORIZE GOVERNMENTAL AND NONGOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ESTABLISH AND OPERATE HYPODERMIC SYRINGE AND NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAMS, AND TO OFFER LIMITED IMMUNITY TO EMPLOYEES, VOLUNTEERS, AND PARTICIPANTS OF AUTHORIZED HYPODERMIC SYRINGE AND NEEDLE.”

As you can see, in addition to cameras, the law also covers a hypodermic syringe and needle exchange program. The combining of the very unrelated matters appears to be a function of one of those ploys legislators with competing interests use; adding item B as a condition of getting item A. I will not address the syringe/needle portion of the law.

Not surprising, there are those who disagree. Count me among them. According to the tenets of the new law, footage resulting from cameras will be categorized as personnel records. As a result, the only people who are allowed to see the video are those in the video and their relatives. In order for journalists and the public to access video footage, they will have to secure a court order. Even police departments that wish to release video footage on their own aegis will have to seek approval to do so from a state superior court judge. Also, police departments are authorized to deny access to video if they determine that footage will damage an officer’s reputation, harm an investigation, or jeopardize an individual’s safety.

I cannot close this post without including a disclaimer. There are phenomenal men and women in our nation’s police departments. I not only believe that, I know a number of them. Having said that, the rules have been revised to make it much more difficult for the public to benefit from tools that were originally put in place with them in mind.

So why is this matter important…to me personally? Race is pivotal in police shootings. Body cameras and dash cameras are a vital tool in addressing this matter. According to the Washington Post, although black men account for 6 percent of America’s population, they accounted for 40% of the unarmed men shot to death by police in 2015. Interestingly, the majority of instances in which police shot and killed someone with a weapon or who brandished a gun, the person was white. Conversely, a tremendously disproportionate number, 60%, of people killed after exhibiting less threatening behavior were black or Hispanic. So aitch yes, I am concerned about, for all practical purposes, taking cameras out of citizens’ equation for interacting with police. It’s pretty much abracadabra, “Transparency: Now You See It, Now You Don’t”

I’m done; holla back!

Read my blog anytime by clicking the link: http://thesphinxofcharlotte.com. Find a new post each Wednesday.

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Consult the links below for more detailed information on a variety of aspects relating to this post:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/12/politics/north-carolina-police-recording-law/index.html

http://wbay.com/2016/09/27/bomb-threat-made-at-charlotte-police-hq-suspicious-package-found/

http://www.essence.com/news/north-carolina-body-camera-footage

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/us/keith-scott-charlotte-police-shooting.html?_r=0

http://wgntv.com/2016/09/22/man-shot-during-protests-dies-unrest-continues-in-charlotte/

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/09/mccrory-calls-state-of-emergency-in-north-carolina-deploys-national-guard-228506

http://www.kentucky.com/news/nation-world/national/article103336577.html

https://www.yahoo.com/news/m/0720b197-0dc0-3501-87db-f5d5605d59ce/ss_unrest-in-charlotte%2C-north.html

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/latest-more-charlotte-protesters-face-charges

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/09/25/nc-among-states-limit-access-police-videos/91080306/

http://ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/PDF/H972v7.pdf

http://ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2015/Bills/House/HTML/H972v1.html

https://www.rt.com/usa/180648-police-shootings-african-american/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/12/26/a-year-of-reckoning-police-fatally-shoot-nearly-1000/

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-murder-convictions-rare-police-white-lynchers-article-1.2437827

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