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Death of Freddie Gray: a Case for Universal Police Body Cameras

2015-04-28

For those of you who haven’t heard this yet, a young Baltimore man named Freddie Gray died a week after being arrested; immediately after arrest, it was discovered by emergency personnel that he had a near total spinal cord injury.  The circumstances of his arrest and the injury caused by the arrest are in some dispute, but it appears that the police department cannot deny responsibility for causing his spinal cord to be severed.

According to the New York Times, there was a report that not only had “80 percent” of his spinal cord severed, but also that his “larynx was crushed.”  These two injuries, either one of which could be fatal, may or may not have occurred during the performance of some particular action, each specify a cause for excessive force used in the arrest.  It is said that the arrest occurred after he tried to escape the police on a bicycle.  He was heard by numerous witnesses screaming as he was put in a police van, whether in pain or fear is unspecified.

The exact circumstances of the grievous injuries that Freddie Gray suffered are in doubt, mainly because none of the witnesses will talk, and being police officers, they have a right not to explain their actions.  If each police officer was wearing a miniature camera attached to his or her shirt pocket, a camera that could not be turned off, the cause of Freddie Gray’s death would be more apparent.

Now, just after his burial, there are riots and the National Guard has been called out.  Baltimore is a majority black city that has a black mayor and black police chief but whose lower level city employees are partly holdovers from previous unrepresentative city governments.  Thus the lack of respect for the police department shown in rioting, at least in one way of looking at it.  In another way, the riots were an inevitable consequence of a very poor prior behavior record of the police officers, individually and as a group.

There is general agreement that the Baltimore police department has a problem with excessive use of force and alienation from the community.  Freddie Gray is not the first young black man to be killed by Baltimore police officers under questionable or obviously unwarranted circumstances.

The death of Freddie Gray merely added another to the cases, evidence of a deliberate though unwritten policy of maximum use of force.  There is no punishment for merely punching the arrestee a couple of times.  Fellow officers can always be relied upon for corroboration of the standard lies about “he was reaching for his pocket” and the like.

The cure for this problem: now that the technology is here, a miniature camera perched on the shirt pocket of every police officer, a camera that cannot be turned off.  Soon, police training will include a short course in etiquette and the practice of verbally de-escalating a situation.  It is incredible that technology appears to offer a magical solution to the problem of excessive use of force, but I think that it has actually happened.

Covering one’s camera lens with a piece of electrical tape will be prima facie evidence of malign intent.  How simple can one get?  I am sold, and I invite objections to this idea.

 

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