In a recent article, President Obama has proposed $263 million in funding for police body cameras and training with the intent on improving relations between police departments and the Black community. Since the Ferguson grand jury verdict not to indict Darren Wilson for killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown, relationships across the nation between citizens and the police force have erupted into opposition between the police and the Black community.
Citizens have responded to the verdict by demonstrations across the nation. Even the United Nations have expressed concern with the recent killings of citizens by police officers. A United Nations anti-torture panel that’s investigating the United States said Friday that it was deeply concerned by what it described as the high incidence of police brutality and shootings, especially against African-Americans in the United States.
The number of Blacks and unarmed persons killed by police is not available to the public. However, the FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report, reveals that there were 461 justifiable killings by police. Journalist estimate that there are 1,000 police killings a year. There seems to be a greater number of police killings when compared to other countries. For example, Great Britain had no fatal police shootings last year. Germany has recorded eight police killings over the past year. In Canada, our next door neighbor, the average number of police shootings is a dozen per year. None of these countries use body cameras and have the ability to successfully police without killing people.
The first problem with police body cameras is that it only tells one side of the story. It gives us a view from the police officers perspective, but it does not give us the perspective from the potential victim. The police camera does not gives a clue on how the police officer is evaluating the person’s behavior before shooting the person. For example, a White police officer tells the Black young man to put your hands ups. The Black young man puts his hands up but does not make eye contact with the White police officer. The White police officer has been taught since a child that people can be trusted if they make direct eye contact. The White police officer is thinking why is this Black man looking down. He must be looking for something. Maybe has a gun in his pocket? May be there is a gun on the ground? There is something suspicious about his behavior the police thinks. In that split second he squeezes the trigger slightly without firing.
The young Black man has been taught all his life that to make direct eye contact with a person in authority is disrespectful. He is innocently gazing at the ground in a position of surrender. The police tell him not to move. Keep you hands up!. The Black kid finally looks up and the move is swift and jerky. In a panic, the White police officer shoots, to find that he had no weapon. Subconsciously, is the police officer thinking, don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes?
Which leads to the second problem with police body cameras. The camera will not have the ability to provide the mindset of the police officer. It does not point to the fallacy with some of the thinking regarding the police culture. I remember when I met with a police sergeant associate of mine regarding a police community relations program that I developed. I finished my presentation and we started talking. I asked him, “What happens when a police officer makes a mistake?”. He said, “We do not worry about making mistakes, we know that people commit crimes and do not get caught”. I asked him, “What do you mean by that”. He stated, “All people speed. So if we make a mistake, we can chalk it up to a crime that you committed and did not get caught doing”. It is almost as a we against them mentality that will inhibit improved relations between the Black community and the police.
The third problem with police body cameras is that it will not transform the culture of the police force to one that is “friendly” to the Black community. Transforming a culture requires a shift in the mindset of both the police and the Black community. Police are taught even before they become police certain values that are contradictory to the Black community. Many Whites are taught and exhibit both verbal and nonverbal behavior that is contradictory to the Black community. And Blacks are taught the same.
The solution to improve community relations between the Black community and the police is not to provide the police with more gear. The only way to eliminate the distrust between Blacks and Whites police is to use a process that transforms the thinking regarding each other. It begins with developing a shared vision for that community. Then the police and the Black community must take that shared vision and develop a strategic plan for implementing that shared vision. This process forces a collaborative effort between the police and the Black community which is not available by providing police with police body cameras.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships
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