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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Columns

Law in North Carolina leaves little room for transparency


After the shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott in North Carolina on Sept. 20, there were many unanswered questions even though the public had seen multiple videos related to the incident.

A week later, the Charlotte Police Department released the footage of the shooting in response to public protest and rioting, causing the majority to wonder if this is another unwarranted death at the hands of the police.

The video shows Scott stepping out of his vehicle and backing away from it. His hands were down by his sides. As he steps away from the truck, the police officers yell, “Drop the gun!”

Scott’s wife says, “He doesn’t have a gun!”

The video ends with shots being fired and the police handcuffing Scott as he lets out his last breaths from the bullet wounds.

Transparent with limitations

It’s hard to know what led up to that moment or what made the police open fire, but what is shown on the video isn’t enough to stymie the outrage of the black community.

There is no clear view of Scott’s supposed firearm, but again the public has divided opinions on what really happened.

Although the dashboard and body cameras provided no additional evidence, they served their purpose as more gas for the media to fuel the fire of an ensuing race war.

However, that may all change come Oct. 1, when a new law that restricts the police from releasing video recordings to the public will come into effect. North Carolina is only one of 20 states moving to block footage release.

It’s no surprise that Texas is also featured on that list.

This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said.

The statement seems a bit ironic. To gain public trust the law must be transparent, but in what way is barring footage and not holding police enforcement accountable in any way transparent?

The definition of transparent is something that is easy to perceive or detect. How can the public perceive something they can’t see?

The truth: It’s Big Brother holding the hand of its erstwhile little brother, American citizens, telling the people what to see and how to think.

The only thing that would remain is taking the police at their word, but that is hard to do. It is a known fact that though there are great police officers that value life and their duty, many also don’t.

Will they not be held responsible?

Body cameras were useful in the indictment of two police officers who claimed self-defense when they shot and killed Jeremy Mardis, a 6-year-old autistic child in Louisiana, who sat buckled in the passenger seat.

The video footage clearly showed it was not self-defense.

Who polices the police?

Refusing to release police recordings does not just harm public relations for law enforcement. It also sets a precedent that holds citizens accountable for their crimes while cops don’t have to abide the same laws.

If a police officer shoots a complying man, it is either murder or aggravated assault.

Case in point: Charles Kinsey, a black man and behavior therapist in Miami, who was trying to help an autistic man in the street.

The police received a call about an armed man, which turned out to be Kinsey’s autistic patient sitting in the middle of the street with a toy.  Kinsey did everything he was told to do, including lying on his back with his empty hands raised, and yet he was still shot.

The incident was cited as a “mistake” by police. They said the intended target was the patient, who the officer had seen reaching for Kinsey. The officer was accused of misconduct but was not charged.

Where was justice then?

The public needs to have their voice heard. To do that, all the available evidence needs to be transparent, not just what the police want to be seen. Without the footage, who is going to hold law enforcement accountable for their “mistakes?”

Who will protect the people when law enforcement fails to?

The law to restrict police footage is injudicious and will warrant nothing but contempt and backlash, because let’s call it what it is: damage control.

Senior staff columnist Caprice Carter is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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