(Update – December 2, 2014) Rule of law?: The Charade of Video cameras and video destruction

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Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law, Advocates for US Torture Prosecutions

After the Ferguson non-indictment, the suggestion was made that all police should wear body cameras.  This suggestion while well-intended, gives me pause for two reasons.

First, in our inimical style the proposal provides a technology solution which essentially leaves to the side the training  and the law while suggesting a new lucrative national security market be opened.  The alliance between commerce and national security described by James Risen in Pay Any Price plays out in another direction. The suggestion is about putting more resources toward monitoring police action. Yet, we have seen numerous videos of people being killed by police over the past few months without any of those cases leading to indictments.  How will a body camera change that dynamic in any meaningful way is the question that comes to mind.  Some will remember the videotape of  Rodney King as a long ago example of just how meaningless such taping might really be.  Rather, a technological fix is proposed as some magic silver bullet.  We are just masking an inability or unwillingness to address more than this kind of cosmetic solution.

Second, some will remember the destruction of the CIA tapes of the torture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.  That destruction was done in violation of at least the spirit of a federal judge’s order to preserve evidence.  The judge, however, only slapped the government on the wrist with a “don’t do it again” admonition.  The DOJ  US Attorney John Durham declined to prosecute the destroyer of the video – Jose Rodriguez – for obstruction of justice or other charges and the case just went away.  If this reality is the rule of law, the gnawing question is what is the content of that rule of law so boldly put forward, yet, so parcimonious in its application.

A technology solution is a charade, a bandaid over a bullet wound.

(Update – the non-indictment in the Eric Garner case – where there was a video http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/03/justice/new-york-grand-jury-chokehold/index.html?hpt=hp_t1 – points out the fundamental charade of this proposal).