Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson, Uncertainty, and a Way to Move Forward

I have been silent about the Ferguson matter so far, but I think it's time that I try to articulate a few of my thoughts on this matter.

Before I begin, I want to get something out of the way first. No matter what happened between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown, there is no doubt in my mind that race is an issue in our law enforcement. The reactions of people across the country to this event very clearly demonstrates that fact. People of color in our society simply do not feel protected by the police force that surrounds them, rather, they feel threatened by them. And this is a situation that simply must change moving forward if we want to create an ethical, equitable, prosperous, and peaceful society moving forward. And that fact will remain true, regardless of what actually happened in this single instance between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown.

With regard to those specifics, many people have taken to the internet to tell us exactly what did happen that night, and why they think they know what "really happened". But that is not what I will do. The simple fact is that if Darren Wilson's account of events that night is accurate, then the right decision was reached, and he was innocent of any serious wrongdoing. However, if some of the other eyewitnesses accounts of the events of that night are accurate, then Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown in cold blood, and a very serious miscarriage of justice has taken place in this instance. And there are extraordinarily compelling reasons not to believe either Darren Wilson's account, or that of the other eyewitnesses testimony. Several of the eyewitnesses testimonies were later refuted by the forensic evidence (for example, testimonies about Michael Brown having been "shot in the back" simply do not match the forensic evidence). The simple fact is that the testimony of witnesses is by far the least reliable source of evidence imaginable. Many innocent people have been sent to prison based upon eyewitness testimony, only to later be exonerated by evidence such as DNA evidence, that simply does not make the sorts of mistakes that eyewitnesses do. And that fact means that both the testimony of Darren Wilson, and that of those others who saw the event are ultimately unreliable.

The result of this, is that I simply do not know if Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown or not. And I believe that the certainty with which some others (on both sides) have approached this situation is largely unwarranted. So, what am I here to tell you? If I am not here to tell you who to believe, who is right, or whether justice was done, then what am I here to say? I am here to say that I don't know who is right, or what happened, but I do know how to be absolutely sure that this uncertainty does not happen again. I am here to tell you how we can know what happened next time, and how we can make sure that a repeat of this never happens again. And that answer is surprisingly simple.

Every police officer should be required to wear a body camera while on duty and while interacting with the public. Every time. Every police officer. Everywhere. Always. And when this happens we will never again be forced to say that we don't know for sure what happened. We won't have to say that we don't know whether or not justice was done or not when a police officer is not charged in a shooting death. When police officers are innocent of wrongdoing, that will be demonstrated by the camera. When they are guilty of wrongdoing, that too will be shown by the camera. The camera protects both the officer from false accusations, and the public from police abuse. And while knowing what happened after the fact is important, it is perhaps even more important that cameras can actually prevent incidents from ever happening in the first place. Both instances of abuse from police and of bad behavior from those they interact with will go down because both parties will know that they are being recorded, and that the truth of what they are doing will be known. People simply behave differently when they know that they are being watched. And evidence suggests that the use of police cameras can drastically reduce both the incidents of police use of force (up to 50%), and can drastically reduce the incidents of complaints against officers.

Now, this will not solve all our problems with police abuse in this country. And it certainly won't solve all our problems with race in this country either. But it is a start. And we simply must begin somewhere.

This is an idea, who's time has come. Let's make it happen.