Tag: police brutality

Cops on Camera Update

A Maryland judge has thrown out the first of three assault charges against two police officers who were caught on tape beating student John McKenna after a 2010 University of Maryland basketball game. The judge said “there was not enough evidence” to show the officers were engaged in first-degree assault. Second-degree assault and official misconduct charges remain.

We might argue about whether dropping those charges was the right call. What we know for certain is that before the tape surfaced, McKenna was the one charged with assaulting officers and a police horse. A good samaritan’s cell phone video was the only thing standing between justice and the student being branded a criminal and thrown in jail.

The lesson should be clear. Citizens recording police encounters can reveal truths the police might prefer to hide. Evan Banks and I made a short video detailing the incident (among others) and the importance of protecting the right of bystanders to record the police.

Cops and Cameras: Legal and on TV

The controversy over citizens getting arrested for recording on-duty law enforcement officers is prompting legislation. Connecticut has a two-party wiretap law (the audio of a recording is the justification for arrest) and is looking to pass a statute that specifically protects citizen journalism. This is preventive medicine more than anything — Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts have been the chief offenders — but a welcome development nonetheless.

The headset cameras I’ve written about are going to make their reality TV debut on Police POV on the TruTV network. The series will show footage of officers in Cincinnati, Chattanooga, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, all filmed with cameras mounted on the officers. The promotional footage shows at least one SWAT raid, proof positive that if you’re willing to strap on a helmet and 45 pounds of body armor and gear, a couple of extra pounds of camera aren’t a bridge too far, and ought to be required.

While Radley Balko has highlighted some shenanigans with police reality TV shows, creating a new normal where officers not only accept the prospect of being filmed on the job but embrace the technology for evidentiary and liability reasons is a step in the right direction. I make the case for more cameras in law enforcement operations with Radley and Clark Neilly in this video:

Police Shootings in Miami

Today’s New York Times reports that seven African-American men have been shot and killed by Miami police officers over an eight month period.  One officer, who has since been discharged for unrelated misconduct, was responsible for two of the shooting incidents over a span of just days. 

Each shooting should be scrutinized on its own merits.  The circumstances of each incident matters.  However, one question concerns the aggressive culture often found in police “tactical” units, which too often enagage in a reckless style of police work.  Since 2009, the Times reports, more than 100 officers have been added to Miami’s tactical units.  Another question is whether the Miami police department should be the agency investigating these cases.  An impartial investigation into these shootings needs to be conducted.

Go here for related Cato work.

Government and Violence

Radley Balko writes:

[I]t’s worth remembering that the government initiates violence against its own citizens every day in this country, citizens who pose no threat or harm to anyone else. The particular policy that leads to the sort of violence… is supported by nearly all of the politicians and pundits decrying anti-government rhetoric on the news channels this morning. (It’s also supported by Sarah Palin, many Tea Party leaders, and other figures on the right that politicians and pundits are shaming this weekend.)

I hope Rep. Giffords—and everyone wounded yesterday—makes a full recovery. It’s particularly tragic that she was shot while doing exactly what we want elected officials to do—she was making herself available to the people she serves. And of course we should mourn the people senselessly murdered yesterday, government employees and otherwise: U.S. District Judge John Roll, Dorothy Murray, Dorwin Stoddard, nine-year-old Christina Green, Phyllis Scheck, and Gabe Zimmerman.

That said, I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own government—killed in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders support—as they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man. What happened this weekend is not, by any means, a reason to shunt anti-government protest, even angry anti-government protest, out of the sphere of acceptable debate. The government still engages in plenty of acts and policies—including one-sided violence against its own citizens—that are well worth our anger, protest, and condemnation.

The worst outcome would be for all dissent to become suspect. “Anti-government” is a concept used, essentially, to stifle debate, by conflating reasonable criticisms with the actions of lunatics. Both — of course! — are “anti-government,” and both are therefore guilty. It should be obvious what sort of agenda this furthers: Everything “government” is good.

University of Maryland Beating Editorial

The Washington Post has an excellent editorial on the beating that Prince George’s County officers gave University of Maryland student John J. McKenna. As I said in this post, the beating, and the false charges filed against McKenna, would never have resulted in the suspension of (and possible charges against) the officers involved without video that showed the officers’ unwarranted aggression. As the Post puts it:

Instead, it was not until the video surfaced this week that Prince George’s Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton learned of it, he said, adding that he was “outraged and disappointed.” Why wasn’t he “outraged and disappointed” that his own police had not come forward earlier to report the incident? After all, media reports at the time included eyewitness accounts of excessive police violence. Wasn’t it Chief Hylton’s responsibility to investigate those allegations? The unavoidable conclusion is that had there been no video, the conspiracy of police silence and coverup would have succeeded.

McKenna was fortunate that his family had the resources to hire a private investigator to find the video. Not everyone is so lucky, and it makes the case for changing Maryland’s unanimous consent law for recording conversations, as this case highlights. Laws that prevent the recording of interactions with police prevent transparency in what is supposed to be an open and free society.

University of Maryland Beating Prompts Investigations

Following the home basketball victory against Duke, University of Maryland students took to the streets to celebrate. Prince George’s County Police, along with mounted officers from the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, responded to disperse an unruly crowd. One student skipped for joy toward police in riot gear, then stopped as he neared two mounted officers. Prince George’s officers rushed the student, beating him with clubs until he fell to the ground, and then continuing to deliver blows as he lay on the pavement. Video of the incident:

The student, John McKenna, was charged with felonies on suspicion of assaulting officers on horseback and their mounts. The charges against McKenna were dropped yesterday without comment, and now the officers responsible for the beating are under scrutiny. One of the three officers who beat McKenna has been suspended, and as soon as the other two are identified they face parallel sanction. Prince George’s prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation as well.

While this story is moving in the right direction, the video contradicting the charges against McKenna and putting police brutality on record made all the difference. Good reason to be wary of laws prohibiting photography or video of police officers.