Since tragic, infrequent situations have now become a metaphor for police brutality, the cry for a solution is stronger but the infinite, bitter tension between our citizens and government, the media’s sensationalized reporting, and pundits regurgitating their opinions regarding tragic cases involving police actions, have not served to provide answers.
They’ve brought about knee-jerk reactions and given our elected officials an effortless way out.
We’ve allowed ourselves to believe that investing in products, in this case body cameras, is the answer to a reality that most are sadly overlooking: a piece of equipment will not solve a human issue. We saw this with the implementation of electronic control devices or “stun guns” instead of firearms. That was, of course, until people died.
None of the incidents, such as the one in Ferguson, occurred because of a lack of cameras, nor the attempt to stop a felon from attacking a police officer, nor the ensuing uprising afterwards.
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The city was already on the verge of ignition and we should examine why.
A lack of trust existed between citizens and their elected government stemming from an improperly funded budget. Nearly a quarter of the city’s overall budget shortfall was filled by increasing traffic fines that disproportionately targeted black motorists. Mostly hard working folks were impacted with fines that forced them to make hard choices: feed their families, pay the rent or pay the ticket.
Many had few options, and their licenses were suspended. When the next stop came, they went to jail and their vehicles were impounded. This vicious cycle caused rising tensions. The face citizens saw was that of the street cop, whose duty was to enforce the wishes of those in power — the mayor and council members.
No matter the place, time, or the era in history, whenever politicians ignore the needs of the people long enough, ugliness lurks and eventually rears its head. Budget cuts, or shortfalls, affect every aspect of a community’s quality of life. Yet, when tragedy arises, the first to receive the blame is the community’s defense force, not the policy makers, as evident by the treatment of our brave soldiers during Vietnam.
Our nation spat in the faces of our servicemen, not the politicians who sent them overseas. And, while our streets cannot be compared to the jungles of Vietnam, today we are spitting in the faces of our law enforcement officers and not holding accountable our elected leaders.
When security lapses occurred at the White House, Secret Service agents were ridiculed, and Congress was given a free pass even though they made cuts to the agency’s budget, impacting its ability to do its job.
The Eric Garner incident gave a national stage to the very mayor who cut the police budget, and who was the policymaker instructing police to remove unlicensed vendors from the streets. Now, he vows more money for appropriate training.
Politicians are ill advised to devote more money strictly to objects, like cameras, over investing in people; caring for the privileged more than the neediest; representing the few rather than the many. At the very least let us recognize that cutting community policing and overall police force is not helping, it’s hurting communities and that budget cuts are not made by the guardians of the streets, but by those we elect.
As usual, lobbyists, consultants, and manufacturing companies will profit from body cameras, while more is taken away from communities and people who need a helping hand. The equipment will come with an unrealized high price tag, and many unanswered privacy and policy questions making the rapid implementation push much more dangerous.
Yet it is the path of least resistance, chosen over helping and investing in people.
It’s the easiest way out for an elected official, until a serious problem erupts because of the cameras, then politicians will again lay blame elsewhere.
John Rivera is president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association.