The police chief stood before a camera crew, reporters, and his fellow citizens and said the following:
“Film us and don’t stop…take out your phones and film us during routine traffic stops, while we patrol your streets, during arrests and bookings, and while we’re having lunch. If we’re wearing a uniform, it means we’re on the clock, and we are working for you.
The reality of the situation is that many of you automatically take out your phones and film us, anyway, so we’re telling the general public that it’s okay. Do it. And it’s not only “okay,” but we want you to do it. This will not only keep you, our citizens, safer, but it also keeps my officers safe. In effect, you are watching our backs and, I’ll admit, saving us from ourselves. While this may sound crazy, it’s not. By enlisting you, my fellow citizens, who are “armed” to the teeth with the best technology in the world (smartphones) which sits in your pockets, and rests in your purses, you can help us, too.
The killing of unarmed and, in the vast majority of cases, non-threatening black citizens in America is unacceptable. The everyday fear and trepidation experienced by black America each and every day, while just going about their daily lives, alarms and appalls me and my fellow police officers. We continue working towards providing mandatory vest cams for all officers, however, they are expensive and out of reach for many precincts operating within limited budgets. Moreover, we are seeing that vest cams aren’t a foolproof method of ensuring responsible policing, either, since there are high incidences of equipment malfunctions and, to be honest, deliberate or accidental “user error.”
By making this announcement today, we can begin, right now, down a path of real cooperation between our citizens and those who are meant to protect them. We can start working on earning the trust of those we serve, instead of the fear and hatred of police officers which permeates our city, and which only makes every situation and every interaction, no matter how benign or innocuous, increasingly lethal for every person of color in this country.
What I’m asking you, the public, to do will not inflate any budgets, it will not stress an already taut and tenuous situation. It is my strong belief that we can, immediately, steady this proverbial ship, which has been taking on water for far too long. We simply can’t keep asking black Americans to WAIT for real change. They have waited far too long. What is needed are not sympathies, prayers, and meaningless rhetoric.
I almost feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: do NOT put yourselves, or my officers, into further harm’s way in attempting to film an altercation or potentially dangerous situation. Be smart and safe about your circumstances. What I’m doing is NOT, and should not be construed as, deputizing each citizen. As I said, many people already film us doing our job. What I am asking is for you to consider it your civic duty to do so, starting right now. This request, which I make of each and every one of you, empowers our citizenry and neutralizes a historically imbalanced power structure. Thank you.”
And so, without a Congressional hearing, without the appointment of another police “Czar,” without needing to gather signatures or putting anything on a ballot, things began to change. There was no catchy acronym necessary (FUADS?), no fanfare, no consultants or research grants which end up only serving those who are actually not in peril. No constitutional rights or civil liberties were trampled. Thanks to this hypothetical police chief, addressing his fictional constituency, things really could begin to change. And for once, for the better.
Postscript: One of my readers let me know that it was difficult to understand which “side” of the issue I was on when reading this post. Let me be absolutely clear about one thing: if I were Black (I am not), I’d be extremely angry. I would not want to be told to wait and let an investigation take place about the latest police shooting which will, in the end, go nowhere. The same “powers that be” who are responsible for the foot dragging and empty promises about things changing are not where we will find real solutions. What is needed are new approaches to deal with a very tense and dangerous situation. What I wrote above in the fictional police chief announcement would be, in my greatest hopes, a paradigm shift, which would empower all citizens to stand up for each other, instead of lining up along racial divides. What most people (and not just in the United States) don’t realize is that we are experiencing a renaissance, of sorts, where a combination of smartphones and the Internet have equalized and lifted up even the most faint and humble voices. I’ve written about the possibilities for a better world, technologically-speaking several times (here is one example). We need to stand up for each other.
UPDATE Saturday night, July 9th:
A tweet out of Chicago, where a peaceful Black Lives Matter march was turning testy:
“Man who recorded own arrest in East village files federal lawsuit against NYPD,” July 6, 2016, NBC News New York;
“How the illusion of being observed can make you a better person,” May 3, 2011, Scientific American Magazine;
“You’re in the Army now,” November 16, 2015, Schatzie’s Earth Project;
“A Due Process Right to Record the Police,” 2012, Washington University Law Review.