Despite the fact that there's crystal clear video footage of the moment he put Eric Garner in the chokehold that killed him, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo will not be indicted for his role in Staten Island resident's July 17 death.
The news has raised questions about whether outfitting police around the country with body cameras — a recent proposal that's been dubbed "the Michael Brown law" — would actually make any difference when it comes to accountability for what's seen as an epidemic of police brutality against unarmed African-Americans.
People are asking, with good reason: If video footage of a man's death at the hands of a police officer didn't lead to an indictment in this case, would it ever?
What now will be the purpose of body cameras? For a close up of a black mans death? One where his killer will still go free? #EricGarner— zellie (@zellieimani) December 3, 2014
If we ever need proof that Body Cameras mean next to nothing, it just happened. Eric Garner was murdered & it was on YouTube the next day.— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) December 3, 2014
So weird to have Mike Brown's case — the greatest argument for body cameras — be immediately followed by Garner's, its greatest rebuttal.— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) December 3, 2014
If you thought body cameras would help ensure justice, the Staten Island grand jury is here to assure you that you're naive. #EricGarner— Kavitha A. Davidson (@kavithadavidson) December 3, 2014
Ferguson inspired an interest in police body cameras
We'll never know exactly what happened when Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on August 9. Leading up to Wilson's highly controversial non-indictment, the eyewitness statements that described Brown surrendering before Wilson shot and killed him inspired widespread interest in outfitting police with body cameras.
That policy, the thinking went, would guarantee footage of any misconduct in future cases, eliminate competing narratives, and provide the evidence needed for courts to deliver justice to people abused or killed by law enforcement officers. The slain teen's family and civil rights advocates alike pushed for a "Michael Brown law," hoping it would lead to police accountability and justice.
There's a lot of support for similar policies. The Obama administration recently embraced the technology (on Monday it asked Congress for $75 million over three years to pay for it), and the New York City Police Department and Ferguson Police Department are looking into whether to use the cameras, and how. The US Border Patrol said it will test the technology as well.
But video footage doesn't mean an indictment
As Lopez explained, there's always been significant debate about how effective police body cameras actually are.
With little available research and no good data on how many departments use the cameras, the concern for both supporters and skeptics is how to protect both the public and police from the potential risks of body cameras, particularly their threats to privacy in public and private spaces. There's also a question of whether these cameras would always be turned on, especially in quickly developing events such as shootings.
But today's news is a reminder that even under ideal circumstances — the camera is turned on, providing clear footage of what many perceive to be clear misconduct: an unarmed man accused only of selling untaxed cigarettes is killed before our eyes — capturing a death on camera might not make a difference at all.
Further Reading: How body cameras could change police