After watching the horrific deaths of two black men on camera last week, it's hard to come to terms with today's harsh realities. For many, we believed that police body cameras would bring about transparency and accountability in departments across the country. President Obama announced last year the launch of  a three year, $75 million project to provide body cameras to local police departments. At one point we believed that the country was making strides in changing a culture of police brutality and racial profiling

Last week proved to me how police body cameras are an imperfect ally in our fight for social justice and inequality

Funding police body cameras is one step in the right direction but states have found ways around this push for transparency. This week, North Carolina's governor signed a bill that would ban police body camera footage from the public, unless obtained by a court order

What's the point of having a body camera if we can't view or get a copy of what's being recorded? North Carolina is one of a dozen states known to use the law to their advantage to keep us from holding police officers accountable. The legislation in North Carolina excludes police body and dash camera footage from open records laws which are basically your right to access information deemed public. Examples of public records are city official salary information, city budget, the number of police broken down by demographic. In some cases, personnel records provide how many times officers have been reprimanded for use of force. Every state is different when it comes to open records laws and experiences a constant policy battle to update their ancient content

The outdated legislation is geared towards protecting police officers making it easier to keep footage exempt from the law

North Carolina has made it okay for you to access the footage if you are shown in the video, but you cannot obtain a copy without law enforcement signing off on it. Law enforcement can deny your request for a copy of the footage for "safety concerns". If you decided to take it further after being denied, your only recourse is a judge. That means you incur court costs and legal fees in order to obtain what should readily and easily be available to you

You know it's a bad idea when even  North Carolina's state Attorney General believes the new law has gone too far

Body cameras are not going to be our saving grace. My grandmother used to say that there's more than one way to skin a cat. The same should be said for how we go about police reform. We have people willing to protest and shut down highways, proving that Black Lives Matter. Yet we also need the community to fight policies on a state level so that we aren't  forced to demand justice for footage we catch on our cell phones

In the deaths of both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile we saw the scenes captured by a smartphone. The officer who shot Sterling and his partner both were wearing body cameras that became dislodged during the altercation. The footage captured by a witness aided in launching the federal investigation into Sterling's death

So what am I proposing? As a political expert, I will always preach that state and local governments play a HUGE role in your EVERYDAY life. From taxes to trash pick up all the way to zoning and schools, these elected officials have a duty to serve you and their communities. On a local level, many of your elected officials who hold office represent your area and live in them.  Hold them accountable. The key here is you can only do so if you participate in state and local elections. Don't just "Stand with Her". (Clinton acts like we have another viable choice. Girl, we have nowhere else to stand)

Also, stand with the people who live on your streets representing you. In holding them accountable, you can argue against legislation that allows police to fail to be accountable. The same way we were blowing up the phone when Deray was arrested is the same way we can wait outside of city hall or the state capitol building to make sure public servants are aware they can't get away with concealing the truth

When I think about the future implications of laws like this, I remember the many black men we have had to see die on camera. I think of Jonathan Ferrell, the former football player at FAMU who was shot dead by a North Carolina police officer while the dash camera recorded the entire tragic scene. The jury declared a mistrial. I think about Freddie Gray and the altercation that we watched go down between him and Baltimore police. Three officers have already been acquitted of all charges. I think of Eric Garner and that video of officers being on top of him and imagine just what it would feel like if I could not breathe because someone didn't value basic human rights. Yet, here we are two years later and the only person brought to justice is the young man who recorded the encounter. I think about Alton Sterling and that convenience store in Baton Rouge. A store not too far from where I completed my first year of law school, a store not too far from where my friends, brothers and cousins frequent. I think about what if it had been them and there was no footage that the public could see of a merciless murder

If the cops want to hide footage, they can't expect us to hide our phones

I ask that you join me in a fight to keep states and local governments from finding ways around keeping body cameras turned on, securely fastened, and footage readily available for copy upon your request. If you don't want us to see what you're doing out of "safety concerns", I think we have the right to argue that black lives are of a greater safety concern

#Stopaskingpermission to question state and local government officials. #Stopaskingpermission to push back on legislation that hinders a movement. #Stopaskingpermission to force those who are elected by you, live near you and send their kids to school with yours to be the only voice that matters in this fight for social justice

 

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