So I check back in briefly to post about this issue of black men being killed by police officers, with no linkage because I am lazy.
(My extensive business related travels are mostly at an end; hopefully soon I'll be back online in full)
There are a lot of issues here I think it's useful to unpack.
First, recall what's at issue here - not a trial, but the decision as to whether a trial is even justified
. In most American jurisdictions, before a person can be charged with a serious crime, a "grand jury" must indict them - which means, make a decision that there is probable cause to justify bringing charges in the first place. So a grand jury is different than a "petit jury" - the jury who decides guilt or innocence at trial. The grand jury just decides whether trial is warranted at all.
The old saw is that a grand jury is, in fact, entirely in the pocket of prosecutors. This is because the prosecutor decides what a grand jury sees. And most of the time, the prosecutor only puts incriminating evidence before the grand jury, with proceedings not lasting more than a couple of days. In both the Brown case and the Garner case, the prosecutors notably put all evidence before the grand jury - exculpatory and incriminating - over a period of months. Transcripts from the Brown case suggest that the prosecutor went out of his way to challenge witnesses who incriminated Wilson. All of this is alone a serious departure from ordinary practice and suggests that the grand jury decisions were, in fact, manipulated by the prosecutors. So this isn't necessarily about grand juries who refuse to indict - this is about prosecutors who don't want to bring charges against cops, and hide behind the grand jury process instead of owning that decision.
Second, I want to talk about police body cameras. After the Brown jury refused to indict, there was a general call for police body cameras. And then, even with video, the Garner jury refused to indict.
I tend to be somewhat in favor of body cameras, but let me explain my concerns.
The first is that guilt/threat is in the eye of the beholder, and that's equally true when the beholder is a jury or a prosecutor as when it's a cop. So for example, there's a famous psych experiment where people watched video of a fight between a white man and a black man that culminated in the white person pulling a knife. When asked to describe what they saw, most subjects reported that the black man pulled the knife. So there's an inherent bias to the way people perceive black men - black men are viewed as inherently dangerous, and that's going to be true even with body cameras. Body cameras may even reinforce that impression. If you're inclined to see black men - especially large black men - as inherently dangerous, the Garner video isn't going to look like an improper police attack - it's going to look like a reasonable use of force.
The second concern is that when people watch something, whoever draws "focus" appears to be the person most in control of the situation. It's a complicated phenomenon, but here's a simple example. Suppose 5 people are doing a group project, and only 1 person has red hair. People who watch the group work together are likely to report that the redhaired person was "in charge" even if the redhaired person behaved just like everyone else. The redhaired person drew their focus; so the redhaired person appeared to be responsible.
This comes out in police interrogations. There has been a lot of concern over the years about interrogations generating false confessions by unduly pressuring suspects. One experiment found that if you videotape the interrogation and aim the camera at the suspect - so that the suspect draws the viewer's attention - the viewer will conclude that the confession was voluntary, i.e., the suspect was in control. But if the camera is aimed at the cop - so that the cop draws focus - viewers will conclude the cop was in control, and the confession was coerced.
In that situation, the solution is to make sure the camera takes a wide view of the room.
Body cameras, though, might necessarily be aimed at suspects, and leave the cop as a peripheral player. That, all by itself, may alter viewers' perceptions, and lead viewers to believe that the suspect "caused" whatever occurred (be it a beating, or anything else).
At the same time, though, merely knowing they're being recorded
may alter cops' behavior. Not simply because they don't want to be caught doing bad things, but because awareness of self
forces people to confront the moral dimension of their actions. Like, stores find that putting mirrors up reduces shoplifting; the mirrors increase people's awareness of self
and thus causes them to think about their actions in terms of their own self-perception (which generally includes a perception of themselves as good people who don't steal). Prison guards are less likely to abuse people if they wear nametags. Awareness of self
reduces misbehavior, which is a point in favor of cameras.
Anyhoo, those are my thoughts, for what they're worth.
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