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Editorial: A tipping point on police accountability

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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If one watched the coast-to-coast protests over the last few weeks, they’d see a nation in mourning. The outrage and shock over the numerous recent killings by police officers has begun to dissipate, and a tangible exhaustion can be felt.

As we begin to process the recent events that have left the country dumbfounded, it becomes all the more important to figure what we will do. It is not enough to stand by and wait for the next injustice to come, and it will come unless substantial change is made to the system in place.

If anything, the case of Eric Gardner has proven that the system is broken, but the screams of the nation have not fallen on deaf ears. Regardless of your opinion on the circumstances of these cases, it has become evident that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. The police are not judge, jury, and executioner. They are public servants tasked with maintaining peace and order in society. In this regard there has been an undeniable failure.

As previously stated, it is not enough to remain locked into the outrage of what will soon be the past. This frustration must be oriented to the future to ensure history is not repeated. President Obama plans to spend $75 million as part of a three-year installment of $263 million toward outfitting law enforcement with body cameras to document police interaction with people, in addition to other initiatives. In Obama’s proposition would be allocations to fund more thorough police training in using the technology in addition to an executive order to form a “Task Force on 21st Century Policing.”

Furthermore, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has expressed interest in investigating every incident of police killings of unarmed citizens in the state of New York. It is not yet certain if Schneiderman will be able to carry this out, but the announcement comes at a time when the nation wants to hear something is being done. The demand for more police accountability has become impossible to ignore, and steps in the right direction have been taken.

The case of Garner, who died after being put in a reported chokehold by police in Staten Island, leaves the question of whether indisputable documentation that body cameras would provide will be enough to change things. Unlike the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we know what happened in the Garner case. A bystander filmed the fateful encounter leaving little room for speculation. Even with the video evidence, the only person involved in the ordeal to be indicted was the man who filmed the event. The issue clearly extends further than just witnessing injustice, because as the grand jury of this case proved, sometimes seeing is not believing.

In Iowa City, the move to provide all police officers with body cameras is not a new idea. In September, the funding for this initiative was approved by the Iowa City City Council, but that has since been taken back upon the discovery of new, less expensive technology that would require more time to implement. However, the conversation has not ended there. Body cameras will not be the end-all solution to police discrimination and racial tensions. Protests on the University of Iowa campus and across the country have called for efforts to change not only policing procedure but policing culture as well. The issues in the criminal-justice system require a holistic solution that will only be possible through compromise and dialogue among the government, people, and the police.          


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