Video Didn’t Save Eric Garner, Body Cameras Won’t Save You

By: Guillermo Jimenez - @tracesofreality - Dec 12, 2014, 11:53 am
A grand jury's decision not to indict Eric Garner's killer sparked nationwide anger and protests.
A grand jury’s decision not to indict Eric Garner’s killer sparked nationwide anger and protests. (Flickr)

EspañolDaniel Pantaleo choked a man to death on camera. He wrapped his arm around his victim’s neck and squeezed until the life escaped his body. The victim was, of course, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, whose final words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry for social justice.

If you didn’t know Pantaleo was a New York City police officer, you’d expect him to be sitting in a jail cell right now. The fact that he isn’t, and that knowing he’s a cop somehow instantly admonishes him of any guilt, should give us all great pause to wonder … why?

On Wednesday, December 3, a Staten Island grand jury cleared Pantaleo of any wrongdoing by electing not to indict him for Garner’s murder. The decision immediately sparked protests around New York, and across the country, only nine days after a St. Louis grand jury similarly cleared police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in early August in Ferguson, Missouri.

Officer Pantaleo denies ever applying a chokehold on Eric Garner.
Officer Pantaleo denies ever applying a chokehold on Eric Garner. (@Mediaite)

Public outrage has seemingly forced the Obama administration to react — to do something, anything, that could possibly help solve the problem of police accountability.

In typical Hegelian-dialectic fashion, however, the federal government has seized this opportunity to offer up a “solution” that only furthers their own objectives.

Obama’s Executive Order

On December 1, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing US$263 million in funding for local police departments to “improve training” and purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras, or “body cams.”

Meanwhile, the order also ensures the federal programs responsible for funneling military-grade equipment to local law enforcement agencies are sustained. In standard political double talk, the president said the federal government wants to make sure “we’re not building a militarized culture inside our local law enforcement,” while at the same time suggesting these programs “actually serve a very useful purpose.”

The irony of Obama’s proposal was perhaps best captured by the Onion’s headline: “Obama Calls For Turret-Mounted Video Cameras On All Police Tanks.”

The move toward issuing body cams to local police follows a predictable trend, considering the technology’s increased popularity within law enforcement and among well-meaning civil libertarians. They have foolishly bought into the government’s line that “more surveillance will keep you safe.”

Last March, I wrote about the proliferation of body cameras and the dangers of relying on them as a way of keeping law enforcement accountable. At the time, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced he was considering a proposal to supply Border Patrol agents with the technology.

The footage gained from body cams is entirely police-run, securely networked within each local department, not unlike dash cam video or any other form of police surveillance. Make no mistake, this is still the police filming you, not the other way around.

The effectiveness of body-worn cameras is premised almost exclusively on a single study conducted by Police Chief Tony Ferrar and Barak Ariel in Rialto, California. While the study’s basic findings are sound — people will, generally speaking, adjust their behavior when they know they’re being watched — the larger implications drawn from the experiment are deeply flawed.

Obama's executive order authorizes federal funds to supply local police with body-worn cameras. (@intelligencer)
Obama’s executive order authorizes federal funds to supply local police with body-worn cameras. (@intelligencer)

To suggest police-worn cameras will provide footage that is beneficial to the public, leading to potential indictments or even convictions of offending officers, is incredibly disingenuous. Not even the Rialto study or the police-reform advocates who initially championed this technology make this claim. Furthermore, the Eric Garner case and the grand jury’s refusal to indict officer Pantaleo, despite video evidence of the killing, demonstrates camera footage alone is no guarantee of justice.

Instead, what the Rialto study proposes is that the mere presence of a body-worn camera, and the foreknowledge that their actions are being recorded, will cause police officers to check their behavior and become more likely to “follow the rules.”

The study opens its introduction with a question, referencing one of the most famous examples of police brutality in our modern history: “The Rodney King story is a potent reminder about the enormous power that police officers have and how it can sometimes be abused … would the Rodney King incident [have been] avoided had the officers known that they [were] being videotaped?”

The answer, of course, is yes, but only if the officers believed there would be consequences to their actions. Ironically, it was the verdict in the Rodney King case — the jury acquitting the four officers shown on video beating King senseless while he lay on the ground — that set the precedent for police to effectively act with impunity, video evidence be damned.

In fact, a New York Daily News investigation has revealed that in New York City alone, on-duty police officers have killed at least 179 people over the last 15 years. Of those cases, only three led to criminal charges against the officer, and just one was convicted. The lone officer who was convicted, however, received no jail time.

In other words, the message from the judicial system over the years has been clear: if you wear a badge and kill someone, the odds of being punished are slim to none.

We’ve now reached the point in 2014 when a police officer can choke a man to death on camera, in broad daylight, and before witnesses, and the court decides it’s not even worth the effort of a trial.

Furthermore, the results of these body-camera studies have shown that the most significant effect their implementation has had is in enabling police to more quickly resolve complaints lodged against their own department, and to gather evidence that benefits the state.

In short, body camera technology is yet another tool in the state’s surveillance apparatus, and absent any reasonable expectation of accountability, any measurable “civilizing effect” on the police will surely wear off over time.

Obama’s Hypocrisy

President Obama’s executive order that aims to “improve policing” comes amid claims of a personal commitment to alleviate the “simmering mistrust” between local law enforcement and minority communities most affected by police violence. “This time will be different,” he said during a meeting at the White House with activists from Ferguson.

“Part of the reason this time will be different is because the president of the United States is deeply invested in making sure this time is different,” he added, implying he has a personal stake in the matter based on his own ethnicity.

He further clarified this position in an interview with BET on Monday, stating “This is not only personal for me, because of who I am and who Michelle is and who our family members are and what our experiences are, but as president, I consider this to be one of the most important issues we face.”

This comes from a man who does not bat an eye at ordering the deaths of people of color in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2012, amid the controversy surrounding the George Zimmerman trial, he said that if he had a son “he’d look like Trayvon [Martin]”; yet he says nothing of the 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Alwaki whose death via drone strike he ordered only four months earlier. Abdulrahman was killed, presumably, for the alleged sins of his father — Anwar al-Alwaki — one of the many names on Obama’s “kill list” of high-value targets marked for assassination.

The Obama administration has been responsible for the deaths of thousands in a campaign of state violence in the name of “national security.” The killing is rationalized away, however, since anyone the state targets is naturally a “terrorist threat” — someone who aims to “do us harm” and threatens our freedom.

To the extent that we identify with our government, and see a part of ourselves in the state, there will be a tendency to assign blame to the victims of state violence. Just as Michael Brown was “no angel,” and Eric Garner an illegal cigarette trader, anyone the state murders must necessarily be guilty. Otherwise, if we allowed the state to kill the innocent without consequence, what would that say about us?

Guillermo Jimenez Guillermo Jimenez

Jimenez is the English-language deputy editor for the PanAm Post and host of the Traces of Reality radio show and the Demanufacturing Consent podcast on Boiling Frogs Post. He is based in South Texas, deep within the DHS "constitution-free zone." Follow @tracesofreality.

Alberta Puts US States to Shame in Economic Freedom Ranking

By: Adriana Peralta - @AdriPeraltaM - Dec 12, 2014, 9:39 am

Español With Alberta, Canadians enjoy the freest province or state in North America, comfortably beating out competitors in the United States and Mexico. That's according to the latest study by the Fraser Institute, a classical-liberal policy institute based in British Columbia and known for its annual reports on economic liberty around the world. The Economic Freedom of North America 2014 report, published on December 2, praises the western province and ranks fellow prairie province Saskatchewan second. British Columbia and Newfoundland, the province off Canada's eastern seaboard, share third place with Texas, the freest US state. Using 2012 data, the report — which includes Mexico for the first time — determines the levels of economic liberty in 92 jurisdictions (50 US states, 10 Canadian provinces, and 32 Mexican states). The author's metrics include the size of government, tax levels, commercial regulations, and reach of the rule of law. They then affirm the relationship between these indicators and levels of economic prosperity. "The link between economic freedom and prosperity is clear," says Fred McMahon, coauthor of the Fraser Institute study. "Provinces that support low taxation, limited government and flexible labour markets enjoy greater economic growth, while provinces with lower levels of economic freedom see lower living standards and fewer economic opportunities." Coahuila de Zaragoza State is number one in Mexico, but still lags at 30th in North America. Together with Guanajuato (59) and Quintana Roo (59), they're the only Mexican states to better any jurisdictions to the north (Maine and Mississippi), while the remaining 29 Mexican states monopolize the bottom end of the ranking. These results follow Fraser's ranking of nations, released in October: Canada is the seventh freest economy, the United States the 12th, and Mexico comes in at 92nd. Alberta Head and Shoulders above the Rest Alberta's 8.8 points on a 10-point scale was not threatened by Saskatchewan (8.0) and Newfoundland (7.7) — while Nova Scotia (7.3) and Prince Edward Island (7.1) bring up the rear for Canada. Similarly, Alberta has witnessed the greatest economic growth of all Canada's provinces in the last 20 years. Its biggest industries are petrochemicals, agriculture, forestry products, metallurgy, tourism, and communications technology. Some 63.4 percent of the Albertan working population over 25 have a university degree, and investment per capita is at US$23,461, more than double the national average (US$10,758). Lack of Federalism Punishes Mexico Coahuila de Zaragoza wins out in Mexico, on account of its relative fiscal austerity and low taxes, for a score of 7.4. The highly industrialized state shares a border with the United States, and 90 percent of the population live in urban areas. Coahuila's economic activity, worth approximately $1.26 billion in 2013, constitutes 3 percent of Mexico's GDP. Commercial activity is characterized by industrial manufacturing (31.44 percent), trade and services (14.61 percent), and financial services (10.12 percent). Following Coahuila are Guanajuato and Quintana Roo, each on 7.2 points. They too have relatively low tax rates and smaller public administrations with fewer staff. In contrast, Chiapas, the Federal District of Mexico City, and Colima flounder under high levels of government spending, state subsidies, and hefty tax rates. The poor results of Mexican states, compared to their US and Canadian counterparts, are largely due to highly centralized governance, with intervention in many areas of the Mexican economy. The two northern neighbors give greater autonomy to their sub-national jurisdictions. Since local officials can decide at least some of their own economic policies, this promotes competition to attract businesses and investment. Pay Lower Taxes in Texas Texas enjoys the greatest economic freedom in the United States, garnering 7.7 points and closely followed by 11 US states on 7.6. Maine and Mississippi come in last, tied at 7.2 points and 59th out of 92 jurisdictions. The Washington, DC-based Tax Foundation, claims that Texas benefits from the 10th best tax regime in the United States, one of the most important factors behind its high position in North American ranking. However, that it is not number one with the Tax Foundation is indicative of disparities across rankings of this sort. Regardless, the Texan economy generates 9 percent of the US GDP, some $1.53 trillion, in large part from its energy sector. But small and medium-sized enterprises also abound, with some 2,164,852 companies existing with a population of 26.4 million individuals. Translated by Laurie Blair. Fergus Hodgson contributed to this article.

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