By Rebecca Rivas
Saint Louis University Law Professor Justin Hansford said Ferguson protestors are not demanding that police wear body cameras.
“Body cameras could very well increase mass incarceration,” he said at an April 2 presentation at SLU Law School.
Rarely does Hansford shows up to a panel and agree with the other speakers on the topic, he said. Yet Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, laid a similar argument against the cameras’ effectiveness in bringing more police accountability.
“Police body cams are police empowering, not community empowering,” Buttar said.
On Thursday, the American Constitution Society, a SLU law student organization, hosted an hour-long talk titled, “Police body cameras: Tools for transparency & accountability, or a red herring?”
The two speakers Hansford and Buttar addressed the need for more police accountability in light of the recent deaths, including Michael Brown Jr. in St. Louis and Eric Garner in New York, at the hands of police. Hansford said that African Americans make up 13 percent of drug users but 46 percent of those convicted for drug-related offenses. The Department of Justice also helped to reveal the disparities in the Ferguson’s punitive measures towards the black community.
Yet both agreed that the push towards body cameras was not the best use of federal or local resources. In December, President Barack Obama announced that the White House wants to spend $75 million to help purchase 50,000 body cameras for police officers around the country. The proposed initiative, called the Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, would provide a 50 percent match to local governments who purchase body cameras over a three-year period. Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force also recommended greater use of the cameras earlier this year.
Both Hansford and Buttar said that the places that adopt body cams should also adopt laws that would ensure transparency. Buttar said if these laws aren’t adopted on the front end of these initiatives, “it won’t be easy to get it later,” he said.
~ Shahid Buttar serves as Director of Civil Rights Enforcement at the Green Shadow Cabinet