North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory just signed into law an act making police body camera video an official state secret. Naturally, following the events of last week, civil rights and transparency advocates are in an uproar.
North Carolina’s Attorney General Roy Cooper, disagreed with keeping the public in the dark and that the new “law goes way too far” in restricting access to police videos for citizens, who are after all the taxpayers and pay for not only the salaries of police but to create these videos in the first place, telling ABC:
Gubernatorial candidate and NC Attorney General Roy Cooper told ABC11 the law is “too restrictive and goes too far in preventing access by the public. The law should be improved to provide for more openness when the legislature comes back into session.”
“They’re setting it up so the police have all the advantages. It’s not going to do anything to create any type of transparency or accountability, and it definitely won’t open up lines of communication or trust between the police and the community,” said Akiba Byrd, member of PACT Raleigh.
Just for an example, last year a leaked dash camera video from Fayetteville, North Carolina contradicted written reports in a fatal shooting of a citizen by police, seen in the cover photo of this story.
Republican State Senate candidate and criminal defense lawyer T. Greg Doucette blames members of both parties and says that the move is likely to make police oversight non-extant, and for it to be more difficult to get civil relief for police abuse in federal court under 42 USC 1983.
In the wake of this police state secrets law, North Carolina police and lawmakers will have to contend with more disenfranchised, angry citizens, who’ve been abused by police and will now be unable to obtain the public records their own tax money paid to create.
When police – who taxpayers fund to enforce laws- deprive victims or their loved ones of their civil rights or even their lives, instead of videos leading to civil litigation, this can only lead to more desperate street protests and less legitimacy for all officers across the Tar Heel state.
Legendary science fiction author Robert A. Heinlen best described the problems caused by government keeping too many secrets from the society who asks it to govern:
Secrecy is the keystone to all tyranny. Not force, but secrecy and censorship. When any government or church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, “This you may not read, this you must not know,” the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives.
Thanks to their elected officials North Carolina residents will be subject to what could amount to extortion by local police departments, who can keep video secret from those accused in criminal trials, keep police videos secret pending expensive litigation most citizens can’t afford, and during that time victims of police brutality can be further discouraged from pursuing their complaints, or worn down by the attrition and high cost of pursuing legal claims.
Also, police in North Carolina will now be handed control over what video is released and are allowed to suppress anything showing police in a truthful, but undesirable light.
How many poor criminal defendants will plea to crimes they didn’t commit because it’s impossible for their public defenders to gain access to police footage?
North Carolina’s heinous suppression of public records will disenfranchise the vast majority of citizens who live at subsistence level, and especially the 17.2% of North Carolina’s roughly 10 million residents who live in poverty as of 2015.
That’s 1.75 million citizens who probably have zero chance to view a police video, which in most states they’d be entitled to copy and release if it showed an officer harming them, or use to file a lawsuit.
This kind of secret policing is sure to whip up conflict between citizens and government because the entire reason for transparency in government is to quell the kind of anger that arrives from disenfranchisement.
Keeping these videos secret holds great potential to undermine trust between the police and the people who pay their salaries.
Not only that, but North Carolina’s new secret police video law also established a “Blue Alert System” for police to call the police when they feel threatened, as if being the police and having police radios or calling 911 like the rest of us isn’t enough!
The only effective public means in the United States of trying to keep our police accountable to the public, and to collect meaningful evidence of law breaking by citizens is video and audio recording devices.
America’s police carry microphones, dash cameras and body cameras to record their interactions with citizens, and in most states public records laws are interpreted in favor of releasing videos to the public with as little delay as is determined to maintain any criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Some states like Florida favor immediate release, or nearly immediate distribution of these vital public record videos made by police, and all other states – excepting North Carolina now – allow for copying of the video. Ironically, North Carolina used to lead the country in transparency.
Under North Carolina’s new secret police video law, a video will only be shown to the person in the video, and if that viewing is denied, the only recourse is hiring a lawyer to sue in court.
It will let police departments make boiler plate denials based upon “concerns about safety, reputation or an ongoing investigation” in most cases.
North Carolina residents would not even be allowed to have a copy of the videos either, even if they’re in the video.