Cell phones and cameras have become the new watchdog tool to keep the police in check, whether officers are overly aggressive in a traffic stop or holding a smoking gun. Video surfaced on Tuesday of black South Carolina resident Walter Scott being fatally shot by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston, South Carolina, officer. In the video, Slager is shown to shoot at Scott's back at least eight times as he fled. Slager, 33, is now facing a murder charge in connection to the deadly shooting.
Justin Bamberg, the Scott family's attorney who also represents the state's House District 90, said the video was critical in securing charges against Slager. At a Tuesday evening press conference, Bamberg said:
What if there was no video? What if there was no witness? Where would we be without that video?
Strained relations between police and community, in many cases predominantly black neighborhoods, have caused the White House to push a three-year, $263 million initiative to better train local police and equip them with body cameras. The program, which still needs to be approved by Congress, would set aside $75 million to cover half the cost of 50,000 body cameras for officers in states and localities that want to participate. Supporters say body cameras can offer an unbiased documentation of interactions between police and individuals, particularly when misconduct allegedly takes place.
Some police officials and union members say body cameras create an unnecessary burden on officers and require constant data backup, which can cause costs to extend beyond the initial value of the camera. But in similar police-involved incidents that were caught on tape — or the events soon after, as in the case of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown — cameras can help provide a clear lens.
Captured by a bystander last summer, cell phone video shows Eric Garner repeat, "I can't breathe," as officer Daniel Pantaleo put the 43-year-old in a chokehold, a move banned by the NYPD. Six other officers are then shown on tape assisting in holding Garner on the ground and arresting him with hand ties. Garner is later shown lying motionless. He was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. A medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, caused by the chokehold and compression to his chest.
On Nov. 22, officers arrived at a Cleveland park after receiving a dispatch call about a boy with what appeared to be a firearm, though the caller told the dispatcher that the gun was most likely a toy. Surveillance video shows 12-year-old Tamir Rice talking on his cell phone and playing in the snow as officers arrived. Within seconds of the police's arrival, Rice is shot in the stomach, the video shows. Rice died the following day.
Charly Leundeu Keunang
Last month, LAPD officers were caught on video fatally shooting a man on Skid Row after an alleged struggle over one of the officer's weapons. The graphic video, captured by a bystander and posted on his Facebook account, shows the man, later identified as Charly Leundeu Keunang, aka "Africa," appearing to resist arrest before at least five shots are heard. Horrified onlookers scream. Keunang was pronounced dead at the scene.
Last month, video of black UVA student Martese Johnson's arrest went viral, causing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to ask state police to investigate. In the video, Johnson's face is covered in blood as Alcohol and Beverage Control officers hold the 20-year-old on the ground. In the video, witnesses are heard pointing out Johnson's injuries to authorities, while the student screams, "I go to UVA! … How did this happen? You f***ing racists!” Johnson required 10 stitches, according to UVA Black Student Alliance.
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