Learning from Ferguson: what we can change for the future

The recent events in the small Missouri town are a reminder of why police body cameras could be beneficial.

Destanie Martin-Johnson

On Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo., an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. There are many details to this story — including allegations that Brown robbed a store and reports of a scuffle between him and the officer just before the shooting — but none of these details justifies killing an unarmed youth.

It was unnecessary for the officer to shoot Brown five times. The incident raises the question: Why exactly did this police officer feel the need to draw his gun in the first place?

Racial profiling and abuse of power have been hot issues for quite some time, especially when they relate to law enforcement.

I wonder whether Wilson would have reacted differently to the situation if Brown had been a white teen — specifically, whether he would have been as aggressive. Why are blacks sometimes seen as potentially more dangerous, threatening and criminally suspicious than whites?

Cities like Houston and New York have considered equipping police officers with small video cameras. Attached to officers’ uniforms, these cameras would record their encounters with people throughout the day. Officers would be required to turn on the camera when dealing with a potential suspect or when conducting the stop-and-frisk style searches that have been a matter of controversy in New York.

The camera footage is for the heads of police departments and the public. According to a study done in California, after using police body cameras, there was a nearly 90 percent drop in complaints about officers and a 60 percent drop in use of force by police officers within a year.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges has proposed investments in body cameras for the Minneapolis police department within the next year. This is one of the best ways to ensure justice and to prevent police misconduct and racial profiling. Not only will police be monitored during threatening and non-threatening situations, but suspect interrogations will also be recorded. Officers will be brought to justice if their actions prove to be unlawful.

One solution can potentially help solve two problems. Something must be done to repair the trust between the police and the people. Our communities want peace, equality, justice and a safe environment. Requiring body cameras to increase transparency during police stops should help reduce the current problems exemplified in Ferguson. Recognizing and addressing the fact that racial disparities exist in the justice system will bring us all a step closer to peace and equality.