THE NOT-SO-OMNISCIENT EYE

Posted in Rants on June 2nd, 2008 by Ed

I swore that I wouldn't post about the most recent high-profile example of police brutality. We've all seen the video of 15 Philadelphia police officers administering a jailhouse beatdown on three suspects. It's disgusting, unfortunately not very shocking, and eerily reminiscent of the scene in Goodfellas where Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) and Tommy (Joe Pesci) stomp Billy Batts to death in a modified Irish Jig. But I'm pretty hard on those who wear the badge, not to mention how tedious I find the Professional Cop Apologists, knuckle-dragging racists, Sharptonesque camera whores, and other dregs that wash up whenever this becomes news.

I heard something in the aftermath that really bothered me, though. Right Wing Pundit indignantly asked Network's Only Black Guy (and I paraphrase here, unable to find video) "The system worked. The officers responsible were fired. Why isn't this a dead issue?" Only a malcontent like Sharpton, it is implied, can still be angry about it, using the incident for their own gain and for cheap camera time. Granted, the PPD and City of Philadelphia deserve credit for quickly moving to fire, demote, and suspend those involved. That hardly resolves the larger issue.

Here's the problem: what if the camera hadn't been there?

What if, rather than being captured by a news camera that just happened to be following the chase, this was one of the 99.9% of arrests that aren't filmed? It would be just another suspect beaten to a pulp and left to play the he-said/he-said game in which the only witnesses might be cops resting comfortably behind the Blue Wall of Silence. They'd say he "resisted arrest" and that their use of force was no more than necessary to restrain this crack-addled Incredible Hulk who was flipping cars with his bare hands (it's funny how every suspect has the strength of ten stout oxen in these tales). The right-wing cultural guardians would offer paeans to the heroism and bravery of those in uniform, and in a flash the story would be history. Then it would happen again.

What did the classic Simpsons "sexual harrassment" episode say? "You know, the courts might not work anymore, but as long as everybody is videotaping everyone else, justice will be done." When we're talking about police brutality, so much of the progress that can be made relies on incontrovertible video evidence. Unfortunately the world's cameras are somewhat less than omniscient. It's nice that this situation resulted in a few overgrown children being taken off the street but it feels somewhat like a pail of water has been thrown on a burning skyscraper.