Lawyers for the family of slain teenager Michael Brown on Tuesday urged lawmakers around the country to pass legislation that would require police officers to wear video cameras at all times, calling it a “Michael Brown law.”
“We won’t have to play this game of witnesses’ memories and secret grand juries,” Brown family lawyer Benjamin Crump said in a Tuesday press conference in Ferguson, Mo. “It’ll just be transparent and we can see it for ourselves. We can hold people accountable when they have interactions with citizens. The system is so unfair to regular citizens.”
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“We ask that all of America join us in demanding change,” Crump said.
The national push to put video cameras on police officers gained new traction following the death of Michael Brown in August, but that effort largely petered out in the following months. Now, with Brown’s legal team calling for a rebirth of the movement, advocates hope politicians will hear the signal loud and clear.
The Brown family push echoes a similar effort in August that included a White House petition.
Police departments in both California and Texas have tested body-camera systems, while larger departments are also in various stages of exploration. One year-long study conducted by the Police Foundation, a nonprofit research group, and jointly overseen by a California police chief and a Cambridge University researcher showed that the use of body cameras “was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers.”
“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Rialto, Calif., police chief William Farrar told the New York Times. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”
In Rialto, a city 50 miles east of Los Angeles, citizens’ complaints against police dropped by 88 percent, while incidents of police using force against civilians fell by 60 percent.
“Citizens should know officers are being held accountable,” Denver Police Chief Robert White said earlier this year. “The only officers who would have a problem with body cameras are bad officers.”
Standing next to Reverend Al Sharpton and a crowd of lawyers and civil rights leaders on Tuesday, the Brown family’s legal advisers outlined their complaints about the way the prosecutor’s office handled the case.
“A first year law student would have done a better job cross-examining a killer of an unarmed person than the prosecutor’s office did,” Crump said, raising his voice to applause. “We object as publicly and loudly as we can on behalf of Michael Brown’s family that this process is broken.”
Sharpton called the prosecutor’s handling of the case “irresponsible” and “unnecessarily provocative,” criticizing Darren Wilson’s story as “full of gaps” and demanding that the federal government continue its own investigation, which has been ongoing for months.
“You have broken our hearts but you have no broken our backs,” Sharpton said. “We will continue to fight for a new level of accountability in policing in this country.”
Brown’s family on Monday urged protesters to remain peaceful, but violence soon broke out across the St. Louis area.
“Michael Brown, Sr. will say very little because he doesn’t want to misspeak because of the emotions going through him that will later be held against him,” Crump explained. Brown ended up saying nothing at all after the press conference was interrupted by an unspecified disruption.
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“Brown will not be remembered for the ashes of buildings burned in Ferguson,” Sharpton said. “He will be remembered for new legislation and the upholding of law that protects citizens in this country.”
Photo by Shawn Carrié