Why the Eric Garner decision proves police body cameras aren’t enough

Handcuff Illustration

“Wholesale reform” is required, the NYCLU says.

The shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson sparked a national movement to put cameras on police all around the United States. And earlier this week, President Obama announced funding for 50,000 such cameras.

But when Eric Garner, accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, was killed by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, who used a banned chokehold to subdue him, the entire incident was caught in crystal clear video, including Garner telling officers, “I can’t breathe.”

A Staten Island grand jury on Wednesday voted against indicting Pantaleo despite the fact that Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner.

Activists who pushed for police cameras last week are now pointing to Garner’s case to say that cameras aren’t enough—that much deeper reform is needed.

The national push for police cameras gained speed around Brown’s death and then again after a grand jury declined to indict Wilson. 

“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.”

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“The failure of the Staten Island Grand Jury to file an indictment in the killing of Eric Garner leaves New Yorkers with an inescapable question: How will the NYPD hold the officers involved accountable for his death? And what will Commissioner Bratton do to ensure that this is the last tragedy of its kind?,” New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said following the grand jury’s decision. 

“Unless the Police Department aggressively deals with its culture of impunity and trains officers that they must simultaneously protect both safety and individual rights, officers will continue to believe that they can act without consequence.”

The NYCLU is backing the Right to Know Act, bills that require cops “to identify themselves formally to people they stop and, if there is no arrest or summons, provide a business card and require officers to obtain proof of consent before searching someone when there is no warrant or probable cause.” 

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Illustration by Max Fleishman

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill

Patrick Howell O'Neill is a notable cybersecurity reporter whose work has focused on the dark net, national security, and law enforcement. A former senior writer at the Daily Dot, O'Neill joined CyberScoop in October 2016. I am a cybersecurity journalist at CyberScoop. I cover the security industry, national security and law enforcement.