Dear [Elected Representative],
This letter is a call for congressional action to mandate that every police officer in this nation be outfitted with body cameras. Further, I call for the disabling or loss of those cameras to be made an actionable offense. Outfitting officers with cameras will provide a powerful disincentive for rogue behavior and also make citizens aware that their interactions with police are being recorded. When all parties are on video, situations are much less likely to escalate to the point of violence.
In those jurisdictions where officers already wear cameras, both police violence and citizen complaints have been reduced. The presence of a camera keeps all parties—officer and citizen alike—accountable. Complaints about surveillance from police are disingenuous; if an officer is not acting improperly, he or she should have no objection to the existence of a video record of his or her actions. Those concerns are also outweighed by the imperative to maintain citizen trust in law enforcement, which is eroding everywhere and already nonexistent in many minority communities. Complaints about cost are also disingenuous in view of police departments’ eager spending on military-style hardware, which contributes to a dangerous oppositional mindset among officers and alienates them from the people they are supposed to serve and protect.
Police officers are certainly entitled to the prerogative of self-defense, but it is apparent that this prerogative operates quite differently during interactions with African-Americans than during other situations. When young white men can massacre people in movie theaters and schools and at political gatherings without suffering police violence, yet black men—and boys—are routinely gunned down on the merest suspicion of hostility, something is badly out of balance in the conduct of law enforcement in this country.
I challenge you as an elected representative of the people of this country—all of the people—to do the right thing for both the police officers of this country and the citizens who all too often find themselves without fair redress.
I am sending copies of this letter to Chellie Pingree, Bruce Poliquin, Angus King, Susan Collins, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama today. If you want to use all or part of it as the basis for your own letter, feel free.