Black History, Police Body Cameras and the Urgency of Now

February 23, 2015 at 10:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

(Photo: Associated Press, Mark Lennihan)

Guest editorial by Kevin C. Peterson

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, this Black History Month is an occasion to reflect on the necessity of arming the police with body cameras.

As recent history has painfully taught us, there is an urgent need to dispel all ambiguity surrounding the murder of black males by local law enforcement. Police body cameras are not a panacea for this problem, but they may help.

The ostensible lessons gleaned last year from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice are that their deaths were more than separate, unrelated incidents.

Their deaths are apart of a historical pattern, which citizens within black communities have for decades called systemic “police brutality.” Their murders illustrate the truism that a protracted season of disregard for black life continues and that “death-by-cop” is too often a testament of the longstanding tension and racial resentment between white police officers and black males–especially young African-American males in the inner cities.

Racial animosity will take a longtime to dissipate in America, but for now practical responses and new policies are needed on how the police engage black men.

This is why Segun Iduwo wants his day in Boston court–and, if necessary, he’ll gladly take jail time.

The Mattapan minister was arrested last November during a rally outside the Suffolk County jail in Roxbury. He and hundreds were protesting the historical plight of black men as part the national reaction sparked by the Ferguson, MO grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Iduwo says he was standing silently at the “Black Lives Matter” protest when he was “singled out” by state police and arrested.

“They just came directly to me and handcuffed me. As far as I know they didn’t arrest anybody else.”

Still in his early 20s, Idowu, who is black, possesses a strong sense of history and a clear understanding of how civil disobedience, civic engagement and direct protest action can accelerate change. A product of the Boston Latin Academy, he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta. He has also attended, until recently, Boston University’s School of Theology.

Iduwo acknowledges he was arrested on charges of “disorderly conduct,” for protesting “the wrongs done to black men” and says he is willing to answer to the charges.

In the meantime, he has been pressing Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Williams Evans to equip each Boston police officer with a body camera, believing they will deter police misconduct. Along with Shekia Scott, Iduwo co-founded the Boston Police Camera Action Team last August.

A 2014 ACLU study reported the Boston police department’s practice of “stop-and frisk” disproportionately impacts young black males. Some have argued that “stop-and-frisk” is a harassment tool. So, keeping a police video record of those encounters makes sense and may save lives.

Legislation was recently filed by Boston City Councillor Charles Yancey to equip police officers with body cameras. Yancey said the cameras will “protect” patrol officers as much they will document how citizens interact with the police.

Late last year President Barack Obama wisely dedicated 75 million in grants for local police departments to purchase body camera equipment. Boston has yet to apply for funding.

“Not only do we want body cameras on officers but we also understand that policy must go with it … We call ourselves the cradle of democracy and we are the most progressive city in the nation. So if we are going to be progressive, then we ought to be one of the first major city all of its police officers uniformed with body cameras.”

Sometimes history is the result of winning small, mundane battles that most never notice. Often black historical advances were won on the local level–in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida’s smallest hamlets–where change was seemingly unconnected to larger, unfolding events.

Iduwo is a fresh voice who deserves attention for his principled stance and wiliness to go to jail.

He is also one of Boston’s youthful examples of how black history can be engaged by anyone at anytime if the moral intentions are right and if the price for advancement is willing to be paid.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

The views expressed are those of the author.

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