Written By: Anton Sawyer
As American citizens, how naive were we in thinking that body cameras on police officers would really change anything? When the talk of implementing this safety net on a national level started making headlines in the early 2010s, I truly thought we were going to turn a page. I was very hopeful, and very wrong. Over the last decade, we have been witness to the clever maneuvering of various police departments whose specific intent has been to either minimize what can be seen by the general public in these recordings, or that the footage can be edited/shaded in such a way upon its release as to make the violation of human rights by the officers as being justifiable. Statements made by police chiefs, prosecutors, and other enablers over the last decade have done everything possible to ensure the “boys in blue” will never be molested by accountability.
And it’s only getting worse.
Sadly, so far in the 2020s, legal infractions coming from law enforcement have escalated in both terms of numbers and severity. These escalations have also coincided with some serious legal gymnastics to de-legitimize any visual evidence that would show the police as doing something illegal or immoral. That’s what this article is going to look at: police, body-cam footage, how human rights are being violated, and how those who are in charge of keeping the police accountable have done nothing but help perpetuate these gross displays of inhumane activities through a myriad of validation statements and legal Tom Foolery.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for all articles can be found in the bibliography linked here.
If you can spare a few bucks to support a starving artist, buy me a coffee!
CALIFORNIA COPS & COPYRIGHTS
Though I detest what California law enforcement began doing in early 2022 when it comes to their manipulation of body-cam footage, I have to admit it’s incredibly clever. At this time in the Golden State, the Santa Ana Police Department and their officers took a different approach to subterfuge when it comes to their body cam videos exposing potentially illegal stops/behaviors: the exploitation of copyright laws.
California lawmaker Johnathan Ryan Hernandez says police in Santa Ana have been playing loud, copyrighted music so that video of them on patrol would likely be taken down if it was posted online. Disney songs, such as "You've Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story" and "We Don't Talk About Bruno" from "Encanto," can be heard in videos posted to Santa Ana Audits, a YouTube channel dedicated to filming interactions with Santa Ana Police. Because videos posted to YouTube and other video hosting sites are often monitored for potential copyright infringement and risk of being removed, this little trick will impact how widely the content could be shared online.
This entire event came about when Santa Ana police woke Hernandez in the middle of the night while playing loud music during an investigation over a stolen vehicle. While only parts of the conversation between Hernandez and the investigating officer are audible, Hernandez said the officer he engaged with told him he was playing the music in the hopes that, if the video was posted online, it would be taken down because of copyright infringement. The cop knew exactly what he was doing.
In a statement made on Instagram, Santa Ana police said the department “takes seriously all complaints regarding the service provided by the department and the conduct of its employees. Our department is committed to conducting complete, thorough, and objective investigations.” Both Hernandez and Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento have stated they’ve spoken to the police chief on the matter, who then launched an investigation. At the time of publication, no new information regarding the investigation has surfaced. However, whether the officer is punished or not punished for this is only half the issue.
What I thought was going to be the “smoking gun” when it came to police accountability—the body cameras—has turned out to be a cheap plastic squirt gun you get at the 99-cent store.
The only thing I can equate this kind of ingenuity when it comes to perpetuating a specific behavior (good or bad), was when I was a meth addict as a teenager. The levels of grifts, lies, and other assorted tactics to keep using meth was implemented, and this technique being used by SAPD is highly reminiscent. To figure out specific ways to ensure that only the smallest amount of people will be able to see your transgression, if at all, is cunning. It shows a deep-seated desire to keep the status quo you’ve got going. I guess being in California has taught them one thing: the court of public opinion can be just as damaging as a court of law.
Speaking about the intersection of court and public opinions …
MINNEAPOLIS PD TOO VILE FOR COURT/PUBLIC TO HEAR
Santa Ana Police Department is using the wholesomeness of Disney as a cloak. Conversely, the Minneapolis Police Department has decided to go the route of being too profane/racist/misogynistic. So much so, that to keep up the appearances of the police department, prosecutors aren’t playing body-cam footage in court.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which published the results of a sweeping two-year-long civil rights probe into the Minneapolis Police Department in April 2022, it was found that officers often say disrespectful and offensive things to criminal suspects, bystanders, and witnesses. The report, which relies on over 10 years of data on arrests, police stops and searches, trainings, policies, and more, also revealed that MPD officers are "much less professional and respectful" than those in neighboring departments. Because of how odious their behavior is, prosecutors are often unable to show any body cam footage during trials as a result. "When MPD officers scream obscenities at community members, it makes it challenging for prosecutors to do their job and therefore undermines the criminal justice system," the report said.
In essence, the prosecutors in the case know that this footage will ultimately harm their chances of a conviction, so it's easier to sweep these actions under the rug. This not only prevents law enforcement from looking bad, but also prevents any positive systemic changes which may come from holding police accountable for their horrific actions. The report concluded that Minneapolis Police Department's trainings "reinforce a culture that exacerbates a pattern of race-based policing," based on a review of training observations and materials, and witness testimony. It also noted that the police "consistently" use racist and misogynist language, selectively enforce the law based on suspects' race, and violate human rights law. And had it not been for this report, the general public never would have been able to see any of it due to its suppression.
For the last 10 years, it has been active policy by the DA to try and contain these videos as much as possible. Both the police and prosecutors know that if the footage is released, it will become part of the public record due to it being a key component of a trial and would further deteriorate the relationship between the law and their charges. However, if people who live in that area don’t know exactly what they are contending with, it appears that the results could be deadly.
And when it comes to knowing what you’re dealing with …
DEAF MAN INCARCERATED FOR … BEING DEAF?
Editor’s Note - Though this event didn’t take place in the 2020s, the lawsuit brought about by the plaintiff against the Idaho Springs Police Department is from 2022, with quotes from the same year.
In 2019, Brady Mistic was approached by a pair of police officers (Nicholas Hanning and Ellie Summers in Idaho Springs, Colorado), who’d followed him into a parking lot after he allegedly ran a stop sign. He did not comply with the officers’ demands as he had no idea what they were saying to him; Mistic is deaf in both ears and does not lip-read, communicating primarily through American Sign Language. Mistic exited his car around 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2019, and was heading toward a laundromat when he was suddenly “blinded by police vehicle lights and/or a spotlight shone by the officers." After startling him with their lights, the officers ordered Mistic to get back into his car.
“He had no idea what was happening, what the police were doing, or if the officers’ presence had anything to do with him,” Raymond Bryant, Mistic’s lawyer said in a lawsuit brought against the department in 2022. He continued, “Within seven seconds of exiting their vehicle, without looking or listening to assess the situation, and without utilizing any reasonable attempts at communication, the officers went hands-on and used force on Mr. Mistic. Reasonable police officers should always de-escalate instead of escalate circumstances so that force is not used unless absolutely necessary. But these were not reasonable officers.”
Officer Hanning threw Mistic to the ground, “bashing Mr. Mistic’s head into the concrete." In body camera video footage that surfaced, the cruiser can be seen driving into the laundromat’s parking lot. As the officers park, Summers yells to Mistic to “sit back in your car.” When he doesn’t obey, Hanning immediately exits the vehicle, yelling, “Who do you think you are?” In the background, Summers can be heard shouting: “Arms behind your back right now or I’m going to tase you!” Without hesitating, Hanning responds: “Tase him!” The entire scene is made just that much more ghastly when seeing Mistic flailing about screaming "no ears!"
The video is terrifying in the fact that this occurred in the “land of the free.” What’s even worse is the level of enabling that was brought about by those with higher authority when all of the evidence was released. The Idaho Springs Police Department released a statement that said, Mistic “immediately got out of his vehicle” and “quickly“ approached a “clearly marked patrol car” that had its emergency lights activated. “The officers gave verbal commands for Mr. Mistic to get back in his vehicle."
This was of course followed by the ever-popular victim shaming. In the same response, ISPD also stated that Hanning suffered a broken leg because of Mistic’s “resistive actions” when Hanning initially approached and used force on Mistic. “Officers attempted to gain control of Mr. Mistic by placing him into handcuffs due to his unexplained actions,” the police statement says. “Mr. Mistic resisted the officers, and a physical altercation took place.”
It gets worse.
In an attempt to somehow legitimize the actions of the officers, Mr. Mistic ended up being detained for FOUR MONTHS before being released due to the charges having gotten dropped.
Not only were the responses of the ISPD disgusting by themselves, but the fact that Mistic was detained for four months before being released illustrates that those who run the show were trying to do ANYTHING to shade appearances somehow, thereby making the stop itself and abuse both justified. Of course, that abuse could never be justified, which has led to Mistic suing the officers, the city of Idaho Springs, and the Clear Creek County Board of Commissioners.
“PROTECT AND SERVE?”/FINAL THOUGHTS
Throughout this entire article, there has been one topic I’ve avoided specifically: politicization. The examples here have transcended the ideals of “fund,” “re-fund,” “de-fund,” or any other spin that could be added to make it about one party being better/doing better than the other. We are looking at legal maneuvering and enabling that ranges from preventing the actions of a police officer from being seen by the largest number of those they are supposed to “protect and serve” (which that in itself is a lie), to flat-out human rights violations by assaulting and then incarcerating an innocent deaf man. It shouldn’t matter whether you are a liberal or a conservative when seeing these examples and whether you think the police should receive more or less money. As an American, you should know that if you are pulled over and innocent, there is a 100% chance that you won’t be assaulted or shot.
There is no price tag for that level of peace of mind, for either Republicans or Democrats. The reality of the situation is this: at the end of the day, until there is accountability to be held by the thick-ass blue line of denial, all the money in the world isn’t going to change anything.
If you can spare a few bucks to support a starving artist, buy me a coffee!