North Carolina’s body-cam bill proves that even small change is too much for a country that fetishizes police and white supremacy.
Systemic change can take years to implement. It’s a sobering, if not disquieting, thought. But doing long-term social justice movement work means aligning our hopes and ambitions with this edict.
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were added to the U.S. Constitution. On paper, these federal amendments criminalized state-sponsored enslavement and discrimination against any group based on race.
Yet we know these efforts didn’t work, or were stalled. Why? Because the South countered the progressive forces embodied by these federal laws with their own local measurements. It went by the name Jim Crow.
States had their own agenda. Nowhere in it was civil or human rights. Everywhere in it was rolling back the new world and modernizing the old.
This pattern of stalling progress and rolling back reforms continues, and is at the heart of the difficulty of making systemic change.
Black Lives Matter is shining a light on police brutality. And it’s intense. In defiance, police appear to be increasing their daring. The single-biggest push to deal with this are the institution, in some states, of body cam laws. To call this move imperfect would be an understatement. As we saw last week, even in states that require their officers to wear a body cam — to help hold police accountable as they engage with communities — many of the cameras suspiciously fall off or “dislodge.”
Still, like the Reconstruction laws, this is supposed to help rectify the past and set the clock right. It is supposed to nullify the belief that Blacks permanently exist exclusively within a police state, one in which police officers are above the law.
But Jim Crow proved that in white supremacy, where there’s a will there’s a way. One of those new ways is North Carolina’s House Bill 972, or the Body Cam Bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCory this week. McCory apparently walked away from all the tragedies last week — and the weeks before that — convinced that police need protection.
This new law, scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, will make footage of officers recorded by body cams unavailable under public record laws. The rationale undergirding this is the fear that footage may incite anti-police violence, similar to what happened in Dallas, Texas, last week.
It’s worth noting, of course, that the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, which are said to have inspired the police shootings in Dallas, were not caught on tape by police body cam. Both were recorded and uploaded to the internet by civilians.
But never mind that!
Now, should no one just so happen to be around with a phone recorder to catch an officer who may have crossed the line while performing his duties, all we’re left with is the police narrative. And why?
“It’s better to have rules and guidelines with all this technology than no rules and guidelines whatsoever,” McCrory told ABC News.
Translation: modernizing the old world of undocumented police brutality for these times, when videos of police brutalizing black civilians are going viral on the web.
And as this story of a 46-year-old Vietnamese woman out of North Carolina — who suffered from bipolar disorder — proves, body cams may not amount to much in the way of police reform. But right now they’re all we have.
The technology is not enough and far from even close to the kind of substantive change Black and Brown people are working for.
However, the fact that North Carolina is willing to sign off on this bill, to deny the public access to this footage on the grounds and principles of transparency and restoring trust, means that even this bit of progress and change was too much and too dangerous for a country obsessed with crime-fighting and white supremacy.