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September 15, 2010

In Memory of Aiyana Stanley-Jones: Police Officers Should Constantly Be Under Surveillance

“Policemen so cherish their status as keepers of the peace and protectors of the public that they have occasionally been known to beat to death those citizens or groups who question that status.” ~David Mamet


The CATO Institute, "a public policy research organization, a think tank — dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace," has recently called for police departments around the country to require on-duty police officers to be under constant video surveillance .  Their online video promoting this prospect references alleged human rights violations by officers that were not caught on camera.  The video also claims that civilians have a right to record on-duty police officers in many instances, despite misstatements of law by police officers and departments.     

With the advances in technology today, there is no reason that every on-duty police officer should not be outfitted with a small camera and microphone, so that there is real evidence of each incident or arrest.  There should not be situations like the case of Aiyana Stanley-Jones (and countless others), where the record consists merely of the testimony and account of the officers against that of the victims. 



On the morning of May 16, 2010, Detroit police shot and killed a little girl named Aiyana Stanley Jones. The police were at little girl's home to execute a search warrant in a homicide investigation.  They threw a flash bang, also known as a stun grenade, through the front window of the crowded apartment onto the couch where Aiyana was sleeping. Aiyana caught fire. As her grandmother tried to put out the flames, police entered, and a gun went off. Aiyana was shot in the neck and pronounced dead at the hospital. Her father, Charles Jones, told the Associated Press that he had to wait several hours to find out what had happened to his daughter.  The police later found the homicide suspect they were looking for in the apartment above the one where Stanley-Jones was shot, where he surrendered without violence.

Why am I writing this article?  Personally, I believe that police officers are given too much power and discretion, which they generally use to harass everyday hardworking people.   Furthermore, situations like the unwarranted deaths of Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Sean Bell are reprehensible, tragic, and sickening.

It is true - I have a strong distaste for police officers, not all of them, just mostly all of them.  I see them walking around pompously, many of them obese, doing nothing but chasing tail and acting tough, eager to unholster their firearm whenever they feel like it. Some people may say the cliche that police officers are around to "protect and serve," but I do not see it that way.  A police officer has never protected me or helped me with anything.  How about you?  Most of them are on a power trip and are so caught up in the dramatized Hollywood version of being a "cop" that they cannot wait for an opportunity to pull their gun and fire.  They are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent, and brutal.  Furthermore, they are uneducated for the responsibilities and status that they have in society.  They should be required to go to law school and earn a J.D., more akin to the education requirement of Plato's Guardians, as described in his Republic.   

The reality is that police are usually protected under a government qualified immunity statute which keeps them immune from tort liability for injuries to persons or property damage caused by the officer while in the course of employment (see Sean Bell shooting), so long as he or she reasonably believes that they are acting within the scope of their employment - a subjective test.  Even if a police department is found liable under a civil suit or settlement, the taxpayers are the ones to pay the settlement.  Until the law changes to put more responsibility and accountability on police officers and departments, it does not really matter too much if they are recorded or not.  I will continue to carry around my Kodak pocket video recorder though, and everybody else should do the same thing when pulled over or stopped by a police officer.  Set your phone to record them if necessary, but protect your rights, because they will lie in order to justify their actions.