Until recent years, the unfortunate phenomenon of police officer-involved killings of persons of color has been largely kept out of media focus. But now mainstream media channels are covering the incidents and giving voice to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which pledges unity and love among citizens as they “stand together for justice, human dignity and our shared goal of ending all forms of state violence against Black people.” As part of the coverage, media outlets will air video segments that depict the violence that is the subject of the  BLM protests. Video of these incidents is often recorded via law enforcement body or dashboard cameras.

For incidents occurring in North Carolina, however, the availability of those key video recordings will be significantly curtailed. Governor Pat McCrory just signed into law House Bill 972, which prohibits the public disclosure of police officer camera recordings. If you happen to be in the video or audio recording, you can request the file, but that request can be denied. You can then take your request to a judge to whom you have to prove that releasing the recording to you would serve a “compelling public interest.”

Defenders of the legislation argue that the bill will protect the privacy of crime victims, suspects, and officers and that early release of video footage of controversial incidents can give a distorted view of the event. McCrory stated:

“Technology like dashboard and body cameras can be very helpful, but when used by itself, technology can also mislead and misinform, which also causes other issues and problems within our community.”

Opponents of the legislation argue that it frustrates the public’s desire for transparency in law enforcement and protects only the officers and law enforcement agency involved. According to the ACLU of North Carolina:

“People who are filmed by police body cameras should not have to spend time and money to go to court in order to see that footage. These barriers are significant and we expect them to drastically reduce any potential this technology had to make law enforcement more accountable to community members.”

This new law has certainly frustrated media outlets’ ability to expose abuse of authority by rogue law enforcement officials, reduced opportunity for public scrutiny, and arguably enabled further violence. But not all hope is lost. There is still widely available video footage that can expose wrongdoing: that captured by bystanders. So for those citizens who would like a chance to be part of societal change, they need to be in the right place at the right time and, equally essential, have a sufficiently-charged handheld device.

The post originally appeared on morethancle.org, the legal blog of American Law Institute CLE.

Dara Lovitz

Dara Lovitz is the author of Muzzling A Movement: The Effects of Anti-Terrorism Law, Money, and Politics on Animal Activism (2010) and Catching Falling Cradles: A Gentle Approach to Classic Rhymes (2014), Adjunct Professor of Animal Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law, and CLE Project Coordinator for American Law Institute CLE. She is a founding board member of the non-profit organization Peace Advocacy Network.

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