By LISA MARIE PANE, ATLANTA (AP) 09/23 — Two police shootings, both recorded by police. In one city, the police recordings were released almost immediately and protests remained calm. In the other, the chief has so far refused to provide the videos to the public and violent protests have wrought destruction in the heart of the city. Two different outcomes that raise some key questions: How soon are police obligated to release the recordings and why might they keep a lid on it?
In this era of a 24/7 cycle of citizen journalists and live video feeds, civil rights activists are saying the refusal to release video almost immediately underscores the fractured relationship between police and the community they serve.
“There’s a knee jerk reaction on the part of police departments. We used to call it the blue wall of silence,” said Randolph M. McLaughlin, a civil rights attorney and professor at Pace Law School in New York City. “Now it’s just a blue wall.”
Law enforcement officials, however, urge caution and contend police must resist caving into demands to release video or they risk tainting an ongoing investigation. They warn that video also isn’t necessarily the most illuminating and could unduly influence a witness’ version of events.
“The key thing that people need to understand is that the integrity of the investigation is the most important thing,” said David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis sociology professor who studies police use of deadly force. He added: “You cannot let the mob run how a police department runs an investigation.”
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, within days of a white officer fatally shooting an unarmed black man whose car had stalled in the center of a road, the public was privy to several videos, including from a police helicopter as well as from the dashboard of a cruiser. The videos show 40-year-old Terence Crutcher walking toward the driver’s side of his vehicle with his arms aloft and several officers following behind him with weapons drawn. The officers who responded had said he was ignoring their commands and that he kept reaching for his pocket as if he had a weapon.
Crutcher collapsed and died by the side of his vehicle after being simultaneously shot with a gun and a Taser. Within days of the Sept. 16 shooting, the police chief disclosed that Crutcher was unarmed.