UPDATE: This article has now been re-published by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).
On August 9, at around 12 in the afternoon, Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were attacked by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. With his hands in the air, telling Officer Wilson that he was unarmed, the officer shot Brown several times, killing him as a result. This was the eyewitness account told by Brown’s friend Dorian.
And now there is a chaotic conflict occurring in Ferguson, MO, between the people of Ferguson and its local police force. On one side, the people are looking to Dorian’s eyewitness account of the event to condemn the police for police brutality and for murder. On the other side, the police are defending Officer Wilson, trying to justify the shooting over an apparent robbery at a convenience store by Brown and Johnson just minutes before Brown was killed.
Which side is telling the truth? The fact that we don’t actually know makes matters like this all the more chaotic. What we do know is that Michael Brown was, indeed, unarmed and that his friend Dorian was present at the scene. We also have confirmation from Dorian that he and Brown did actually rob the convenience store for some cigars just minutes before the altercation between Brown and Wilson. And yet, despite all this, we won’t truly know how Officer Wilson handled himself with Brown and Johnson and why it resulted in an unarmed teenager getting killed with several gunshot wounds.
This unfortunate reality is the direct result of knowledge in which we, the people, do not possess. This unfortunate reality is the direct result of safety procedures in which should be established, but instead are ignored. This unfortunate reality is the direct result of laws not keeping up with the times.
What do I mean by this? What I mean is the lawful enforcement of police having to wear cameras at all times while on duty. This has been attempted before with major success. In Rialto, California, in its first year of being implemented, “the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent” and the “Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.”
As a result of said success, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a paper advocating forced body-mounted cameras on all police officers throughout the United States:
“We’re against pervasive government surveillance, but when cameras primarily serve the function of allowing public monitoring of the government instead of the other way around, we generally regard that as a good thing. While we have opposed government video surveillance of public places, for example, we have supported the installation of video cameras on police car dashboards, in prisons, and during interrogations.”
As we all should! And this idea isn’t new either. The proliferation and open-sourcing of the surveillance state to all of the common people is what is known as Sousveillance, as opposed to surveillance. Originally coined by inventor and researcher Steve Mann, also dubbed the “father of wearable computing,” sousveillance proposes the radical idea that the surveillance state can only be effectively addressed by open-sourcing said state. In other words, instead of cameras being limited in control by that of governments, police, and private corporations, they should also be open to the public as a whole to act as a counter balance to the powers that be.
That is what’s being advocated by the ACLU – a sousveillance law which balances the power of police with that of the power of the people. And with that realization and understanding comes a mass voice demanding for sousveillance laws to be put into effect immediately! Especially after what just happened in Ferguson, MO!
As you can see in the picture provided above, as I’m writing this, a petition at We the People White House webpage has already been launched, demanding that police start wearing body-mounted cameras while on duty. In just three days after launching the petition, the 100,000 signature goal is very near with an already astounding 84,207 signed thus far. The end date of this petition launch is by September 12, which I’m sure we’ll see over a hundred thousand signatures by that time, if not more.
By no means should people see sousveillance laws as a solution to the problem at hand, of course. Rather they should be seen as tools for us to use to help combat against injustice, wherever it may rear its ugly head.
The solution is education, however – education about racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, etc. Violent crimes against people of different skin color or different gender identities continue to this day unfortunately, and so must be counteracted by educating the people as to why these unjust ideas are wrong and should be thrown into the dustbin of history. But it’s not a simple solution, nor one which’ll greatly affect society overnight. It’s a gradual process, in which we’ll need sousveillance laws to help establish a means of addressing injustice as they occur.
The murder of Michael Brown was a very unfortunate event, and as a result chaos ensues in Ferguson, MO. This could’ve easily been avoided had Officer Wilson been subjected to on-the-clock surveillance via body-mounted cameras. The people would know, soon after the incident, what actually occurred between Officer Wilson and Michael Brown. Instead we’re forced to rely on eyewitness accounts and media bias stoking the flames with irrelevant character assassinations.
This isn’t about whether Officer Wilson was a good cop or not before he killed an unarmed teenager. This isn’t about whether Michael Brown was a good kid or not before he robbed a store and then subsequently killed minutes after. This is about knowledge. This is about power. With both, chaos is averted. With neither, chaos thrives.
You want to put an end to police brutality and other examples of injustice? Then embrace sousveillance laws! You want to make sure that another Michael Brown doesn’t occur again? Then sign the petition! It’s not a one-shot-kills-all solution, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.