The nation in 2016 watched a shocking scene erupt in a locale where anything but was expected. Charlotte, North Carolina, last year was set ablaze in the aftermath of a fatal police shooting where a black man was the victim and the body camera footage of the incident was shielded, which led not only to protest, but an uptown uprising wherein property was damaged.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney saw the images, watched the videos, and listened to the audio provided by the news media and told me that his city – which a year before was making headlines for the aggressive, persistent and sometimes rowdy protests surrounding the fatal shooting of 26 year-old Mr. Brandon Tate-Brown, who was unarmed and fleeing when Officer Nicholas Carrelli discharged his firearm rather than use his Taser – could be susceptible to rioting and thus improving police-community relations, and focusing on transparency, must be a priority.
Almost six months have passed since the jarring scene played out in Charlotte, and Philadelphia – faced with the possibility of having to adhere to a similar policy that makes it strenuous for North Carolinians to view recorded footage (the law hadn’t yet gone in effect when the police department there resisted the demands to disclose, though officials cited it anyway) – is only just now, after protesting and lobbying went to affect, holding a public hearing on body cameras, despite a pilot of the technology taking place years prior.
Instead of going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure maximum visibility of, and participation in, the March 13th body camera hearing at City Hall (room 400 at 1pm), the City of Philadelphia did the bare minimum: placed a notice in the classified section on March 2nd in three daily newspapers. No one reached out to grassroots civil rights groups, like Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania or P.O.W.E.R (Philadelphians Organized to Empower, Witness and Rebuild), or police reform activists, to ensure their testimony would be included and put on the record.
In fact, my news organization, Techbook Online, which in the summer of 2016, prior to the Charlotte uprising, organized the press conference that ignited the conversation around a body camera hearing, was left to place calls to a Councilman’s office just to get basic details of the event, and to obtain clarity on whether or not public testimony will be featured.
Citizens of Philadelphia who attend next Monday’s hearing will have a chance to speak, but the question is whether or not they’ll know about it. It’s troubling how low-profile this public hearing is, especially when juxtaposed to the high-profile concerts, barbecues and pomp and circumstances hosted by local politicians. When a local lawmaker is giving away a book bag, handing out a hot dog, or blowing up a moon bounce, it seems as if they pursue earned media to ensure maximum participation, but now that the issue is of a serious nature and will likely draw the most frustrated among us if broadcast widely, the sweat equity allocated to promotions is minimal.
Moreover, since the experts, including Police Commissioner Richard Ross, are already confirmed to speak, the issue of how we define and recognize expertise again arises. Expertise isn’t a trait only of the elected, appointed or the well-studied; expertise is often found in the experienced, too. Those who experience injustice, and who live the closest to it, should be called upon to inform the solutions.
Philadelphia’s body camera hearing should be a big deal, but there has not been a subtle mention in the newspaper. The public should’ve been engaged in it, not left to wonder about it. And the experts who were slated to speak should’ve included those whose encounters with the police and the bureaucracy manifested in the absence of transparency.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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