Wednesday evening, and into the wee hours of Thursday morning, I watched the news from Charlotte, mostly on MSNBC, occasionally clicking over to CNN.
A couple of criticisms of the cable TV news coverage come to mind:
— First, throughout the night, MSNBC covered the news on the street as it happened, in real time. However, the network replayed video of the most dramatic parts of the evening’s civil unrest many times as the hours passed. Showing the worst, most dramatic parts of the protest over and over had the effect of making brief incidents appear to be continuing throughout the evening. The news is bad enough, no need to make it look even worse. I’m not sure to what extent CNN also replayed video.
— Second, a major issue addressed by commentators and interviewees was transparency and truthfulness on the part of the Police Department. Much of the tragic shooting of a black citizen by a black police officer earlier in the week was recorded by body cameras or dashboard cameras. Perhaps there is also cell phone video.
Over and over it was stated that the video in possession of police and prosecutors should be released to the family of the shooting victim, and to the public. The stated assumption is that the video of the shooting will reveal the TRUTH about what really happened. News reporters and anchors failed to challenge the assumption.
It’s unclear how many body cameras and dashboard cameras recorded video. I suspect that police and prosecutors have video from many cameras. Each video will provide visuals from a particular point of view. Probably none of the cameras captured the event in its entirety, from start to finish.
If all the video is released, the public will see many parts of the incident from many different points of view. The video evidence will not be crystal clear or of high quality. Different people will draw different conclusions from all or parts of the material. What an opportunity for confusion and misinterpretation of evidence.
Most people support “transparency.” But I think we need to give more thought to the most effective way to find the truth. Remember that parts of the video may appear — rightly or wrongly — to incriminate police officers, victims, or even bystanders.
Throughout American history, the acceptable process for deciding truth, innocence and guilt has been a fair trial by a judge and a jury of peers.
We have a dilemma. Many people in America have lost confidence in the judicial system. But are we confident that video evidence will enable the public to fairly bypass the judicial process?
Despite the above reservations, releasing the video would relieve some of the rightful anger in Charlotte and throughout America. It’s probably the prudent thing to do.