Today’s digital age, in which everyone has at least a smart phone, creates an environment with less and less privacy for anyone, even police. With a greater number of police interventions being caught on camera, debate regularly blazes up about how they handle certain precarious situations. The most recent consternation is caused by a video recorded in a Coney Island apartment building hallway on March 8th, 2015, by David Rivera.
In this video, we see a man not really cooperating while he is being arrested (reasons for which are unknown). Yes, he shouts out his innocence, and among other things asks to allow him to take his coat off, but also repeatedly refuses to obey police orders. About two minutes and a half into the video, things rapidly escalate when one of the officers punches the suspect, in response to him trying to grab his head.
The hallway quickly fills up with bystanders and law enforcers, causing an extremely stressful situation, in which Sgt. Diana Pichardo decides it’s necessary to grab her gun. At a certain point, she swiftly points the weapon towards Rivera, who was filming the commotion from a short distance. Later on, in an attempt to defuse the situation, residents like Rivera are forced back to their apartment. Rivera kept filming, which irritated Pichardo to the point where she took the man’s phone. Later on, officers also reportedly searched Rivera’s home.
So what’s the ruckus about? Well, in the first place about Pichardo pointing a gun at someone who, by filming police actions, wasn’t doing anything illegal. Second, Pichardo snatched Rivera’s phone while he was in the privacy of his own home. And there is of course the search of Rivera’s home without a warrant, and the fact that he reportedly spent two days in jail.
Let’s assess the situation: When a police officer feels that a situation could be life threatening, he or she, by law, is allowed to pull out a gun. That’s usually a split-second decision to make in a very stressful situation – like the one in the Coney Island hallway. Law enforcers are of course trained for things like this, but they are not robots. One must understand what a police officer is going through, in order to understand the erroneous judgements they sometimes make.
So filming is legal, but pulling out a gun is too. However, Pichardo should not have pointed her gun at Rivera. And if it wasn’t for the video, the latter would have no proof whatsoever that it happened. Same goes for the eventual taking of the phone, and because Rivera also had cameras in his home, he could also prove the illegal search. And what’s up with the two days in jail for doing nothing wrong?
But isn’t society’s urge to capture police misconduct – “Cop Caught on Camera!” – making situations more dangerous than they need to be? There are a lot of people out there who hope to be the creator of the next viral video. Would it be safer if lawmakers prohibited capturing police actions? Perhaps it would also reduce the number of people getting shot (or getting guns pointed at them) for presumably having a weapon in their hand.
Would such a ban only cause a massive rise of abuse of power by the police, as well as a heinous violation of constitutional rights. And should they, because they are public servants, accept all possible means of capturing their actions which hold them accountable?
It’s a complicated situation. On one hand, we rely on these people to keep us safe. On the other hand, they are people… and people make mistakes.
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