Lawmakers mustkill law keepingvideotapes secret

Winston-Salem Journal

After last week’s shooting in Charlotte, we again urge the legislature to rescind its wrongheaded law that will prevent most police body cam and dashboard footage from being made public. Transparency is everything in public trust.

The law is set to take effect today.

On Swept. 24, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney released video footage related to the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott on Sept. 20 in Charlotte. Putney initially delayed releasing the footage, saying that it might have a negative effect on the investigation.

Scott’s family saw the footage last week and asked that it be released to the public immediately, according to the family’s attorney, Justin Bamberg.

The police say that on Sept. 20, officers were searching for a man with outstanding warrants when they witnessed Scott in his SUV with a handgun. He was not the man they were looking for, but police said they engaged him when they saw the gun, The Charlotte Observer reported. Officers approached Scott and gave him multiple warnings to drop the weapon, the Observer reported. Scott then got out of the vehicle with the gun in his hand, which is when he was shot by Officer Brentley Vinson.

The family disputes the claim that Scott had a gun.

Footage was taken from a police dashboard camera and a body camera worn by an officer on the scene. The footage does not confirm whether Scott had a gun.

We know that the release of police footage raises heated emotions. But we trust the public. If we as a society err, we should err on the side of transparency. Police-video footage, paid for with tax dollars, belongs to the public.

Andy Miller, the president of the N.C. Sheriff Police Alliance, defended the law, writing, “The new Body Camera Law … all but eliminates the typical political agendas of different politicians and narrative movement groups.”

But it should be obvious that no political agendas or opinions were eliminated because these recordings were kept out of the public eye. Instead, the withholding made the situation worse.

We’re glad that cooler heads prevailed over the weekend and that community leaders are working to resolve the problems. Basing discussions on the evidence at hand would be better than basing it on evidence withheld.

Law-enforcement officers perform a difficult and sometimes dangerous task that’s necessary for society to function smoothly. For the most part, officers operate with courage and integrity, which video footage can verify.

In a relative few cases, a bad apple misbehaves. Video footage can verify that, also. But not if it’s buried.

It’s not too late for the legislature to repeal this wrongheaded law.

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