Seattle, Washington (TFC) – Netflix’s gripping new original true crime series, Making a Murderer, has people discussing law enforcement oversight and the lack of accountability in the criminal justice system in a way that 1202 people killed by police in America during 2015 did not. The seemingly overnight popularity of the controversial series has turned ordinary viewers into crime-scene experts, and almost everyone officially involved in the investigation and trial into social media mini-celebrities. The documentary is riddled with troubling inconsistencies that illustrate ongoing corruption in the criminal justice system but offers just enough sensationalism to appeal to the mainstream. Less entertaining are the countless stories of people (including children) with objects mistaken for weapons being gunned down by police or the 36 people who died last year while in police custody. According to The Guardian, 13 people have already been killed by police this year in the US (they’ve installed a ticker so you can keep up-to-date). We can only hope that the outrage the public feels over this years-old investigation will help bring light to the frequent and ongoing abuses against the American people by an inefficient and dangerous criminal justice system.
The Avery case has so captivated Americans that several official petitions asking for pardons and retrials have been started on Whitehouse.gov. Some of these gathered so many signatures that White House officials were forced to respond. Unfortunately for Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, the President of the United States has no power to commute sentences for those convicted of state crimes. Another, more apt petition has gathered nearly 16,000 signatures since last Thursday; demanding a federal investigation into the Sheriffs’ Departments of Manitowoc and Calumet County. While creating petitions on Whitehouse.gov seems about as effective as our government overall, occasionally petitions demanding real change and suggesting new policies that could successfully inhibit law enforcement abuses do appear. Unfortunately, they are subject to official pooh-poohing by government employees as well.
Back in August of 2014, a petition was published demanding the implementation of a Mike Brown Law. This petition was officially responded to by Roy L. Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity in the Domestic Policy Council of White House staff after it reached 154,747 signatures. The proposed Mike Brown Law would have required body-mounted cameras for all state, local, and federal law enforcement officials. The official White House response states that while the administration is supportive of the technology we have available to be able to correct police oversights and eliminate power abuses, they cite unanswered research questions about the best application of this technology and, ultimately, cost as reasons why it is not immediately feasible to enact the Mike Brown Law. Currently, only about 25% of departments employ the use of body-mounted cameras for officers.
In light of the fact that police departments nationwide are regularly outfitted with expensive riot gear, grenade launchers, and armored vehicles, body-mounted cameras seem like a minimal expense. In a statement in support of body-mounted cameras on police officers the American Civil Liberties Union writes:
“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 support their use.”
If all police officers and investigators in either the Brown or Avery cases (or any of the officers involved in any of the 1202 police killings, for that matter) had worn body-mounted cameras, there would be more recordings available to analyze. Body-cam evidence could be used to determine the truth of messy and difficult questions about culpability, evidence tampering, and the ethical treatment of suspects.
So-called “true” crime drama fascinates television viewers when it is as sensational as Making a Murderer; this documentary offers a glaring look into an American criminal justice system that is just not all that interested in the truth. With body-cam technology applied to every level of policing, incarceration, and investigation, determining the facts to prove guilt and innocence would be exponentially easier. The American justice system, along with the help of the media, are experts at making murderers, thugs, and junkies out of those who stand accused of crimes. If you were arrested or killed by police tomorrow, what would they say about you? Would you even have a chance to defend yourself? It is time to demand truth and accountability of the criminal justice system and end years of ongoing corruption and abuse of power.