On Wednesday, a New York grand jury in Staten Island elected not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the white police officer who put Eric Garner into the choke hold that caused his death.
The video evidence presented in front of the jury ignited a national firestorm over race and police brutality when it was published to YouTube in July. In it, Pantaleo can be seen employing a choke hold on Garner, 43, following an argument in front of a convenience store over allegations that Garner was illegally selling cigarettes.
Although choke holds are banned by New York Police Department, they are not technically illegal. Garner, who has asthma, can be heard on camera saying, “I can’t breathe.”
If Pantaleo was caught on camera and wasn’t indicted, where does that leave the argument for body cameras?
Earlier this week, President Obama outlined a new $263 million spending package designed to better train law enforcement and, notably, to put lapel-mounted cameras on 50,000 additional cops. Support for the cameras, which are ostensibly designed to increase transparency between law enforcement and the community, snowballed following a spate of racially charged shooting deaths at the hands of law enforcement, including John Crawford III in Ohio, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
Critics have called the efficacy of body cameras into question before. Police can toggle them on and off. And the question remains of who is responsible for storing all that data.
Nevertheless, it’s unclear whether camera footage can sway the outcome of a jury’s decision. In this case, for example, although Garner’s death was filmed, the New York Times reports that murder charges were unlikely as law enforcement is generally given “wide latitude to use force,” according to prosecutors and other legal experts.