We will never know for sure how Michael Brown’s deadly encounter with a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., began.
People profess to know, but they don’t. They weren’t there. What were the first words uttered? What tone was used? What were the actions and reactions of both men that ended in the teenager’s death?
It would be a different situation if the whole episode — first word to last shot — had been recorded, the encounter sent immediately to a third party. At the very least, a video with audio could give pause to the incessant demonizing of both the officer and Brown that has characterized this national flashpoint for tensions between law enforcement and the communities they police.
Video doesn’t lie. People — be they police, witnesses or suspects — do. Or, to be charitable, people twist events to bolster their version. Sometimes, they just don’t remember accurately.
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It’s with that understanding that the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on Thursday joined a handful of states in launching an app to record encounters between police and the public. Used wisely, the Mobile Justice technology could be a great resource. Everyone will be forced to be their best selves: responsible, respectful and acting within their rights. We don’t always have that now.
The free app is for Android phones, but an iPhone version is in the works. The app records an encounter, sending the file automatically to the ACLU. The app can also help with filing a complaint.
Ferguson was not the impetus. The ACLU nationally began developing the app more than a year ago.
The group is quick to say that for the vast majority of officers who conduct stops professionally, the app will document that good work. But it hopes the technology can also counter an often-heard complaint — that cellphones are sometimes confiscated by police or video is deleted.
The ACLU is counseling in common sense: Don’t reach quickly for a cellphone without first telling an officer that you intend to record. Don’t get in the way of police trying to stop crime or protect the public. In other words, when they are doing their jobs. This isn’t a casting call for mini-documentarians with an ax to grind.
Remember, George Zimmerman remains a poster child for what can go wrong when overzealous, non-law enforcement members of the public take the law into their own hands.
Record. But follow police instructions. Let the evidence speak the truth later.