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BUSH: It's time for Congress to make video evidence public
FROM THE EDITOR

BUSH: It's time for Congress to make video evidence public

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Federalism works when the right balance between state and national authority is maintained.

In America, the states reside freely in the shade of a national umbrella. Thanks to the 10th Amendment, every law that isn't covered at the national level is left to the residents of individual states to decide. Some states legalize marijuana usage while others criminalize it. Some set speed limits at 80 and others resist driving faster than 65 miles per hour. Some have income taxes, others rely on higher property and sales taxes.

The men who created the framework around which this country would be created wanted it to be that way. The 10th Amendment isn't just part of the U.S. Constitution, it is the period at the end of the Bill of Rights.

But even as the framers left much of governance to the states, some liberties, rights and freedoms were reserved for all Americans.

It is time for Congress to act when it comes to how Americans are policed. Video footage from body cameras and cameras on the dash of patrol cars needs to be made an easily accessible public record in every state when officers are involved in any incident that results in injury.

This isn't an indictment of the police. Video evidence makes innocent people look innocent and guilty people look guilty.

In South Dakota, police and prosecutors protect access to this video evidence so carefully, the Rapid City Police Department has refused to release footage of officers commendably avoiding lethal actions against citizens when they would have been justified using deadly force to simply avoid setting a precedent.

South Dakota's public records laws are among the least transparent in the nation. Many legislators have spoken in favor of public access to government and its records, however in the two sessions I have observed, very few public records improvements have been proposed and all of those have failed.

South Dakota legislators are satisfied with the system already in place. In the most recent session, the simple request of a Governor sharing the cost of security on trips out of the state only one time each year was killed in committee. Lawmakers used the excuse of "safety" even though about half the states and the federal government all make the same information available and gubernatorial safety hasn't been compromised in any of those states.

The nation watched body cameras and dashcam videos from multiple officers in the Derek Chauvin trial recently. His interactions with George Floyd prior to and during the fateful nine minutes that took a man's life were clear for everyone to see from every angle.

When an officer shot a man only a few miles away from that courthouse in what she claimed was the accidental discharge of her service weapon, the city and police department quickly released the video to help the public have more trust in the investigation that was about to take place.

But this week in North Carolina, state law is giving a county government control of what is seen and who sees it. Andrew Brown's family saw only about 20 seconds of the interaction between him and the officers who eventually shot him about 10 times including a fatal wound in the back of his head.

Twenty seconds from one camera angle isn't enough. The natural inclination is to believe the other footage is being hidden for a reason. "Trust us" is a horrible policy when it comes to the government or police.

The power to contain and control evidence is plenty of power to corrupt the process when problems arise.

Congress needs to step in and make sure all Americans can see that footage to restore their faith in the people charged to protect and serve. Policing is a tough job. It would be easier if people trusted those officers because they had seen that reports filed by officers matched video evidence from the scene.

When policing leads to violent interactions, lift the lid and let the truth be seen as well as heard.

Too many states have proven unwilling to make this important information available.

Federalism is a patchwork quilt that makes America work. The ability to cover up inappropriate instances of police violence is tearing that patchwork apart at the seams.

Congress must act to ensure all Americans have the right to see exactly what happened when those who are paid to protect them have occasion to use force in the course of carrying out that vital task.

Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at kent.bush@lee.net

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