There’s a limit to the value of police-shooting video

MPR News host Tom Weber asked his considerable audience Monday, “What’s next? Where do we go from here?” in the aftermath of last week’s police shootings, the attack on police officers in Dallas, and Saturday night’s riot on Interstate 94.

Of the many suggestions, “equip police with body cameras” seemed to be among the most common. That’s not surprising, Minnesota politicians have been wrestling with the question even before Jamar Clark was shot to death by Minneapolis police last November.

The theory is that video will settle questions of shootings and they probably will in some cases.

But, writing on WBUR’s Cognoscenti blog today, Sara E. del Nido Budish, a clinical fellow at Harvard Law School in the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program, says that video — from police and bystanders — encourage accountability and can help advance justice. But they don’t settle the root causes of racial tensions.

“It is easy and tempting to believe that seeing what happened will reveal the truth, and that, from there, conflict, resistance and dissension will be resolved,” she writes. “But we fool ourselves if we imagine that by creating a video record, people are more likely to agree about what happened and how to respond.”

The increased use of video in matters of police/civilian violence is a positive trend — to a point. Relying on videos alone, however, won’t quell racial tensions. For that, we need perspective, compassion and curiosity about the lives of others. We need a sincere openness to the possibility that others’ views and interpretations are as valid as our own.

So in addition to new technology that can capture a terrible moment and show us what we would otherwise never get to see, we need old approaches to understanding, as well. Better listening and better conversation; a shared acceptance that the truth may dwell somewhere in a gray area; and a shared determination to live together in a society that confers dignity upon all.

By all means, let us use video as a way to give voice and advance justice. But then, our task is to find ways to acknowledge each other’s stories, experiences and differences. Only then can the real work begin.

Police shooting videos often provide the avenue for more disagreement, she says. That much is clear from the comments section of any posted shooting video.