Tech­nol­ogy and jus­tice

Cam­era and cell­phone footage have pro­vided solid ev­i­dence of var­i­ous po­lice shoot­ings in the US which re­sulted in black mem­bers of the pub­lic be­ing killed. But can tech­nol­ogy re­ally help bring the guilty to book?

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY TECHNOLOGY - By Lloyd Gedye ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

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based South African co­me­dian Trevor Noah, who was cho­sen to host Com­edy Cen­tral’s The Daily Show in 2015, made head­lines re­cently.

Noah de­liv­ered a mono­logue af­ter air­ing the re­cently re­leased dash-cam video footage of the Min­nesota po­lice of­fi­cer who fa­tally shot 32-year-old Phi­lando Castile in July last year, af­ter stop­ping him for a faulty tail­light.

The sit­u­a­tion turned deadly sec­onds af­ter Castile told the of­fi­cer that he was car­ry­ing a gun, for which he had a per­mit.

The dash-cam footage can be eas­ily found on­line, but it makes for truly trau­matic view­ing.

“I won’t lie to you,” Noah said af­ter The Daily Show aired the clip. “When I watched this video, it broke me.

“It just – it broke me,” he con­tin­ued. “You see many of these videos, and you start to get numb, but this one?”

“See­ing the child, that lit­tle girl [the four-year-old daugh­ter of Castile’s girl­friend, Di­a­mond Reynolds], get­ting out of the car, af­ter watch­ing a man get killed, it broke my heart into lit­tle pieces.”

Noah railed against the fact that the of­fi­cer in­volved, Jeron­imo Yanez, was ac­quit­ted of man­slaugh­ter charges. He said that the jury’s de­ci­sion was “ba­si­cally say­ing” that in Amer­ica it is rea­son­able to be afraid of a per­son, “just be­cause they are black”. “That’s the truth of what we saw with this ver­dict,” he com­mented.

Yanez is one of four po­lice of­fi­cers in the USA to re­cently go on trial for fa­tally shoot­ing a black per­son. All of the shoot­ings were cap­tured on video, three of­fi­cers were ac­quit­ted and there was no ver­dict in the fourth case.

“For years, peo­ple said that there’s a sim­ple so­lu­tion to po­lice shoot­ings, ‘Just give the po­lice body cam­eras, film ev­ery­thing, then there will be no ques­tion about what hap­pens,’” said Noah. “Black peo­ple have al­ready taken that ini­tia­tive, right? Thanks to cell­phones, ev­ery black per­son has a body cam now.”

Noah was talk­ing about Castile’s girl­friend: as the po­lice of­fi­cer opened fire on Castile while Reynolds and her daugh­ter were in the car, she broad­cast the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing live on Face­book.

She main­tained that Castile had been try­ing to co­op­er­ate with Yanez, by re­triev­ing his driver’s li­cence, when he was shot.

Yanez main­tained that he thought Castile was reach­ing for the gun. “I wasn’t reach­ing,” he can be heard say­ing softly just af­ter the gunfire stops.

An­other re­cent po­lice shoot­ing in the US has also been mired in con­tro­versy through tech­nol­ogy.

This time it wasn’t a video, but a com­mu­nity out­reach chan­nel set up by the Seat­tle po­lice de­part­ment on game stream­ing plat­form Twitch.

Charleena Lyles, a preg­nant mother of four, was shot and killed by of­fi­cers in her home af­ter re­port­ing a bur­glary.

The of­fi­cers re­ported that Lyles had been hold­ing a knife. Her men­tal health has been called into ques­tion.

The Seat­tle po­lice have faced a back­lash over the killing and in a bid to deal with it pub­lic af­fairs di­rec­tor Sean Whit­comb used Twitch to re­lease a video to ad­dress ques­tions sur­round­ing the death of Lyles.

How­ever, it has since emerged that the whole time Whit­comb was send­ing the de­part­ment’s con­do­lences to Lyles’s fam­ily out via Twitch, he was play­ing a first-per­son shooter com­puter game called Destiny.

He was not ac­tively en­gaged in fir­ing at any­thing in the game, but this hardly mat­ters.

It is an act that speaks vol­umes about the in­sen­si­tiv­ity of po­lice to the fam­i­lies and friends of those who meet their end at the end of a po­lice firearm.

In what world did the Seat­tle po­lice de­part­ment be­lieve that de­liv­er­ing an up­date on the po­lice killing via an on­line gam­ing plat­form, logged into a shoot-’emup video game, was ap­pro­pri­ate?

The Seat­tle po­lice de­part­ment’s Twitch ac­count, which was named Fuz­zfeed206, has been shut down. Closer to home, a few weeks ago a 17-year-old boy was shot dead and a preg­nant mother was shot in the stom­ach by Prasa se­cu­rity guards af­ter a ser­vice de­liv­ery protest in the Holomisa squat­ter camp near Nance­field Sta­tion in Pimville, Soweto. Wit­ness ac­counts sug­gest that af­ter the pro­tes­tors tried to block­ade the sta­tion, the se­cu­rity guards opened fire with live am­mu­ni­tion.

The an­gry crowd re­sponded by beat­ing the se­cu­rity guard who al­legedly fired the shots.

He was rushed to hospi­tal, but died on the way. While the Castile case shows us that cam­eras are not al­ways enough to make sure jus­tice is served, they sure would pro­vide a bit more trans­parency when it comes to what hap­pened at Nance­field Sta­tion. Tech­nol­ogy can play a role in hold­ing the au­thor­i­ties ac­count­able, but un­til the long arm of the law stops pro­tect­ing po­lice when they kill, jus­tice is just a dream. ■

Un­til the long arm of the law stops pro­tect­ing po­lice when they kill, jus­tice is just a dream.

Trevor Noah

Host of “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”

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