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?
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.
Host of “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”