The agreement between Rochester Mayor Malik Evans and the United Christian Leadership Ministry concerning police bodycam video is illegal on its face and should be challenged and rejected in the courts of law and public opinion.
The pact gives members of the religious group “expedited access” to images collected by police body cameras, and particular access to footage related to complaints about police conduct.
We’ll get to the advisability of such a situation shortly, because whether it’s a good idea or not, it’s against the law.
Under state and federal law, the idea behind public access to government records – like bodycam video – is that the people have a right to watch over their government and to see and read information and records collected by the government at taxpayer expense. The most important phrase there is “the people,” meaning all of us – all of us equally.
In case the “all men are created equal” line in the Declaration of Independence wasn’t clear enough, the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution to assure that all Americans received equal protection under law. That means the law can be no respecter of persons, it can’t put one class or type of person above or below another. Equal means the same – the government and the law must treat us all the same.
It routinely doesn’t, of course, through the use of things like affirmative-action quotas and graduated income taxes, but those are issues for another day.
Equal protection under law means that if two people present themselves to the government for access to a service or benefit, they must be treated the same, they must be handled by the same system and procedures.
Freedom of information – the principle behind the release of bodycam footage – is a government service or benefit, and may even be viewed as a statutory right. As such, access to its provisions and processes must equal for all people.
That means nobody gets expedited service unless everybody gets expedited service.
There can’t be special lines for special people, including self-described Christian ministers whose political backsides the mayor is trying to kiss.
It is amazing the corporation counsel’s office and law department signed off on this.
And it is amazing that lawyers for the press and civil liberties organizations didn’t start shouting the moment this was announced.
Not just because the agreement creates a special class of citizens with prioritized rights – putting its members ahead of reporters, victims and citizens – but also because the special class discriminates on the basis of religion. America’s not supposed to be that way.
Somehow, the mayor of an American city thought it was ok to make a special deal with a group whose very name seems to disqualify Muslims, Jews, atheists and anybody else who isn’t a Christian. And even then, it’s not the Christian laity, it’s the Christian ministry – the elites of the world’s largest religion.
This is illegal as hell.
Members of this activist group are not agents of the government, they are not a privileged class of citizen, they have no special standing under law, and yet the mayor has promised them they go to the front of the line with special access to government information – ahead of everyone else.
Now, as to whether or not this is a good policy.
The only way this makes sense is if you are a weak, floundering mayor trying to distract from your failings by partnering with activists to remind people that they are supposed to hate the cops.
Seventy-six homicides – they we’re counting – don’t mean anything, never mind the 12-year-old on New Year’s Eve and the 3-year-old on North Clinton and the plywood windows on businesses across town, forget all that. Just remember that you’re supposed to hate the cops. It’s not the thugs who are the problem, it’s the cops.
Also, never mind that there is already a professional standards section of the police department which, along with the command structure, routinely and thoroughly investigates allegations of police screw-ups. Likewise forget City Council’s oversight powers, and completely ignore the $5 million Police Accountability Board which was created to do exactly this sort of thing.
Forget all those ways to investigate and crucify the cops, we’ve got to empower a group of self-appointed ministers to trowel through the video in hope of finding something that will bring them fame, money and power.
It’s interesting that the mayor, through this process, never consulted with or notified the police union of his intentions or this agreement. He just issued a press release.
It’s also interesting that this new privilege for the mayor’s special friends has a predetermined focus. It is to give these wearers of the cloth prioritized and expedited access to video of supposed police misconduct.
That’s interesting because overwhelmingly that’s not what bodycam video shows. Overwhelmingly, what bodycam video shows is that Rochester cops are astounding professionals with extraordinary compassion and patience. It also shows that day in and day out they deal with people who are absolute monsters, whose conduct toward their families, neighbors and the officers is vile and despicable.
Police bodycam video shows the best and worst of our society, with the best typically wearing a badge and the worst typically wearing handcuffs. In many police and community interactions, the community comes out looking pretty awful.
Which gets back to the ministers.
If they’re so influential in their communities, if the church is the center of people’s lives, why are those lives so disproportionately more criminal?
Maybe if the ministers were better at their job there wouldn’t be so much call for the police to do theirs.