Gene Nichol provides a helpful refresher course on NC’s restrictive body cam law

A lot of North Carolinians have been wondering lately (with much justification) what the deal is with police body camera recordings. If the recordings are made by public employees and paid for with public tax dollars, why in the heck can’t the public see what the videos show? It’s ours, after all. And don’t virtually all other states readily release such footage?

As Prof. Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law (pictured at left) explains this morning in an op-ed for Raleigh’s News & Observer, the simple and disturbing answer is that our state legislators recently acted to make the videos hard to get. Here’s Nichol:

Tar Heels and the rest of the country have learned, of late, that it’s complicated to get police body-cam footage released here. National news outlets have echoed that, under North Carolina law, a judge’s approval must be secured before such video can be seen and distributed.

But this is not a legal marker fixed from the days of yore. In 2016, after Black Lives Matter protests had for years roiled the nation, often triggered by stunning video records of brutality, our General Assembly chose to impose new and singular hurdles on body-cam disclosure. The statute is recent work, and it had a good deal of now embarrassed Democratic support.

And, of course, as Nichol also explains, the legislature’s decision was not made in isolation; it’s part of a long and blatant pattern of what he rightfully characterizes as “anti-racial equality moves.”

This list includes, Nichol notes, the decisions of Republican legislators to: repeal the Racial Justice Act, enact a law to protect Confederate monuments and racially gerrymander legislative maps with what a federal court described as “surgical precision.”

One could easily add more items to Nichol’s list in such varied areas as healthcare, environmental protection and state tax policy, but you get the idea.

The bottom line: the defenders of restrictive body cam law claim it is necessary in order to keep the politics out of such matters, but as Nichol notes ruefully in conclusion:

Still, I’m inclined to think a larger politics might have been in play. If a massive Black Lives Matter movement sweeps the country, often triggered by brutal photography, make it hard as you can to get the pictures. There will be no racial reckoning here. This is North Carolina.

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

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