When the Mississippi Grand Jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, the world asked ‘Who watches the watcher?’ If the justice system can’t or won’t – then who polices the police?
‘Technology’ rings out the as reply: the watcher will be watched. The evidence given would not have put Wilson in jail so cameras by the police badge would mean the next incident would result in someone behind bars. Nothing to hide would mean nothing to hide. The world would watch.
When the New York policeman who put Eric Garner, a black man, in a chokehold within an inch of his life, we watched the watcher.
And what happened when the watcher was watched?
What, in fact, was watched?
A policeman takes a black man, puts him in a chokehold which is officially, explicitly and overtly prohibited by the Police Department; grabs and chokes the unarmed black. “I can’t breathe” but the police officer does not move his arm but keeps driving his forearm in to the man’s neck until the man is left dead on the sidewalk.
Verdict: No indictment.
There is so much anger and so many questions from the past few weeks that one article can’t hope to address them all. But what about this question of who watches the watcher?
Where do we turn when society watched the watcher fail its own and then does not see fit to indict? What does this tell us about societies relationship to the police?
The authority of the police is a social construct. There are laws that enforce that authority but it still remains that the authority of the police relies on a social contract within which people cede authority to a fellow citizen because he or she happens to be wearing a badge. There is an implicit trust in the whole thing and despite recent events in America, the trust that props up the police is for the good of society.
But on the rare occasion, when it all goes wrong, as it has unequivocally done here, can society then flip the switch and undermine that authority? Should we expect it to?
The racial questions this process raises are the loudest and so they should be. But we are also left to wonder whether society is able to watch the watcher.
Can we police the police?