It was the video capturing Eric Garner’s death after he was placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer that sparked a national conversation on police and community relations.
“This tragedy is raising a lot of tough questions,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference Thursday. “There is tremendous resolve here at the NYPD to find a way to draw closer to the community, to do things in a different way.”
Even though Garner’s death was caught on camera, the grand jury ultimately decided not to indict the officer involved in the case.
But had it not been recorded by someone watching the cops, that conversation may never have reached a national scale, according to a group of 20-somethings that formed Cop Watch in response to Garner’s death.
There are eight teams throughout New York that patrol the streets using cameras, cell phones and audio recorders.
“You have the right to film police activity and doing so can bring us closer to a just and safe New York City,” Yul-san Liem, one of the members of the Cop Watch team in Jackson Heights, told a group of community members during an evening training on ‘Know Your Rights.’ Yul-san, who is also with the Justice Committee, told the class there was an “epidemic of police brutality” that needs to end.
“The way we go about policing has to change,” Mayor de Blasio told reporters.
And while Cop Watch and police body cameras may not be the one size fits all solution. It’s a start.
“For us, it’s not a question of good or bad cops. It’s about recognizing that there is an institutional problem,” Yul-san said after patrolling the streets one night, adding that Cop Watch is just “one piece of a much larger strategy.”
Credit: Darwin Phillips