Cassandra Walker refuses to watch video of her son’s death — but millions of others have viewed the harrowing images of his violent end.
Walker’s son, Terence Walker, was shot to death by a police officer on Jan. 17, in a confrontation outside a church in Muskogee, Okla. The officer was wearing a body-mounted camera.
Six days later, unedited video of the deadly encounter was released online. It showed Terence Walker running from the cop, who was responding to a domestic violence complaint made against the 21-year-old. The officer fired, fatally wounding Terence. He fell face-first to the ground and rolled into a ditch.
The camera kept rolling as cops pulled his lifeless body out of the ditch and onto a street and searched him. There was a lot of blood — and Walker said she knows she could not handle it.
“I did not want to see my son being killed,” she told The Daily News last week. “That image would affect me for the rest of my life.”
Walker’s reaction to the video’s release illustrates one of the key problems associated with the emerging push to equip police officers with body-mounted cameras.
“It hurts enough that my son is dead,” Walker said. “I do not need to hurt any more.”
The desired effect, criminal justice experts and advocates say, is the exposure that video affords. Bodycams promote transparency and accountability in law enforcement, they say, by providing a visual record of tense on-the-job encounters.
The technology’s proponents argue that recording all police encounters could make it less likely that a cop would be inclined to use unnecessary or lethal force in a situation in which it is unwarranted.
The Obama administration, following the furor over the police-involved shooting death of Michael Brown, has provided funding to help add the technology to the law enforcement toolkit. Graphic moments like Terence Walker’s death are sure to be captured on film more regularly.
Just as inevitably, people like Cassandra Walker — and the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who will be in her shoes in the future — will question why it is necessary.
What is the value of transparency and having an unbiased record of police interactions, they’ll ask, when releasing that material provides only a harrowing reminder to the very people who are most tragically impacted by such circumstances?
As it becomes commonplace for law-enforcement agencies to release the grim footage, enabling its broadcast and viral consumption online, the controversy only stands to increase.
“It’s a harm you bring onto people,” said St. Louis University School of Law Prof. Justin Hansford. “The decision of who’s going to broadcast it, and why, isn’t in the hands of the victim.