Before cell phones put a video camera in everybody’s pocket and long before body cams were standard equipment for cops, there was George Holliday and his Sony Handicam.
Holliday is the guy who recorded the Rodney King beating by LA police officers on March 3, 1991. He stood on his apartment balcony overlooking the street and documented the scene in which officers pummeled King with their batons more than 50 times, leaving him bloodied, with 11 broken bones in his neck and a broken leg.
When TV station KTLA aired the footage, decent people everywhere were shocked, and the Black community was justifiably outraged.
A year later, when the four white police officers were acquitted of charges that included assault with a deadly weapon, excessive use of force and filing false reports, the city erupted in riots that lasted five days. More than 50 people died.
Two of the officers were later found guilty of federal charges.
It should have been a lesson.
Hundreds of deadly encounters later, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis in a grotesque incident that was recorded by bystanders and nearby security cameras.
When the videos were released showing officers crushing Floyd’s neck into the pavement and squeezing the life out of him, protests raged across the country in 140 U.S. cities and around the world. One police officer was convicted of murder and three others of depriving Floyd of his civil rights.
OK, that clearly should have been a lesson.
But the violence continued.
Investigations were pursued. Laws to hold police officers accountable for excessive force were enacted. And recordings continued to be made by bystanders, security systems and body cams all over the place.
So, it should come as no surprise that the Clear Creek County cops are facing a world of hurt in the death of 22-year-old Christian Glass.
When sheriff’s deputies shot Glass as he sat inside his car, they knew their body cameras were recording the entire incident. There would be no chance to spin their way out of this. What were they thinking?
Glass had called 911 seeking help when his car ran off the road near Silver Plume on June 11. He was not a suspect in any crime. He was scared and in the throes of a mental health crisis.
At one point, the video shows he made a heart shape with his hands to communicate with the cops.
It was hardly an act of aggression.
When he refused to get out of the car after more than an hour, an officer said, “It’s time to move the night on.” The officers broke the window, shot him with bean bags, zapped him with a taser and threatened to forcibly remove him from the car.
Remember, he had committed no crime.
Glass called for help because his car was stuck. If they were in such a hurry, they could have called a tow truck for him.
The 911 dispatcher said he sounded “paranoid,” but he insisted he wasn’t dangerous. If they thought Glass was critically mentally ill, they could have called an ambulance.
The officers said he was waving a knife at them from the front seat of the car. If they thought he was a threat, they could have simply stepped back.
Instead, they shot him.
It makes no sense.
It’s not clear why it’s taken so long for the body cam videos to be released or why the sheriff’s office is declining to comment on the case. In all the weeks since Glass was killed, the department hasn’t been able to come up with a plausible explanation for the incident, which on its own speaks volumes.
It’s no wonder Simon and Sally Glass felt compelled to go public with their grief and frustration. They are asking the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Colorado Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney for Colorado to investigate the officers who killed their son.
Now the FBI is involved as well as the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with state and local agencies.
Investigators will be called upon to determine if Sally Glass is right when she says the video shows police responding to her son’s call for help “escalate at every opportunity and it looks like they’re spoiling for a fight.”
The body cam videos will provide the same kind of evidence the Rodney King tape and the George Floyd videos furnished in those highly charged investigations. The images are irrefutable and available for investigators to see.
Cops could be prosecuted. Supervisors fired. Use-of-force policies reviewed.
It could be a message for cops everywhere: don’t do stuff you don’t want the FBI and millions of ordinary people to see on YouTube over and over again for the rest of your life.
It could be a valuable lesson. If only they could learn it.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to email@example.com. (Learn more about how to submit a column.)
Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.