When interim Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus released video from cameras worn by officers involved in yet another fatal shooting last week, he made clear how unusual it was that the video was public within 24 hours of the incident.
“I would hope that we don’t expect this in the future,” Kraus said.
Sorry, Chief, but we do.
We applaud Kraus and his commanders for swiftly addressing rumors about the shooting of Amari Malone. Fort Worth officers have shot six people, five fatally, since June 1, and when the person killed is again a young black man, a community on edge over police relations is in danger of erupting.
The goal should always be to show the public precisely what happened as soon as possible. Truth and transparency, not whether the video vindicates officers, should motivate the release of video.
In this case, the video was vital. Rumors had spread that Malone carried no weapon, and some suggested he’d been shot in the back several times while fleeing. In the video, Malone can clearly be seen turning toward an officer and pointing a gun. Officers were justified in firing at him.
Many body cam videos are much less clear cut. But at a minimum, demonstrating that the video doesn’t contain obvious answers is useful to the public, and investigation of other evidence can proceed.
Leaders at every level should encourage such transparency and urge residents to rely on the facts, not rumors, in judging what officers have done.
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Editorials are the positions of the Editorial Board, which serves as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s institutional voice. The members of the board are: Cynthia M. Allen, columnist; Steve Coffman, executive editor; Bud Kennedy, columnist; Juan Antonio Ramos, editorial director of La Estrella, the Star-Telegram’s bilingual publication; and Ryan J. Rusak, opinion editor. Most editorials are written by Rusak and edited by Coffman. Editorials are unsigned because they represent the board’s consensus positions, not the views of individual writers.
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Speaking of, what in the world was civil-rights attorney Lee Merritt thinking in declaring, just hours after the shooting, that Malone was “murdered” by Fort Worth police? Malone, Merritt wrote on Twitter, was “the victim” and “the murder suspect is the cop that shot him.”
With few facts available, that was irresponsible, even dangerous. Leaders like Merritt need to help keep the community calm and focused on facts, not contribute to rumor-mongering that could help lead to more violence.
Merritt, hired by Malone’s family, was left in a news conference shortly after Kraus’ to complain (perhaps legitimately) about the time it took to get Malone to the hospital and to hint that the police video may be deceitfully edited and presented.
The lawyer was correct, though, when he noted that police should not release body-cam video only when they “believe it can quash false information or put their office in a positive light.”
Twice now, Kraus has moved quickly to release footage that demonstrates his officers faced the threat of an armed suspect. In the Jaquavion Slaton slaying in June, as in the Malone case, rumors spread wildly and threatened to fuel protests. Thanks in part to the video, cooler heads prevailed.
Transparency will work as well in cases that are less clear or even ones that may show officers erred. Police shootings, especially involving people of color, are creating dangerous conflict in plenty of big cities. Being open about the facts is an important way to ensure the honest dialogue that could prevent the kind of violent reaction none of us wants to see.