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Why Eric Garner's death in New York strengthens the case for cop cameras, even in Miami


If a police officer can avoid charges in the choke-hold death of an unarmed man while on video, how will putting cameras on cops stop law-enforcement from abusing citizens?

It's a reasonable question to ask in light of a New York grand jury's refusal Wednesday to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the homicide of Eric Garner, whose "crime" was apparently selling unlicensed cigarettes. 

Just two days before, President Obama issued a call for $75 million in federal money to help underwrite the costs of body cameras for as many as 50,000 officers. Here in Miami-Dade County, the money would come in handy as the county commission prepares to spend at least $1 million this budget year for law-enforcement body cameras.

In the wake of the Garner grand jury, however, "the timing couldn't really be worse for the White House," the Washington Post wrote today in reaction to the New York grand jury. It's tough to disagree with that idea entirely. 

But it misses a crucial point: The fact that nearly everyone on the left and right on social media are united in their criticisms of what happened to Garner. For a brief moment, conservatives at Red State and the Federalist and liberals at Vox and Salon were equally appalled. That seldom happens.

This didn't happen with the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri.

This didn't happen with the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Florida.

The big difference: video. There was evidence. We could all see for ourselves. 

The court of public opinion is speaking. Right, left and center agree. It's a matter of time before courts of law and other politicians catch up.

Some politicians are ahead of the curve, starting with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

More than a year before Brown was shot in Missouri, Gimenez pushed for cop cameras and a study of them. A pilot program was wrapped up in February. For this budget year, he requested $1 million for a program to equip 500 county police officers with cameras. Miami-Dade hasn't had a case like Brown's or Trayvon's recently (although Trayvon was from the county), but the 2011 caught-on-video Miami Beach police shooting of Raymond Herisse has raised questions about use of force.

The Police Benevolent Association doesn't like Gimenez's plan, and the union's allies on on the county commission have tried to delay the action. 

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz on Tuesday spoke against the cameras, saying too many unanswered questions remain about how video footage would be collected, retrieved and released to the public.

"How do we know to protect citizens' rights when they come into a domestic situation in someone's house and they have a camera on?" he said.

Gimenez said he has already asked the police department to work on camera procedures. Some action by the Florida Legislature might be required settle the question of which footage would be public record, he added.

"I know that there are questions, and the devil's always in the details," he said. "Eventually, every officer on the street needs to have this."

So do the citizens.

--- Patricia Mazzei contributed