By: Emmanuel J. Burrell

Under the backdrop of our current social justice reformation, the plight of the African American community in their dealings with local law enforcement officers, is it time for standard issued, mandatory body cameras affixed to law enforcement officers who cannot circumvent nor control their recording features?

We have heard their names. Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Botham Jean.[1] Their deaths ignited national protests with the aim of social justice reformation.[2] However, the circumstances surrounding their demise and other Americans across the country often depend on the perceived account of law enforcement officers or, if lucky, a bystander filming the altercation, random CCTV (Closed Caption Television) and optional body cameras. Edward Bulwer-Lytton once wrote in 1839, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”[3] The pen, and its 1839 symbolism, have undergone radical change and, in its place, is digital film. Yet, the proverb still rings true. What we see on film is more powerful than any weapon.

In America, before the invention of recording cameras within our smart phones, widespread CCTV and security cameras, absent eyewitnesses, what law enforcement wrote in their police reports historically, held more weight than the average citizen’s words.[4] Now, with more recorded interactions between law enforcement and people of color, a light has shined upon the ink placed into those police reports.[5] However, what about the incidents in the dark? Incidents that occur without a bystanders watchful, digital eye?

Body cameras should be the digital watcher who referees the interactions between citizens and law enforcement.[6] Who’s there for the benefit of law enforcement officers against frivolous complaints and is there as a benefit to ordinary citizens against constitutional violations.[7] These body cameras should be mandatory, standard issued equipment affixed to all law enforcement uniforms and subject to independent review. The digital film produced should have its own procedures and regulations for access, review, and storage.[8] Law enforcement officers should not have the ability to cover, dismantle or interrupt their recording feeds. Violations should carry punishment with teeth. Thus, the integrity of the system is preserved and interactions between law enforcement officers and the general public give honest depictions of interactions.[9]


What is the Pen in 2020? Its digital film and it has the power to galvanize a country into action!


[1] Alia Chughtai, Know their names, BLACK PEOPLE KILLED BY THE POLICE IN THE US, Aljazeera, (last visited Sep. 7, 2020).


[2] See generally Jessie Young, et al., Massive protests for social justice around the US, CNN (Jun. 4, 2020, 7:29 PM),

[3] Alison Gee, Who first said ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’?, BBC (Jan. 9, 2015),

[4] See Harmeet Kaur, Videos often contradict what police say in reports. Here’s why some officers continue to lie, CNN (June 6, 2020, 8:55 AM),

[5] See generally id.

[6] See generally German Lopez, How to reform American police, according to experts, Vox (June 1, 2020, 3:30 PM),

[7] Charles Katz et al., Evaluating the Impact of Officer Worn Body Cameras in the Phoenix Police Department, Ctr. for Violence Prevention & Cmty. Safety, Ariz. State Univ., (2014),

[8] See Kaur, supra note 4.

[9] See Lopez, supra note 6.