If you are reading this in a public place, chances are you are being filmed.
If you are reading this in a public place, chances are you are being filmed. Cameras are virtually everywhere in the United States. They are in our pockets, above our heads, and on our police officers.
Former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder April 30. On July 15, 2017, Noor shot Justine Damond after she called 911 to report a possible assault happening outside. Like other victims of police shootings, Damond’s final moments were captured on body camera footage.
Noor’s trial raised the question of who has the right to die privately in America. Does the victim’s family have the right to keep the video of their death private? Or does public interest outweigh personal interest?
Unlike Europe, America has no explicit, constitutional right to privacy. While the Supreme Court has interpreted parts of the Constitution, such as the 14th Amendment, as including privacy, these interpretations are not concrete. Privacy rights granted to Americans are therefore vague and shaky. Often, the lower court judges determine if a right to privacy exists in a case.
Judge Kathryn Quaintance initially placed the individual right to privacy over the public’s right to knowledge. She decided to only allow the jury to see footage taken on a body camera of Damond dying.
“I am trying to protect pictures of this woman naked and her gasping for breath in the last moments of her life,” she said.
Her decision was eventually reversed after the media argued that it violated the First Amendment. Still, her reasoning for wanting to keep it private showed an invisible bias in the justice system.
Black or White
Justine Damond was a white woman. Mohamed Noor is a Somali-American man. This case does not only show the usual bias towards the skin color of the officer. Instead, it highlights an inherent bias based on the skin color of the victim. Quaintance’s argument that Damond’s death should be private contradicts another high profile shooting involving a Minnesota police officer.
Just over a year before Damond was killed, Philando Castile was shot by Officer Jeronimo Yanez. The details of the shooting were similar to other cases across the country: the police pulled over an African-American man who ended up being killed.
The subsequent trial’s verdict was also similar to other cases. Yanez was found not guilty on all charges. Castile’s murder, like the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, faded from headlines.
Damond’s case was the only one where a judge called for evidence to be withheld from the public. Even though there is no standard regarding privacy of death in the United States, there should be no difference in how victims of police shootings are treated. Regardless of whether it was her intention, Quaintance’s request highlighted this inequality within the justice system.
If the footage of Damond dying was kept from the public, it would only be fair for videos of Castile dying to be removed from the internet. Although the Constitution does not grant the right of privacy, America exists because of the belief that everyone is created equal. No one should be given a greater right or privilege because of their race.
Rights of the Deceased
Besides the racial issues that continue to exist in the justice system, there is the issue of what rights those who are deceased have. In 2019, a person’s whole life is stored on security footage and social media posts. Their digital footprint does not disappear after they die.
A 1959 case determined that, in the United States, a person loses all rights after death. Although this is not a law, it became the standard for determining post-death rights. Therefore, the vague right to privacy given to Americans would not extend to Damond or Castile.
The issue here concerns their family’s rights to privacy. The public’s right to knowledge often comes with an emotional cost to a victim’s family. In the case of video evidence, it is obviously distressing to see your loved one die. It can be even worse knowing that your loved one’s final moments are not private.
Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile’s girlfriend, gave up her right to privacy when she live-streamed his death on Facebook. However, Castile’s family could argue that their right to privacy was violated with the public release of dash cam and body camera footage.
Still, the lack of a definite right to privacy means this footage will remain on YouTube and Facebook. Despite the graphic nature of even partially blurred footage, social media does little to regulate content.
In our social media dominated world, platforms must work harder to regulate graphic content. They also need to focus on content that violates a person’s right to privacy, including the right to not have their death broadcast to the whole world.
A new amendment explicitly guaranteeing a right to privacy should be a priority in Washington D.C. The United States is far behind Europe is protecting the right of citizens to protect their personal information. Regardless of the public’s need to know every gory detail, a person’s death should be kept private. Race, gender, nationality, and any other characteristic should not determine whose final moments are shown on the nightly news.