WASHINGTON – The public deserves to know the names of officers involved in violence against civilians and to watch camera footage from those events, argues the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in an amicus brief filed Monday in the D.C. Superior Court. The D.C. police union is suing to prevent the release of body-worn camera footage and officer names from officer-involved killings and use of force, enacted by the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2020.
The national Lawyers’ Committee is joined on the brief by the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, the American Civil Liberties Union for the District of Columbia, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and Law4BlackLives DC, in favor of the District’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
“The Metropolitan Police Department has a long history of secrecy and misconduct that cries out for increased accountability and transparency,” said John Fowler, counsel with the Criminal Justice Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The public has the right to know what police officers are doing, especially in a city whose Black residents and other residents of color bear a disproportionate share of encounters with police officers. This is why release of camera footage from violent police encounters, as well as the names of officers who engaged in that violence, is so critical. If the public can’t see what’s happening, the public can’t hold MPD—a department that refuses to change unless forced to—accountable for the conduct of its officers.”
In enacting the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Amendment Act of 2020, the District’s elected officials embraced accountability and transparency for a city with a history of police abuses and chronic failures to hold officers responsible for their misconduct.
The council’s enactment of the legislation reflects a violent reality: Interactions between the police and communities of color are more frequent, more dangerous, and more deadly for civilians than interactions between the police and white residents. For young men, police violence is a leading cause of death, and the violence is not colorblind. About one in every 1,000 Black men can expect to be killed by police—that is, nearly triple the rate for white men. Black people killed by police are more than twice as likely to be unarmed as white people killed by officers. And even when the results are not fatal, police use force with Black people nearly four times more often than with white people.
Read the amicus brief here.