In the reaction to the Grand Jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown, there has been a lot of over-reaction from the police... again. In Los Angeles, mass arrests of protestors on the eve of Thanksgiving gave rise to harsh twiticism from across the nation. But amidst the excesses there were some glimmers of hope. One touching picture shows a teary eyed young black child hugging a policeman. This is kind of image the New York City Police Department had hoped for when it launched it #MyNYPD hashtag earlier this year. What it got was a lot of grief and the launch of a national debate over police abuse before #Ferguson. But did this debate lead to any changes since Mike Brown was shot in Ferguson? The jury is still out.
The latest policy focus in this debate is calling on the police to wear body cameras. These have been shown to lower police abuse cases. The idea enjoys broad public support. But a body camera policy is not a simple matter, according to the ACLU.
On ABC's This Week this week, panelists discussed the need for more than just cameras. Police need better training when it comes to handling tense situations in order to better assess the threats and not enter them with harsh preconceptions driven by racial biases. On the other side, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani incited much ire with his comments in a debate with Eric Michael Dyson of Georgetown University, generating tens of thousands of tweets with a very low sentiment score of 11 (in this case, going to 11 is not a good thing).
This debate has been building for a lot longer than the past year, but with the push received from social media via the #MyNYPD backfire and #Ferguson has elevated the debate over police abuse to national prominence in the way Trayvon Martin and Sandy Hook raised gun violence and gun control to a national debate. The question remains whether or not there will be any policy changes this time.
Logically, where the gun control debate triggered a powerful conservative uproar that drove Congress to ignore 85% of Americans who favored background checks for gun buyers, in this case we might see the right and the left split. On the right, we have the suspicion of police contingency versus the law and order folks, where the former would be for cameras and the latter against. On the left, you have the anti-police state folks supporting cams and the ACLU crowd resisting. How this plays out on social media will be very interesting, creating the all too cliché "strange bedfellow" effect.
So far, body cams have a 43 sentiment score on Topsy. While less than a majority, it is much more positive than reaction to Giuliani's comments. It is also way more popular than "background checks" (10) and #NRA (8.7).
But when it comes to influencing policy in Congress, it is still not enough to have public support (via polls and social media sentiment) for a policy. Congress is still operating on the squeaky wheel theory... if people don't send messages directly to Congress, they won't be heard. While some offices may be spending more time pro-actively monitoring sentiment on social media, such influence is still too infrequent.
My suggestion is to @mention your Senators and Representative in your tweets about these issues. Be squeaky. Hopefully you will get some grease.