Chicago had fought unsuccessfully to keep secret two videos that show police officers killing people under questionable circumstances. This week, it dropped its fight against a third video in an attempt, as the city's top lawyer put it, “to find the right balance” between the public's right to know and the need to ensure an equitable trial for accused cops, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Chicago's decision – involving the video of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman – may signal a shift in how cities and prosecutors handle the release of such footage. It affirms how significant the public's demand for more transparency has become.
“There's a long history of prosecutors [in Chicago and elsewhere] not supporting the release of any evidence because it would taint the jury pool and would eventually change witness statements,” says Jack McDevitt of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University. “But I think police departments have led the way in now saying, 'I'm going to release it, because it's more important for the community relations part of our mission to get the truth out there than it is to worry about a prosecution that isn't going to take place for six or 12 months.' ” The family has filed a lawsuit over Cedrick's death. The video, released yesterday, is grainy, and it may be inconclusive as to whether the officers did anything wrong. Still, its release speaks to the increasing expectations of the public. “If you look at the legal and intellectual history of this issue, not so long ago the working assumption was, like it or not, the rationale that there was an ongoing investigation was sufficient to withhold [evidence],” says Jamie Kalven of the Invisible Institute, an advocacy journalism organization in Chicago.