Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
December 3, 2014

Open and Shut: On that NYT NYPD Body Cam Pic

What’s ironic about Ozier Muhammad’s photo in the NYT this morning is how it conjures the pledge of allegiance. The picture accompanies a story titled “Police Body Cameras Could Come to New York City Soon,” and the caption reads:

Officers Efrain Morales, left, and Joshua Jones displayed body cameras at a news conference on Wednesday.

Tying a gesture many of us have assumed a thousand times in grade school, at ball games and other civic rituals with police violence and racial profiling, the photo (if it’s not blasphemous to say this) is almost hilarious. Sure, Officers Morales and Jones are simply standing in front of the press and demonstrating the cameras. With the pledge in mind, though, it’s more like an SNL sketch. Given the need for a device to keep people honest, “where is my heart? is my heart down here? is it over there?” (Excuse me, of course, if the comparison — especially the connection to liberty and justice for all — feels like too great a stretch.)

More practically, what the photo seems to show is one officer closing the device and the opening it. (The article doesn’t describe the photo any further or discuss the operation of the device, so we’re left to guess.) If the gestures together, though, allude to the use of the camera as “open and shut,” meaning that their use will be that clear cut or that the footage will be, that’s a double-fantasy. ¬†Concerning, too, is how easily Morales seems to shut the camera. If we no longer see the lens, it’s still plenty easy to see his holster.

(photo: Ozier Muhammad for The New York Times)

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