The use of video cameras has increased greatly over the last several years. Families use them to record special events and celebrations. Banks, stores, museums, schools, and police departments use them for surveillance purposes. Baseball and soccer teams use them for instant replay.
During the last several months, however, there have been three occasions when important information provided by video cams has been ignored or suppressed. In each case, a serious injustice has been committed.
On June 2, in a baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit pitcher, Armando Galarraga, was one out away from pitching a perfect no-hitter. The 27th Cleveland batter hit a soft ground ball into the infield. The throw to Galarraga covering first base clearly beat the runner by a step, but the umpire called the runner safe, denying Galarraga a perfect no-hitter.
Although the instant replay camera showed the runner out, Commissioner Bud Selig, who could have reversed the call, refused to do so, claiming that the use of instant replay was restricted to resolving doubts about possible home runs. As a consolation gift, the owner of the Tigers presented Galarraga a new Chevrolet Corvette on the next day.
Several days later George Vecsey, sports writer for the New York Times, wrote, "Imperfect umpires are as much a part of this sport as imperfect fielders who muff a pop fly or imperfect runners who neglect to touch a base." But that's no argument for permitting technology, which could have been used on behalf of justice, to be denied and thus used on behalf of injustice.
On March 27 Shirley Sherrod, Georgia Director of Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was invited to speak at a NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her videotaped 43-minute speech she told about a traumatic experience earlier in her life. In 1965 when she was 17, her father had been killed by a white man, leaving behind a pregnant wife and five children. An all-white jury refused to indict the man, even though there were three witnesses to the crime.
At first she planned to move to the North, but then vowed to stay in the South and to work for change. She married the Rev. Charles Sherrod, a Baptist minister and cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
She then shared another experience from earlier in life. Twenty-four years before joining the Department of Agriculture, she had served on the staff of the Georgia field office of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. A poor white farm couple, Roger and Eloise Spooner, had requested help in saving their farm. She confessed still having feelings of dislike for whites, but realized that poverty was a common problem that needed to be addressed. Overcoming her earlier feelings, she accompanied them to see a lawyer and helped them save their farm, becoming in the process a close friend of theirs.
On July 14 Andrew Breithart, a well-known racial provocateur, ran on his blog a two-and-a-half-minute video clip from Sherrod's 43-minute talk to the NAACP in which she was sharing the earlier part of her story about her feelings concerning whites. He accused her of being a black racist. This accusation was picked up by Jim Hoft, Ed Morrissey, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and others at Fox News, becoming a steady drumbeat in support of her being fired. A "snookered" Department of Agriculture, backed up by the Administration and the NAACP, agreed to this.
But then when the rest of the story finally came out and people were able to hear the entire speech, it was recognized that it was actually a story of redemption, reconciliation and justice. Apologies were made to Sherrod by the Department of Agriculture and the President (but not by Fox News or Breithart), and she was offered another job with the department. And so this turned out to be a second recent example of a video tape being suppressed on behalf of injustice.
A third example took place after April 20 when the BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. BP set up video cameras at the site where the oil was gushing out of the earth, but they purposely did not provide the public with pictures from all their cameras which would have given a truer picture of the oil output. BP undoubtedly realized that under the Clean Water Act, it could owe fines of as much as $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled.
BP estimated in the beginning that 1,000 barrels of oil were escaping every day. This estimate was gradually increased under pressure from scientists to 50,000, and it was feared that it could even reach 100,000. The leading oil spill estimate at present from The Daily Green is more than 180 million gallons. Thus this has turned out to be a third example of video cam evidence being suppressed on the side of injustice.
There must be a lesson in all of this. Technology can be a great benefit to humanity, but in the hands of some, it can lead to disappointing and harmful outcomes.
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice, an organization composed of representatives from various churches in the area, and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.