Make Body Cameras Mandatory for All Federal Agents


By Albert Baldeo

“There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.”
―Michel de Montaigne

The Trump administration’s troubling efforts to expand immigration detention on the backs of taxpayers in the United States are already underway in Texas. The Geo Group, a for-profit, private prison corporation, has begun constructing a $110 million, 1,100-bed facility in Conroe, Texas, after signing a 10-year, renewable contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in April. Geo already operates a nearby 1,500-bed detention center, as well as the country’s second-largest detention facility for jailing asylum-seeking families.

The immigration detention system in the United States is already a burgeoning network with at least 600 locations designated to house detained immigrants. Federal incarceration of minorities have also increased outrageously.

Government data shows that more people are being detained due to the increased prosecution of civil cases and arrests by ICE agents, coupled with a decrease in the government’s use of prosecutorial discretion to release immigrants from detention. Prosecutors now capriciously abuse their powers to incarcerate innocent people to fill these and similar prisons, with profits, not justice, being the motivating factor.

Again, the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget requests Congress to allocate $3.5 billion for detention in order to increase detention bed capacity by 50 percent above currently-funded level, paying an estimated $159 per day for each person detained. With 65 percent of ICE detainees housed in private, for-profit facilities managed by companies like Geo and CoreCivic, these corporations sell the government their services and are reporting record-breaking profits. Indeed, Geo unashamedly cites ICE as its leading customer.

Consequently, while detaining thousands of immigrants in hundreds of prison-like facilities throughout the nation, America has gifted filthy profits to the private prison industry, while failing to protect the lives and liberties of the individuals they detain.

The die is being cast. It is alarming that the United States continues to allow private corporations to profit off detaining immigrants and its own citizens within a system that has been plagued with abuses and a lack of accountability and oversight. The expansion of immigration detention and federal incarceration for petty crimes is a threat not only to members of our communities but to our values as a nation, an indictment of our federal justice system as a whole.

Consequently, to counter the perverse haste to fill these jails and the pockets of their evil stakeholders, there must be more accountability and transparency during ICE, FBI, DEA and other law enforcement operations, not only with local law enforcement. The public has a right to know, and to see how our laws are enforced all across America in a transparent manner.

The absence of this very important evidence from the eyes and ears of the jury and judges have resulted in many innocent people being violated, including being falsely imprisoned and maliciously or selectively prosecuted. Our legal system must be cleansed of the dirty elements we have read about, seen and experienced if the streams of justice are to become pure.

We applaud those lawmakers, especially US Representatives Yvette Clarke and Adriano Espaillat, who are soon going to introduce a bill that would require federal immigration agents to wear body cameras while in the field, joining concerns with how immigrants are treated during arrests, and wisely advocating to ensure enforcement is done in compliance with the law.

They will also introduce legislation that would make it illegal for immigration agents to arrest people on sensitive locations such as churches, funeral homes and schools. To his credit, President Trump’s Chief of Staff General John Kelly, who previously served as Secretary of Homeland Security, also supports the camera program.

However, our representatives must also amend the bill to include the requirement that all federal agents, including the FBI, the DEA and others, wear body cameras with audio also.
The massive proliferation of investigative misconduct and abuse demands this. My own experience with law enforcement fortifies my argument. During the 2010 campaign season, where my previously naïve belief that running for public office is one of the greatest humanitarian and altruistic tasks one can undertake, I was swallowed whole by the putrid slime of law enforcement and special interests gone rogue in my endeavor to uplift and empower an underserved minority district. I was ripped from my family and community and imprisoned in a federal jail for 18 months for what many legal experts opined was a mere administrative violation.

Similar to what was done in Comptroller John Liu’s mayoral campaign, 5 of my campaign contributors were hounded down and intimidated with bogus charges, loss of jobs, pensions and deportation unless they told the FBI agents and the jury what they wanted them to say to make their despicable charges stick. They were coerced to change their statements exonerating both candidates from wrong doing. The jury never heard or saw how these manipulative and flagrant illegal operations were conducted in their adjudication of innocence or guilt, or the exculpatory interviews of the other hundreds of campaign contributors, a major breach of the due process and constitutional rights guaranteed by our constitution.

Although the government could not produce any other independent evidence, the jury convicted after being coerced to break their deadlock in my case. I then became part of the human prison stock that is bought and sold on the stock market-a refined form of slavery, dehumanization and exploitation.

Videos and audios will give a clear account of the motives and actions of federal agents, more so because their activities are largely shielded by immunity, and debunk the false stereotypical belief that they are all honest and honorable public servants. They will also reveal the culprits and rogues who abuse their powers under the guise of serving and protecting the public, pillaging and destroying communities and reputations with their unsavory methods.

These changes will go a long way toward ensuring that justice is done.

The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.