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Why It's Time To Open Federal Courtrooms to Cameras

The nine and a half minutes that George Floyd spent gasping for air under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin were witnessed by the world. So it was fitting that when Chauvin was brought to trial, convicted and sentenced to prison for the murder of Floyd, the world was able to watch. Now, as three other former police officers are tried on federal charges of contributing to Floyd’s death, the public has been largely shut out. Misguided rules that bar court proceedings from being televised or streamed do grave disservice and need to be updated, the Washington Post says in an editorial. In the Chauvin trial, Judge Peter Cahill made the unprecedented decision to allow cameras into the courtroom over the objections of state prosecutors. He cited the extraordinary public interest in the case and the limited courtroom space caused by pandemic restrictions. None of the fears about broadcasting — such as a disruption of court procedures or witnesses becoming fearful of testifying — was realized.

“Transparency brings accountability,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA). “Cameras in this courtroom, “allowed the American people to watch every moment and dissect every syllable of testimony with their own eyes and ears. ... It showed our system of justice at work and affirmed the independence of the judiciary.” While many states allow some electronic coverage of criminal, civil and appellate proceedings, the federal system has insisted on maintaining its absolute and antiquated ban of cameras. Federal civil rights charges against former Minneapolis officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane raise critical questions about the role and responsibilities of police — issues that people should be able to learn about with their own eyes and ears, the Post says, concluding that," More than ever in this time when misinformation is rampant and democratic principles are under attack, there is a need to let the public see how justice is done.

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