In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning, the Connecticut House of Representatives passed a compromise legislation that would prevent the release of crime scene photos and video evidence from the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and other homicides. The vote came after the Senate passed it on a 33-2 vote and it is expected to be signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy. A letter in support of the legislation was signed and submitted to the Connecticut legislature by the 26 families of the Newton shooting victims
This legislation modifies Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, a series of laws passed in 1975 that guarantees that the public has access to public records of governmental bodies in Connecticut. The act was passed to further government transparency and accountability in public affairs. The passage of this new legislation modifying the Freedom of Information Act severely damages the strength of this crucial act that enables public watchdogs to keep the government accountable. The main problem with this legislation is the scope of the exemption it creates. It applies not only to the Sandy Hook shooting, but to any homicide where the public release of photos, videos, or other visual images depicting a victim “could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.”
What exactly constitutes a “reasonable unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”? Who determines what is reasonable and what is not? If there is a homicide related to police misconduct or political corruption, would the photographic, video, and audio evidence fall under this exemption and be disallowed to be released to the public? According to Sandra Staub, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, “the exemption should be narrowly tailored and justified with a full hearing conducted with an open opportunity for public comment.” Not only does the legislation apply to all homicides, a very broad scope, but it was also drafted in secret by the governor’s office and the state’s top prosecutor. The bill was not known about until the Hartford Courant reported about it on May 21, leaving very little room for public comment.
I understand the emotions and reasons of the families of the Newton shooting victims to want such legislation. I sympathize with the sentiment of Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed, when she said “there’s no reason for anyone to see those photos and put all the families and our community through that devastation all over again.” But Hockley goes on the say “many people want the photos and the audiotapes for personal and political reasons. Bloggers and the internet only make it worse.” All of America grieves and prays for the victims’ families and this horrible tragedy has a global reach because it challenges our conception of the status quo we live in.
There should never be an instance, especially in the United States, where 20 children and six adults are thoughtlessly murdered. This tragedy is a public affair. It serves as a reminder and a call to action to change our current unacceptable status quo where such a tragedy can occur. The repression of these photos and audiotapes from the public seems to indicate that we want to hide and forget. The Newton families were instrumental in calling for political action during the gun control debate. Their aim during the fight for stronger gun control was personal and political and was justified, noble, and for a necessary political aim.
Let us all always remember Newton and use its memory to fight to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.