Wednesday, April 8, 2015

His Name Was Walter Scott

He was a 50-year-old Black man.

He was pulled over for having a broken tail light on his car.

An officer confronted him. He broke and ran.

And received 8 bullets in the back for it.

From a White police officer.

The whole thing was caught on video.

I won't link to the video. You can find it easily enough. It's sickening. It's repulsive. It's irritating. It's mystifying. It's enraging.

I wrote a lament for Eric Garner (Sons And Daughters Of Rodney King) after there was a video of him being choked to death by a police officer, even though he was doing nothing that could be considered harmful or dangerous. That hearkened back to Rodney King, for like King, Garner's attacker was let off the hook. A Staten Island District Attorney did a slapdash job of presenting a case and a grand jury refused to convict. The only person charged with anything was the man who took the video.

The death of Walter Scott, more brutal and violent than that of Eric Garner, might have been just another source of outrage, protest, condemnation for the Black community and, ultimately, ambivalence by the White community, but the officer involved was arrested and charged with murder. His after action report read like so much bad fiction compared to the reality of the unblinking camera eye. That he felt no compunction to honesty, spinning tissues of obfuscation into the whole cloth of "fearing for his life," points to how "acceptable" we, as a society, have allowed this to become.

These police officers, they are not the Sergeant Joe Fridays of "Dragnet" or the Lennie Briscoes of "Law & Order"; those are fabrications that Hollywood purveys in an effort to secure ratings. These are White men, mainly, who have deep seated veins of casual bigotry running through the valleys of their minds. They see the Black person as automatically the villain, the criminal, the threat. This default value denies the flight and energizes the fight, and the moral circuit breaker that should snap before they brandish a weapon is fused shut, leading to hails of lead and bleeding bodies in the street, often unarmed.

If the circle of White-Officer-on-Black-Person violence and murder is to end, this may be the first crack that breaks the linkage. It may be. Innocent until proven guilty, there is still a trial to be navigated, a jury to be seated, and an array of law enforcement and justice officials to be overcome, all of whom are naturally predisposed to believe the officer if infallible and honest. It makes the landings at the Normandy beaches seem a Sunday stroll through the park.

As Eric Garner taught us, not even the clearest evidence of impropriety can guarantee charges, let alone a guilty verdict. George Zimmerman, not even a police officer, was let off even though there was no solid evidence Trayvon Martin ever posed a threat. For the Justice system to earn it's name back in this case, it will have to set aside all the prejudices and predispositions as to the stalwart trustworthiness of a police officer, and judge his actions as a man, a man emboldened by the shield on his chest to follow a course of action that no one should ever follow. The death of Walter Scott must become a watershed moment, like Selma, if we are ever to disentangle ourselves from the skein of bigotry and racism still clinging tightly to the fabric of America.

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