The question I suspect a lot of black folks are asking today in the wake of the recent murder-by-cop of Walter Scott, is “So do you believe us now?”
The latest case of yet another indefensible killing of a black man by a police officer to grab national headline attention occurred this week when an unarmed black man (again) was killed by an overzealous white police officer (again) who lied about the circumstances that surrounded the shooting (again). But this time, unlike what happened with Michael Brown in Ferguson, the incident was caught on video thanks to a bystander.
Not surprisingly, the story told by the video and the story told by North Charleston, South Carolina Police Officer Michael T. Slager are two completely different stories. So much so that the police officer was fired from his job by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and is now charged with murder. And that is very surprising. And encouraging. From The New York Times:
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Mayor Keith Summey said during the news conference. “And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”
Honestly speaking? It’s not the video that made the difference here. All the circumstances leading up to Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri, weren’t caught on tape. That’s true. But Eric Garner being virtually strangled to death by police officers in Staten Island while saying “I can’t breathe,” was all caught live and in living color on tape. That’s how “I can’t breathe” became a global rallying cry against police brutality. And what happened to those police officers? Absolutely nothing. Just like virtually nothing happened to the police officers who beat Rodney King within an inch of his life, which led to the worst race riot in U.S. history. From Time:
“Once the four officers accused in the beating were acquitted a year later by a predominantly white jury in the majority white suburb of Simi Valley, all that rage turned into the worst single episode of urban unrest in American history, which erupted on April 29, 1992, and before they were quelled a few days later, had left 53 people dead and $1 billion in damage.”
Sure, two of the officers later got a 2 1/2 year sentence from a “sympathetic” federal judge who felt sorry for how the poor dears had been brutalized by the “widespread vilification” of their good name, but I’d say the crime far outweighed the punishment in that instance by almost comically gross proportions.
So as neat and tidy as it would be to say that it was the incontrovertible visual evidence that led to the police officer being forced to face the consequences of his actions, the truth is that incontrovertible visual evidence doesn’t mean squat if the powers-that-be chooses to ignore that incontrovertible evidence and stand strong for racism instead. What it takes to defeat this kind of rabid madness is simply the courage to stand up to it.
It’s the willingness of a mayor to stand up and do the right thing. Mayor Summey had no problem seeing that what Officer Slager had done was blatantly wrong and reckless, so he fired him. Simple. Just like Go Fund Me did the right thing by rejecting the campaign to raise funds to support Officer Slater. This wasn’t sympathy for a wronged cop, this was naked racism, and Go Fund Me told that campaign to go…well…somewhere else.
When racism and injustice show up, just don’t let it breathe.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.