As the US continues to grapple with the series of police killings that sparked a debate about the use of force against African Americans, we seem to take one step forward and two steps back. “If innocent people can get shot, how can black people ever feel safe at the hands of police?” We are reminded, once again, that the answer is “they can’t”. Not without a complete upheaval of the law enforcement system as we know it, at least. But how many ‘good’ men, women and children have to be harmed to get us to a place where we can even dream of such a thing? What sort of victim do we require to have that changes the hearts and minds of a nation committed to notions of inherent black criminality?
For a moment, it seemed that the tide was turning. The former South Carolina police officer who shot Walter Scott in the back following a traffic stop, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge. In the shooting death of the unarmed black man Slager admits to violating Scott’s civil rights by using excessive force during an attempted arrest.
#SayHisName – Walter Scott
A bystander captured cellphone video of the killing, spurring widespread outrage. On April 4, 2015, Slager, who is white, pulled over 50-year-old Walter Scott, a black man, for a broken brake light. Scott fled from his car, and Slager chased him on foot. After a brief struggle, Scott broke away and Slager began firing at his back, striking him with five of the eight bullets he fired. During his murder trial, “Slager emphasized that he had acted according to his training as a police officer and that he had been afraid of Scott. He contended, as he has previously, that Scott had taken his Taser stun gun.
“The defendant willfully used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances,” according to the plea agreement. “The defendant acknowledges that during the time he used deadly force, he knew that the use of deadly force was unnecessary and excessive, and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances.”
Although Slager’s federal trial had been expected to start next week, as part of the plea deal, the state of South Carolina will drop a murder charge against him. He has also admitted to deprivation of rights under the colour of law, lying to state investigators, and using a firearm in a violent crime. The plea deal makes no reference to Walter Scott’s race and the deal does not carry a specific punishment. Prosecutors “are proposing a sentence based on federal guidelines for a second-degree murder conviction, which recommend more than 20 years.” Slager’s sentence is not expected to be handed down for several more weeks but he faces a possible sentence of life in prison and $250,000 in fines.
What sort of victim do we require to have that changes the hearts and minds of a nation committed to notions of inherent black criminality?
While a guilty plea may feel like justice to the grieving family of Walter Scott, the society at large and particularly the African American communities across the nation suffer unimaginably deeper trauma. Would these horrific killings be enough to change the conversation about American policing? It is beyond obvious that state “police training” needs to be addressed, their code of ethics and community engagement needs revision and we need to identify proactive ways to end their unnecessary use of excessive force against African Americans under the Donald Trump presidency and beyond.
For every win there are two losses.
#AltonSterling – The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it was not bringing civil rights charges against the white police officers involved in the fatal 2016 shooting of Alton Sterling.
#JordanEdwards – And the untimely death of 15-year old Jordan Edwards comes as attention is on Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his direction over how the Justice Department will handle cases of alleged police brutality.
This saddening news comes along with ever-increasing tensions and racial discrimination at places across the U.S. According to the Attorney General, “The Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement following Slager’s guilty plea. “Such failures of duty not only harm the individual victims of these crimes; they harm our country, by eroding trust in law enforcement and undermining the good work of the vast majority of honorable and honest police officers.”
How about 2 more L’s just for the hell of it?!
In one recent incident, bananas were reportedly found hanging from nooses all over campus at American University in Washington, D.C. According to the University, the bananas were marked with the letters “AKA,” which is the abbreviation for Alpha Kappa Alpha. AKA is the first black sorority that launched at Howard University in 1908.
And earlier this week, a Houston man was charged with a hate crime after he used a racial slur before he tried to stab an African-American man Tuesday. Harris County prosecutors said that James Scott Lee, 32, chose his target based on the victim’s race. Although they said the victim was able to escape, prosecutors said Lee was heard saying, “I hate (N-word)s, and I’m going to kill me one today,” before he brandished the knife. The hate crime enhancement to the “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon” charge means Lee could spend up to 20 years behind bars if he is found guilty.
Could the world now acknowledge what African Americans have understood for decades: that the police and a segment of our civilian population are the cultural descendants of overseers and masters on slave plantations? The answers to those questions remain to be seen, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that this country will turn a willful blind eye. America doesn’t want to have a real conversation about race.