It has happened again: another white police officer shooting an unarmed black man under deeply questionable circumstances. These occurrences happen so frequently, they’re almost predictable.
However, the most recent police shooting (or, at least, the most recent one that is garnering national attention) has even some of the most ardent and loyal supporters of police decrying the law enforcement officer’s side of the story. This would not be the case were it not for the video of the actual shooting, which surfaced yesterday via The New York Times.
The video is chilling to watch.
The North Charleston, S.C. police department, upon seeing the video, almost immediately fired Michael Slager, the officer who fired eight bullets at Walter Scott as Scott ran away from him. Slager was also immediately charged with murder once the video showed what had transpired.
But there are still so many questions that need to be answered, among them:
- Was Slager’s police report about the incident (that took place several days before the video surfaced) completely at odds with the events that are shown in the video? Is that an explanation for the uncharacteristic haste with which he was charged?
- What is the object that Slager picked up and subsequently dropped close to Scott? Was this the stun gun that the officer claimed that Scott was reaching for? Why did Slager retrieve this object before attempting to come to Scott’s aid or summoning additional help?
- Why does Slager’s action – retrieving and relocating that object – appear to be so automatic? Is this an indication of just how commonplace this sort of behavior is when officers in North Charleston are unaware that they are being filmed?
- Why do the additional police reports filed by other officers who were next on the scene align so closely with Slager’s account of the events? Was there collusion that was part of the cover-up?
And perhaps the biggest question:
- What role did race place in all of this?
North Charleston is less than 10 miles from the Charleston slave market, one of the main points of entry to the United States for the slave trade; it’s often referred to as the “capital of the slave trade.” There are those in South Carolina (as well as elsewhere in the South) who still don’t like to talk openly about slavery and its horrific and persistent after-effects. If slavery is mentioned at all, it’s referred to as “that unpleasantness” or some other euphemism masquerading as gentility. This kind of paranym, more sugary than sweet tea, is deeply embedded within the culture of the South.
As events over the next weeks and months progress, it will be revealing to see how this community, other cities, and the nation as a whole respond. Will this be the shooting that finally moves the understanding of systemic racism forward?