Walter Scott

Deja Vu with a View

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?

A Regrettable Incident & A “Regretful” Choice of Words

The video of the incident in which a student was tasered while speaking out at a University of Florida campus forum for John Kerry has been plastered all over the news channels today (as well as YouTube).

The incident and the video that captures it are disturbing on so many levels.

First and foremost on the disturbing list is the fact that this student, Andrew Meyers, is so clearly detained, tasered and arrested merely for exercising his First Amendment rights. Is there a reason why a microphone was placed in the audience other than to capture questions and opinions from participants?

It’s also equally disturbing that John Kerry is heard on the video continuing to address the rest of the audience, while the police are dragging this student out. How quickly would the police have ceased their tactics had Kerry addressed them directly from the podium and asked them to leave Meyers alone? It was completely within Kerry’s power (if not his ability) to defuse the situation and he didn’t. Perhaps what we got from Kerry in this incident is what we should expect from candidate Kerry, who failed or refused to address the tough issues during his Presidential bid?

The fact that the police were so willing and ready to pounce is also pretty suspicious. In the video, it looks like there are at least seven cops surrounding Meyers. It’s absurd to think that seven cops can’t subdue someone who is merely yelling. He’s not fighting them, he’s not flailing, and he’s not resisting arrest. He’s merely begging them for a reason why he’s not being allowed to speak and, then, begging them not to taser him.

Add to this increasingly disturbing list the fact that several of Meyers’ fellow students — their brains apparently turned to Alpo from overdoses of “Jackass” and “Girls Gone Wild” — can be seen laughing as the cops are zapping Meyers. These dimwits apparently didn’t get to the part in their American History books about Kent State. (Am I crazy to have higher expectations of higher education?)

Here’s the kicker. The media, who have the most to lose in this deterioration of the First Amendment, seem to be perfectly content to camp out outside O.J.’s jail cell (both physically and metaphorically), apparently reminiscing about the good old days of Camp O.J., and determined to provide wall-to-wall coverage of this non-essential story.

One final (and admittedly more trivial) level of “disturbing” is that, when the University’s President J. Bernard Machen spoke out today, is that he referred to the incident as “regretful.” Clearly, he was never an English major. It’s regrettable that a university president doesn’t know the difference between “regretful” and “regrettable.”