Another Death By Cop: We're All One Bullet Away From Being A Hashtag
The cold-blooded murder of Walter Scott, 50, by Michael Slager, 33, in North Charleston - wherein a white cop shot a black guy eight times in the back for no discernible reason, handcuffed him as he lay dying, planted evidence on him and made up a wholly bogus story about how he "followed procedure" - was notable, alas, for just one reason: The video by a passerby showing that Slager shot Scott "like a runaway slave." What's wrong with this picture: Slager's been charged, much of a once more appalled America argues, not so much for what he did, but because we saw what he did.
Before the video surfaced, Slager had told a now-too-familiar story about how he "feared for his life" when the semi-thuggish (aka black) Scott scuffled with Slager after he'd stopped him for a busted tail light - a typical, infamous kind of "investigatory stop" cops have long used to target "suspicious" (aka black) drivers. The practice is particularly common in North Charleston, where African-Americans make up 47% of residents and police, who are 80% white, have long faced allegations of violent abuse. But this time, one quick-thinking Feidin Santana happened to be walking past, and recorded the encounter. In an interview late Wednesday, Santana said he only came forward with the video after he realized police were telling an unholy shitload of lies, and he wanted the truth to be told. He also said he saw the two men briefly struggle, that Slager was always in control, and that a terrified Scott seemed to run simply because he was trying to get away from the Taser.
It was after the video aired that Slager was fired, and then charged with murder. North Charleston's regretful mayor called his blithe blasting of eight bullets, five of which hit his target, towards the back of a fleeing, unarmed, out-of-shape 50-year-old father of four whose alleged crime was to have a tail-light out on his car "a bad decision." One response from a sometimes inimitable Twitter: "Sleeping late is a bad decision. Shooting an unarmed man is an execution." After Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and all the rest, Twitter - "We're all one bullet away from a hashtag" - again lit up with rage. Sample from #WalterScott: "Run towards them...they shoot. Stand still...they shoot. Hands up..they shoot. Run away..they shoot. You're black..THEY SHOOT."
Just like too many times before, much sadness, badness and weirdness followed. Scott's devout, dignified family said they never believed the cop's story of a deadly struggle: "It wasn't Walter." The New York Times, not some podunk rag, dutifully noted in yet another He-Was-No-Angel story that Slager "served in the Coast Guard before joining the force" and Scott "had been arrested about 10 times, mostly for failing to pay child support." One or two enterprising guys started a Facebook page and fundraising campaign on Indiegogo, having been rejected by GoFundMe, "to show our Support for Officer Michael T. Slager! Although he may have made mis-steps in judgement he was protecting the community." Besides, the organizer notes TWICE, Slager had served five whole years without savagely, pointlessly killing anyone and thus "deserves a competent defense no matter what the court of popular opinion says," adding, "This is still America." (True, that.) To date, it has raised $181 of a stated goal of $5,000, and considerable ire. One response to his court of popular opinion tack: : "What about the court of indisputable video evidence?" And to his whining that the "real reason" his page was initially rejected was "cowardice": "How about the real reason is you are an ignorant racist supporting a murderer?"
Amidst so much weary anger, The Onion provided one of the more blistering commentaries on the disheartening happenstance that differentiates Scott's murder from so many that have come before. They report that, thanks to a fortuitous video, "The American populace (is) hopeful that future victims of police abuse would have an equally random chance of receiving justice....They have faith that, as long as a fair-minded eyewitness happens to be passing by at the exact right time; has the inclination to stop and film, an unobstructed view, enough battery life and memory on their phone, a steady hand, the forethought to start filming an interaction with the police before it escalates into violence; is close enough to get detailed footage, but far enough away to avoid being shot themselves or seen by the officer and potentially having their phone confiscated; and it is daytime, then justice would certainly be served."
It's unclear if justice will, in reality, ever be served. Slager has been charged and denied bail, but is a long way from being convicted. And the toxic police culture remains bloated with Slagers armed with a badge, a gun, a sense of entitled invincibility, and an unsparing view of brown "others" whose humanity is not quite as real as their own. Still, the current fury of a public that's seen enough - and a chance impulse by a good guy on his way to work to document the truth - may yet budge us toward change. Feidin Santana says he's sorry for all concerned here, even Michael Slager, but facts owe: "You pay for your decisions in this life."