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If We Were ‘Staggered’ by Police Brutality, Wouldn’t Walter Scott Mistrial Have Knocked Us Over?

Mostly there were dry headlines like “Mistrial Declared in Black Motorist’s Shooting by Officer.” (Photo: David Geitgey Sierralupe/flickr/cc)

Corporate media reported the mistrial in the case of South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, whom video showed shooting unarmed African-American Walter Scott eight times in the back in April 2015, handcuffing him on the ground, and then dropping a taser alongside his body—this after Slager stopped Scott for a broken tail light.

Mostly there were dry headlines like “Mistrial Declared in Black Motorist’s Shooting by Officer.” An AP piece got the headline that many were “at a loss” at the outcome; other headlines had them “stunned.”  The story itself included comments that started to get at the depth of folks’ despair: “There’s a jury full of people and they cannot decide if it’s illegal to shoot someone who is running away from you?” asks one source. “What do you say about a country that feels this way about black people?” “Do we really have anything that can seriously be called the administration of criminal justice?” asks another.

Indeed. Corporate media keep referring to how the country has been “rocked” or “staggered” by revelations of police brutality in black communities—evoking the question, if we were really staggered, wouldn’t something like this knock us over?

Instead, we got only media gestures toward documented research on how hard it is to convict police officers and bland references to “racial tensions.” The Daily News (12/5/16) was the only paper I found editorializing on the mistrial: Headlined “Believe Your Eyes,” the paper acknowledged that they don’t generally weigh in on questions of guilt, but that measured against the video evidence, Slager’s testimony—that he was gripped by “total fear” and “fired until the threat was stopped as I was trained to do”—”can only be described as emanating from a parallel universe.”

The New York Times (4/8/16) did run an editorial last April, saying the quick charging of Slager was “encouraging,” along with FBI and Justice Department involvement. Such wrongful deaths “present a clear danger to the civic fabric. The country needs to confront this issue directly and get this problem under control.” The paper’s editorial silence on the mistrial suggests the important gap between the relative ease of calling for change and the difficulty of examining why it doesn’t come.

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Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s (Westview Press).

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