Holding Our Breaths

The video taken of ex-Officer Michael Slater shooting Walter Scott in the back is bone-chilling, yet not surprising, at least to me.

In spite of the “majority population “pooh-poohing” claims by African-Americans that there is and has been widespread policy brutality waged against them, those who live in urban communities know that the cry has been valid. Over and over again black people have been shot – murdered, really – by police officers and those same officers have told a lie about what happened. The word of the police officers has been taken at will, the claim of the neighborhood witnesses that something horribly wrong has happened has been summarily dismissed, and the result is that way too many African-American deaths at the hand of police officers have gone without their families seeing justice.

“The law” has historically not been on the side of African-Americans. In an interview about the Civil Rights Movement, Diane Nash said that non-violence was the only way to fight. “Law enforcement was used against us. We couldn’t match what the police and sheriff and national guard had against us. Police power was used against us. Segregation was the law and police power was used to enforce segregation.”

Indeed, “the law” has been used to keep people in their place. Police, it seems, have been given carte blanche to do what they want to people, black people especially, it seems, and black people have not been heard or believed.

The culture has been successful in perpetrating the feeling that black people are bad and if they get shot and/or killed by police, it is because, frankly, they ARE bad.

So, when there have been cases of what appear to be obvious missteps by police, there have been short gasps of hope. When Rodney King was beaten I for one believed that now, “the world will see what we’re talking about.” The video seemed so clear …and yet, the officers were acquitted.

It was a continuation of what had always been the history of our interaction with “the law” in this land, no less painful than the acquittal of the white men who had lynched Emmett Till.

With the tragic death of Walter Scott, we have again what seems to be a sure-fire piece of evidence that shows that the officer was wrong, that what he did was nothing short of murder …but I find myself holding my breath as investigators search for more evidence. My fear is that something will be found that will minimize Mr. Scott’s death, that something will be found that will push investigators to rule that Mr. Slager’s use of force was “justifiable.”

While so many television news reporters and anchors seem genuinely surprised by the video showing what happened to Scott, people in African-American communities are not surprised at all. The question is being asked and answered, “What would have happened if there had been no video?” The answer in unfortunately too clear: the story given by the police officer about what happened would have been taken as true. An “investigation” would have been conducted while the officer was put on “paid administrative leave,” and in the end some higher authority, like a grand jury, would absolve the officer of all guilt.

It is maddening, this pattern of absolution of crimes rendered against black people by police officers.

Some news people, it seems, are nervous. They wonder what will happen if somehow the investigation concludes that the officer’s use of force was justified…or if a trial, if there is one, ends up acquitting Slager.

Only time will tell that.

It seems, though, that the country, our country, should wake up and take the frequency of these state-sanctioned killings seriously. It seems like by now, with all of the tragic killings by police of people, black people, largely unarmed, someone ought to understand that America has a serious problem.

The deaths of black people have never seemed to make much of a difference to the majority population as a whole. Black people have been so dehumanized and criminalized that their deaths at the hands of police are for the most part boring. They don’t want to hear the story of what happened; they seem unable or unwilling to consider that the families of these slain are mourning and weeping, not just because one of theirs has been taken away by one or a few who were supposed to protect them, but also because they know the assailant of their loved one will never be held accountable.

Sojourner Truth, noting the sexism in her day, made her very famous speech, asking the question, “ain’t I a woman?”

As we hold our breaths, I find myself asking, “ain’t we children of God? Ain’t we human, too?”

Unfortunately, it feels like too many in this country would answer “no” to both questions

So, this time things are a bit different. Slager has been fired from the police force, has been charged with murder, and is in jail. Thank goodness ..But…we are holding our breaths, and those who have been shot and put aside after shoddy “investigations” are shivering in their graves. This is not a new thing in this country, but it is every bit as tragic and toxic a phenomenon as it has always been.

A candid observation …

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