On April 7, 2015 the world witnessed the murder of Walter Scott by police officer Michael T. Slager. In the video, Slager is shown shooting Scott eight times in the back. He was unarmed, several feet away, and not presenting any threat of any kind. When it was over, I turned my head and thought to myself, “Another black man dead, another trending topic, just another day living in America. We are wild game out here and the main goal is to stay alive.”
Being a black man in America is to know a couple of things: America does not and has not ever cared about you in no shape or form unless you are dribbling a ball or making a music video. You are feared and you are despised. Every day I am reminded of this. From the glances of disgust, the clutching of purses, and being followed throughout department stores, I’m never allowed to forget what I am.
Malcolm X once said, “I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.” That’s how I think right now in today’s time. I have lived a good life. I joke with my girlfriend that my chances of survival have increased by 10% because I don’t drive, so I don’t have to worry about a cop pulling me over. What I do worry about however are the younger black boys. The ones that have yet to fulfill their promise. The ones that don’t know quite who they are or what they want to do. The fact these boys are seen as a threat worries me, because we know what happens then. They could be killed before they have even begin to live.
If you’re not black, I cannot describe to you what it is like to walk around like you have a bulls-eye on your back. The closet thing I can tell you is that you are living your life knowing that at any moment your number can be called. That’s it, time’s up. A cop sees you as an enemy, you’re dead, and he won’t even be charged unless someone is taping it. Being black means that killing you isn’t really a crime.
Living that kind of life, you ask yourself, “Should I plan on going to college? Marriage? Vacation? Should I plan on the future? Does it even matter when I am a possible target?” You may think I am flippant, but that’s the math. It doesn’t matter what age, height, what I am wearing, what I drive, if I have a record or not, if I am rich, poor, it does not matter. The cops could just kill me any time.
When I was younger my mother would talk to my brother and I about what to do when stopped by the police. She would say, “Remain calm, don’t do anything to scare them, and keep your hands to your side. As we got older and started driving, she added, “Be respectful and nice, if you get stopped pull over in an area with lots of people, and of course keep your hands where they can see them at all times.” I didn’t know at the time, but we had “The Talk”, a discussion that many black parents have with their children to teach them how to interact with the police. Many of friends would have it as well with variations such as not to wear hoodies (yep, even back then), not to blast rap music loud because that would attract police attention (I admit we didn’t obey that rule), and never ride four deep, which means to never ride in a car with four or more people (I follow this rule even today). Now we looked at this as normal, but in retrospect at 12, 14, 16 our parents are teaching us how to get through the day without being shot dead. That’s the kind of talk parents have with their kids when they live in a war zone, not an American city.
It hurt me to the core when I had to repeat the same words to my little brother, a smart young man that I mentor. We were grabbing a donut and I had asked him what he knew about the Mike Brown murder. He said his friends had been talking about. I then gave him The Talk.
He told me that cops would pull up and hassle him when he was walking home from school, asking where he was coming from. I shared examples of my many times of being profiled and what I did in those situations with the police. As I was talking to him about this, I had to stop and pause because I would have broken down in tears telling him how to survive in a world that doesn’t want you to live. All I could think was that it shouldn’t be like this. Giving The Talk was one of the hardest things I have to do. It is not a normal way to live.
At the core of this shooting is white supremacy, a system that has maintained a white ruling class in part by dehumanizing black people. Racism has ranged from slavery to Jim Crow, segregation to the War on Drugs, and The New Jim Crow of the prison industrial complex. Racism has allowed the slave patrols during slavery to evolve into the police we have today, still carrying the old philosophy: Keep them in their place and remember it’s okay to just kill them.
The killing of Walter Scott isn’t just about one bad cop. Anyone that has been paying attention to the news for the past several years can see that. Black man after black man have been gunned down by the police. Since the Mike Brown shooting, there had been still more young black men killed by cops. New York, LA, Atlanta, Phoenix, Cleveland, San Francisco… The list goes on and on. What is it going to take to realize that police terrorism is systemic? To admit that police culture has been infected with the idea that all black men are dangerous and must be killed? This transcends cities, coasts, ages, and sexual orientation. How many other black men have to die on camera for this to sink in?
At this point I don’t want another Department of Justice report detailing how scandalous and racist a given police department is. The reports don’t matter if nothing is done. I don’t want more marches down the street because they might make for nice news clips, but the people in power just ignore them. I want justice. I want third-party independent investigative committees to look into police shootings. I want Grand Juries to be done away with. I want people to stop blaming police terrorism on “bad training.” I want justice! Can a brother get some?
Until our endemically racist system is replaced with something that resembles right and wrong, I will keep preparing myself to go at any time, and I will keep having The Talk with young black boys. Tomorrow is promised to no one, least of all us.
RIP Walter Scott.