Michael Slager executed Walter Scott on April 4, 2015 in North Charleston, South Carolina. The footage from then Officer Slager’s dashcam, along with eyewitness testimony and footage from Feidin Santana, support that very fact. Walter Scott was executed.
There can be no other characterization of these events. A murder was committed. You can, and probably at this point have, viewed the footage for yourself. I watched it only once, and realized again, that Black minds were sure to be retraumatized. Here was another Black life lost at the hands of a peacekeeper. One commissioned to protect those lives. A fantasy long sacrificed and forgotten in the minds of most Black Americans.
There was very little debate in this case. A grand jury quickly indicted Slager. He would stand trial for murder. With two sets of footage showing him shooting a running Scott in the back, there was belief, in the press anyway, that there would be justice. A strange and toxic word when it comes to the value of Black life in the United States.
Slager would go on to lie to investigators about what took place during a supposed struggle with Scott. He would take the stand and shed tears and suggest that he and the Scott family had suffered. That he was fearful for his life when he shot a retreating and unarmed Black citizen. Eleven of Twelve jurors saw what I assume all of you saw. Juror number 12 suggested that he “could not in good conscience” convict Slager of the murder he committed. Even with the option of manslaughter, he simply could not convict.
There was an immediate period consternation for some. Mild shock and surprise for those who had assumed that justice was en route. For those of us who share skin and a home and a time with Walter Scott, there was muted disappointment, a knowing fear and anger.
There wasn’t a simple outpouring of vitriol at a verdict which we understood was not only possible, but likely, but at the narrative surrounding the verdict. This idea that the lone wolf juror, one misguided and delusional individual, had brought this about.
The very notion is insulting, considering what we know of the systemic institutional racism, and how it supports unchecked abuse by authorities when contacting the Black community as well as in the criminal justice system which disproportionately fails and harshly punishes Black victims and offenders.
Let us, before we proceed, get the obvious unrelated defense mechanisms out of the way. Some of you will read this and wish to defend yourselves and your belief in these systems and those who uphold it by offering the idea that Black on Black crime is more heinous than any crimes committed against Black citizens by Police Officers. In making that observation, as it is too weak to be an argument, you would be failing to see that crime looks roughly approximate across the globe. Where there is poverty, there is violent crime. That is no different here in the U.S. than it is anywhere else in any country on any continent. You would need to first ask why there is a perpetual economic underclass, several generations deep, which has been disproportionately centered in communities of color.
You would offer that Police in all settings have a difficult, dangerous and challenging job. And you would be correct. You would bend toward creating a Blue vs. Black Lives argument, as if the idea of securing and protecting Black Lives from violent ends at the hands of officers is somehow anti-police. You would be mistaken and would have no evidence to support that. It would be little more than a defense mechanism. What that notion fails to consider is that being Black is not a vocation, which being a police officer is. Black citizens do not have the luxury of choosing when they are their racial selves, while policing is work. The two are not the same, and it is dehumanizing to equate them as such.
You would support this narrative that this one man, this all important juror, was somehow an anomaly. And you would be as emotionally dishonest with yourself, and the remainder of us, as Slager in his initial report.
This juror, this trial, this murder … none of it exists in any distant vacuum. That juror, predictably, voted the way that thousands of Americans just like him would have. The failure began with a jury composed of 11 White citizens, and one Black one. The failure began with someone with the sensibilities of Slager being given a badge and a gun commissioned to police the public. The failure began with a failure of an entire society to address the systemic issues which promote economic inequity and support privilege and access for White citizens, while suggesting that merit, or lack thereof, is what rightly limits citizens of color, and leads, ultimately, to situations like the one Walter Scott found himself in.
We have an ingenious form of cowardice when supposedly addressing the issue of police brutality and its cost human cost to Black citizens. The loss of life is one layer. A second is the trauma, a third still is the loss of dignity and dehumanizing effects of being told, repeatedly, that institutions mean more than the life of you and those in your family. Then there is the sense of dread which emerges from the knowing, not simply believing, that this will happen again. Potentially to you, right where you live, and it will be explained to your nation family, to your neighbors, to fellow citizens, as being your fault.
The Slager trial, and everything that led up to the murder of Walter Scott, never hinged on the decision of just one man. We understand this in some way. We have positioned ourselves as a nation, to develop thinkers and citizens who refuse to empathize with Black citizens. Black families are viewed as neighbors and vulnerable members of a family worthy of consideration and protection. That began with chattel slavery, extended into Jim Crow and has carried into well-crafted institutional racism. No one juror created these dynamics. These ways, these thoughts, this place we are in, is all a part of the American human condition. One borne of supporting supremacy, and reacting, as we see from our most recent election, from reacting to our own detriment, when anything supposedly threatens the order of supremacy for too long.
We have bigots for leaders. And undertrained, prejudiced, poorly-equipped neighbors for peacekeepers. And a citizenry unwilling to do what is necessary to adjust those to see to the safety of those, both physical and emotional, to need it most.
Stop lying. Stop saying that one juror brought us here in the Slager case. That is little more than one droplet in the bucket. We created the landscape to build that decision into. This is on America, and its narrative, false and otherwise.
At some point, the majority will have to decide that the nation, this nation, and all of the members of the nation family, take precedence over self-interest. Until that point, stop pretending that decisions like those in North Charleston, are about the moment. We are no longer fooled.
Photo: Getty Images