There is little left to write. But the names are important to remember. Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell and Rekia Boyd and Akai Gurley and Michael Brown and Angelia Mangum and Tamir Rice, 12 and forever imprisoned in the innocence of youth. The afternoon of November 22, 2014 forever on repeat. And now Walter Scott.
The difficulty of responding, again, to something we’ve seen so many times, and will see again, is not lost on me. As an editor at a news organization, it is my job to speak up when necessary and to use this platform to the best of my ability. But the constant onslaught of black death weighs heavy on my shoulders. Last night, and much of this morning, I was at a loss for words. When asked by another editor if I had “any thoughts on Walter Scott,” I bucked at the idea. All I could think was, What more can I say that I haven’t already? Writing “Black Lives Matter” has but so many iterations. When I sat down to write this afternoon, I found myself grabbing for the same words I have used in this space before, the same obvious truths that I have imparted onto you, the reader. But we are here again. So I must try.
Scott, the unarmed South Carolina man and former Coast Guard who was shot eight times in the back as he ran from an officer, now joins our sinister American ritual. I have yet to watch the video of Scott’s shooting because I know the horror contained within, and my doing so will not change its outcome, or alter the reality black Americans find themselves mired in.
Follow the roots, this trend, the mass murdering of black men and women, the sullying of lives even in death, and they will lead you to the legacies of colonialism, economic disparity, poverty, sexism, and patriarchy—they will lead you to the very beginning of America and its flawed, grandiose dream. These are the tools of oppression. These are the ways in which black lives, brown lives, transgender lives, gay lives, and elderly lives are suffocated day after day. Again and again.
According to Mapping Police Violence, 36 black people were killed by police last month. That breaks down to one black person shot every 21 hours. These men and women did not lead perfect lives, all of them were not upstanding citizens, and still their worth was determined by another, their lives, like Scott’s, snatched in broad daylight.
Michael Slager, the officer who fatally shot Scott, was but a willing participant in this eradication. Those in power, perched and safeguarded from the killing fields, need no excuse to violate our rights (Slager said he stopped Scott for a busted tail light, but under South Carolina law vehicles only need to be equipped with one working tail light). It has always been so, and might always be. The Justice Department’s recent probe into the workings of the Ferguson Police Department proves as much. Here is one of the many findings from the report:
The race-based disparities we have found are not isolated or aberrational; rather, they exist in nearly every aspect of Ferguson police and court operations... These disparities provide significant evidence of discriminatory intent, as the “impact of an official action is often probative of why the action was taken in the first place since people usually intend the natural consequences of their actions.” Reno v. Bossier Parish Sch. Bd., 520 U.S. 471, 487 (1997); see also Davis, 426 U.S. at 242 (“An invidious discriminatory purpose may often be inferred from the totality of the relevant facts, including the fact, if it is true, that the [practice] bears more heavily on one race than another.”). These disparities are unexplainable on grounds other than race and evidence that racial bias, whether implicit or explicit, has shaped law enforcement conduct.
The merciless shooting of Scott, the deaths of Eric Garner and others, the Justice Department’s report—they are vivid and damning reminders of the marginal value those in authority place upon our existence.
It is uncertain how much jail time Slager will face, or if he will be convicted at all. The only sure bet is that more black lives will be unjustly and cowardly taken from us.
But hasn’t it always been this way?
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]