Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Walter Scott shooting: Driving while Black?

The shooting death of a middle aged Black man, Walter Scott, at the hands of a South Carolina police officer, Michael Slager, after a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light, has yet again added another shocking ripple into the debate about excessive force used by police officers in America.

This case is particularly stark because it was all caught on film by a young man by the name of Feidin Santana, and showed Mr. Scott apparently running away from the officer and instead of  the officer giving chase, he instead emptied 8 bullets into Mr. Scott, killing him within seconds.

Of course you know that police profiling, police brutality and police shootings of Black men in the United States is a very controversial and dark side of America. One area in which America just seemingly can't turn the corner on the racial divide.

What was also strange about the video was that it's alleged that officer Slager filed a false police report on the matter, stating that Scott was reaching for his Taser, a struggle ensued and that he had to use deadly force. A report he filed before video evidence of the incident went viral on social media.

Upon review of the video, nothing of the sort happened the way officer Slager had stated. In fact, it appears as if the victim had no Taser in his hand, was not in a life and death struggle with officer Slager and appeared to have been running for his life as if it were in imminent danger.

There is also a second video that emerged as a result of the initial shooting video, this time of dash-cam footage of officer Slager in the initial traffic stop and the subsequent first attempt to flee by Scott.

Persons close to Mr. Scott claims that Scott feared going back to jail on child support issues, as he had a warrant out for his arrest from his children's mother.

In addition, the initial viral-murder-video indicates that officer Slager after having shot and killed Scott, went back to the spot where Scott ran from him the second time, picked up something in his hand and dropped it near the body of Scott, which investigators are now alleging to be the Taser officer Slager said in his report that Scott had wrestled from him during the scuffle, a scuffle that did not happen.

What's surprising is that Mr. Scott was 50 years old and officer Slager was 33. Scott also appeared to be a shop-worn 50 year old with officer Slager as an in-shape 33 year old. The questions must be asked: How much of a struggle could it have been for officer Slager to use deadly force on a man running away from him? Also, why was it so hard for officer Slager to give chase on a man, who appears, to be barely able to get out of the way fast enough for his own life let alone break out into a Usain Bolt-esque 100 meter dash?

All of this it appears to be "proof" of what persons in the Black community have been saying all along: Police officers are hunting down Black men for sport. And, if it was not as a result of the video by Mr. Santana that incontrovertibly shows a middle aged man running away from a fairly young police officer and being shot in the back 8 times as a result, officer Slager would have been able to plant evidence and get away with filing false reports on what actually happened during that fatal afternoon.

This recent shooting is on the back of another controversial police shooting in Ferguson Missouri, of a black teenager, Michael Brown back in August of 2014. The shooting and subsequent verdict in the case sent shockwaves through the world, as Ferguson Missouri was torn up as persons rioted and clashed with state and local police in very intense protest stand-offs. Police stand-offs complete with riot squads, the National Guard, mini tanks and military style SUV's and Hummers.

The Michael Brown incident was not like the Walter Scott incident however. Brown was a teenager (which seems to fit the narrative of police officers killing black teens and statistics will show this quite definitively), the shooting was not caught on film, Brown was a pedestrian walking down the street with a friend of his that testified at the trial of the officer charged with the killing.

Of course, police advocates claim that there is no distinction with who they profile, stop, arrest or kill.

To give some obvious evidence of this was the lesser reported case of police using deadly force back in April, 2014 with the shooting death of a White-Hispanic male, Richard Ramirez, also during a routine traffic stop.

Ramirez was shot while sitting in the back seat of a car. Not known at the time of the shooting was that Ramirez was high on Crystal Meth, and was unable to coherently respond to the officers request, prompting fear from the officer of Ramirez and the other passengers in the car that resulted in Ramirez being fatally shot three times.

As a result of the Brown case in particular however, which ignited the already smouldering sentiments from within the African-American community about the White establishment's treatment of their race, which also can be traced back to the brutal beating of Rodney King and the subsequent riots that followed the case and with the acquittals of the officers involved, slogans started popping up like "Hands up. Don't Shoot!", "Stop the Police!" and "Black Lives Matter!".

Yes, Black lives do matter. Having a brother die in police custody in the United States, who was known to have a medical condition and was in the cell for about 6 hours before any medical attention was brought to him after his initial request for treatment, which looking back at it seems very suspicious, Black lives must matter!

Regardless of the under-supported narrative on police killings and how they claim not to target Black men and Black people in general, in that they are no more profiling Black men as they are just doing regular police work, the fatal statistics are somewhat telling.

Reported by, young Black men were shown to be 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer between 2010 and 2012 than Whites. Also more startling was that between 1980 and 2012, there were 41 teens that were 14 years or younger reported to have been killed by police: 27 of them were black; 8 were white; 4 were Hispanic; and 1 was Asian.

The numbers are startling. While police advocates state that Black on Black crime is the real killer in African-American cities, with the same can be said for Caribbean countries as well and it is a legitimate fact, but it is an inconsequential fact because what we're talking about here is police killings of Black men and not Black on Black crime.

I, myself, have had my run in with law enforcement in America as well. During my brief two and a half year study period, I was stopped a total of 5 times and booked on two separate occasions. Both for traffic violations. Oddly enough, one stop was for a broken tail light. The other was for speeding, just a "little" over 30 in a Residential area. Seriously, it was just a little!

With the broken tail light incident, what happened afterwards was startling: It started off with the one initial female police officer that stopped me and asked me to come out of the car, and within 3 minutes I was surrounded by 6 other police officers; two additional squad cars behind me; one to my passenger side with two officers; one head on; one squad car adjacent; and another catawampus, all just apparently stopping in to observe the proceedings. All were White and White-Hispanic. All of this just for a tail light I did not even know was broken, and also with me being five minutes away from home.

Looking back now and seeing what does take place with Blacks in America, it is not a difficult thing to say that I was extremely lucky.

Needless to say it ended without an incident that would have garnered national and international attention. The booking officer was so polite afterwards that she helped me to push my car across the street because it has stalled. Yes, even my little Nissan Sentra was shaken into stalling.

Another "alarming" incident happened on the way back to my dorm room from a party, and it has some relevance to the situation that Walter Scott faced.

That night an officer rolled up quite silently behind me, turned on his sirens and asked me to pull over. Then, with his blow-horn, asked me to turn off the car engine. I promptly complied. I then proceeded to hop out of the car as if it was "the norm", having being asked to do so on two prior occasions, one in which was the broken tail light incident.

He then retorted to me with shock and alarm in his voice, and then briskly asked me to get back into the car. After about 2 minutes of him ruffling around in his squad car, he came up to my window and asked me a few questions: Did I know where I was, where was I going, do I have any documentation to prove who I was, etc? I promptly complied, showed him my student identification, where I was coming from and where I was going, and he then said quite calmly to continue on after he ran another check on my status.

The officer also asked me why did I get out of the car? I told him, quite calmly: "Isn't that the normal procedure?"

Looking back at that incident now, I felt a little more in danger considering what getting out of the car can represent to a police officer if you are Black and it being in the middle of the night and was not asked to do so.

Even though I was not ticketed for that stop, what was odd was that the other ticketed offense with the broken tail light happened at night as well, but the procedure was different. Totally different!

With all that being said, from the unfortunate death of Walter Scott, to the Michael Brown incident, to the Rodney King beating, to the overwhelming crime statistics that show, quite clearly, that while blacks are a mere 13% of America's population they are 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than whites, to my own issues while living in America while Black, America has a long way to go with regard to sorting this problem. And it is an "American problem"! Because myself having lived in London for just about the same amount of time as I did in America, I note that I was not stopped or questioned at any time by the police or district constables. Not one time.

One thing seems to be important to this entire phenomenon however: Running away from the problem only raises the level of seriousness, no pun intended.

***Officer Michael Slager has been fired by the Charleston South Carolina Police Department and is facing murder charges for the killing of Walter Scott.****
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