What if the video wasn’t there? What if when North Charleston police officer Michael Slager killed Walter Scott by shooting him in the back, there had been no other story but his own? What if the only evidence was his evidence? What if the only story available was one carefully crafted, calculated and then corroborated by fellow officers and prosecutors to describe how “the other guy reached for the officer’s weapon, then there was a scuffle and the officer felt his life was in danger”... Sounds familiar?
All over America today people are asking that which must be asked. What would happen if this video had not been shot? Most Americans, regardless of race, know the answer.
Police need to know exactly how we all feel. And it can’t be a black-and-white thing. It’s an all-of-us thing. The majority of police officers want to get it right. Let’s help them.
It is impossible to know how many murders, much like this one, the infamous thin blue line has hidden from us. It’s a much written-about code that allows police and prosecutors to provide cover for each other while using a different set of rules for themselves than they use for the rest of us.
This isn’t a black and white thing. It isn’t about race. It’s about trust — a trust that seems to have been broken in America between those who wear the badges and those who don’t. And at no time has it been more exposed than it is now with the arrival of smartphone cameras.
Slager, who pulled the trigger and is now charged with murder, is white, but the officer who seemed to go along with the tampering of evidence was black. Slager is seen on the video retrieving his Taser and throwing it down next to his victim’s body, allegedly to match his story about Scott taking it from him.
His own Police Chief Eddie Driggers now says he’s “sickened by what he saw.” I imagine he’s referring to the entire incident, both the shooting and the apparent evidence tampering.
Even in Ferguson, while the media has focused mostly on race, the underlying problem underscored in the Justice Department report seemed to be that police treated anyone out of uniform with indifference or worse. Even Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was caught on video a year before the Michael Brown shooting treating a white citizen with the same apparent disrespect that he showed Michael Brown.
Ferguson resident Mike Arman was arrested for failing to comply with orders after being harassed by Wilson for simply using his cellphone, which is his constitutional right. Wilson arrived at the scene to serve a summons for derelict vehicles on the property, but as soon as he saw Arman with a cellphone, he immediately began cursing at him. Nice.
Let me say it again. Wilson was white, and so was Arman. But Wilson had a badge, a uniform and a gun, and Arman did not. By the way, Wilson displayed one other thing that I hear regularly from callers on my radio show on WIOD in Miami. We hear this from white Anglo-Saxons, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, conservatives, liberals and everything in between. What Wilson displayed on that videotape and what callers describe to me with words like “attitude” and “ego” underscores an apparent rift between both how we see police and how they see us. And it isn’t getting any better.
Is there a solution? Yes. One word: Transparency. Police need to know exactly how we all feel. And it can’t be a black-and-white thing. It’s an all-of-us thing. The majority of police officers want to get it right. Let’s help them, not with blame, but with constructive guidance at the local level with citizen/police town halls. It’s essential to eliminate the them-versus-us mentality that permeates police/community relations in the U.S. at the present time.
And while on the subject of transparency, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has finally figured it out. After watching one of his own officers on videotape gun down one of his citizens and allegedly try and lie about it, at a news conference Wednesday he announced he’s ordering 250 body cameras to equip the entire police force. It may be time for all police departments to do the same.