Yesterday, video surfaced of a police officer, Michael T. Slager, who was charged with murder for shooting a fleeing Walter Scott in the back and killing him. The charge means that, thanks to a person with a cameraphone at the right time and place, we have enough evidence to at least bring charges against a police office who murdered a Black man. I’m encouraged by the presence of videos and the way they can show evidence that police officers in these instances sometimes lie. However, I’m saddened by two truths about police targeting of Black people in America:
1) There have been plenty of people murdered by police in this country who didn’t have the benefit of being filmed as it happened. They were murdered. Evidence was planted. And there wasn’t anyone with a camera to prove they were lying. So what do we have? States like South Carolina where police were exonerated for the killings of 200 people. I’ve been told for years that I shouldn’t talk back to cops because at the end of the day, it’s my word against his and he might plant evidence on me. This has been our reality forever.
2) The precedent has been set for police to not leave any witnesses. A person of color surviving police gunshots has a chance to state his case. A person killed by police has no voice. He has no way to dispute a taser placed near his body. There’s no way for him to explain exactly what language a cop used when asking him not to walk on the road.
If a video of Eric Garner being choked to death isn’t enough to elicit charges, then imagine the case when videos and witnesses don’t exist. If a police officer “fears for his life” and shoots a Black man in the shoulder, the precedent has been set for the officer to commit a murder so he can tell his story, get paid leave and never face consequences.
And therein lies the sad state of the war on Blackness as perpetuated by police in America. How many fabricated stories have been told about Black aggression, rage and hatred? How many tasers or bags of cocaine or guns have been planted on the bodies of dead Black men and women? Walter Scott’s death and the fact that there was a camera present (I’m still skeptical about the benefit of body cameras if police can easily just turn them off and kill someone) gives me faith that we’ll be able to respond to more unjust deaths at the hands of police.
But what does this technological benefit do for Mike Brown? All I can think about is all the dead men, women, boys and girls who died in silence. Whose narratives were defined by racist police trying to cover their own backs – or police who just wanted a few weeks of paid leave. The sad, disgusting truth about Walter Scott’s death is this: if not for a happenstance guy with a cell phone, there wouldn’t be any charges and he’d be another “thug” who got what he deserved. What’s even sadder is, camera or no camera, nothing will bring Walter Scott back from the dead.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and editor based out of Atlanta (but it’s still WHO DAT all day). He’s currently an editor at Moguldom Media whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, CNN Money, The Source, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the Internet. He’s a New Orleans Press Club award recipient and has been cited in Best Music Writing. He’s also a proud alum of Davidson College.