Interesting Links: Apr 8, 2015
Here are links to some interesting news articles I came across today. As you might notice, all four are about the murder of Walter Scott (a black man) by Michael Slager (a white cop).
As long as there have been white people and black people and brown people in America, the slaughter of black and brown people has been used as a form of control. For centuries, on a population level, the racial majority has voted and lobbied to give agents of the state more power to act without sanction, to militarize, to kill. Functionally, this has enabled them to wage war on behalf of the majority of the public; to express hatred and fear and aspire to power through campaigns of terror and carnage.
The slaughter of black and brown people is, in this light, a political act, political violence enacted for political purpose against a civilian population to raise fear and obtain compliance. That Slager probably never thought of things in these terms doesn’t matter; what does is that he was trained and given incentives in line with the interests of a particular class intent on preserving its power. The violence he enacted is a kind that keeps one class of citizens terrorized and fearful of random violence for the benefit of another. It’s meant to keep that class in line and intact, even as the sands of time shift and racial minorities slowly crawl toward majority status.
Link 2: Broken Taillight Policing
What we can say, however, is that the shooting of Walter Scott happened in an institutional environment where police officers are encouraged to make intrusive stops against people they deem suspicious. Overwhelmingly, those people are black American men. And as we’ve seen with stop-and-frisk tactics in New York City and with the behavior of the Ferguson Police Department, these stops aren’t effective; they yield fewer suspects and less contraband than what you get from more targeted investigations. Instead, they poison the relationship between departments and communities, creating mistrust and entrenching the view—among the police, the policed, and everyone else—that blacks are lesser citizens than their peers. Whether Slager, who is white, was racially biased—there’s no evidence he was—is irrelevant. What matters is that this universal suspicion is baked into the culture of police departments across the country, such that all kinds of officers—black as well as white—engage in profiling.
As long as white people remain unconvinced that policing is a fundamentally anti-Black, racist enterprise in this country, the police will keep killing unarmed Black people. As long as the ridiculous argument that this is “just an isolated incident” proceeds unchecked, Black bodies will continue to pile up. Local juries might opt to throw the book at “individual” suspects, but individual solutions will not solve the epidemic of police murder. As of February 2015, the police were killing someone every eight hours. That is simply too much killing, and it far outpaces the police murder rate in every other developed country.
To put it the way Dr. Treva Lindsey put it, “These extrajudicial killings are at the heart of U.S. democracy. At the core of our nation’s history is [Black people’s] annihilation and dehumanization- how do you ‘reform’ that? So save me the good cops argument- we are indicting the ENTIRE SYSTEM.” She’s right. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.
Walter Scott’s killing is unusual in several ways. It’s unusual that a traffic stop ended in death. It’s unusual—and decisive—that it was caught on film. And it’s highly unusual that it has produced a murder charge against the officer. But in other ways, the incident seems depressingly familiar. Scott was stopped for having a tail light out, the sort of minimal issue that advocates say is often used as a pretext to harass black citizens and to search for other violations. As The New York Times noted, the population of North Charleston, where Scott was shot, is 47 percent black and 37 percent white. Michael Slager, the officer who shot Scott, is white—along with 80 percent of the city’s police department, according to the most recent available figures.
Scott joins the list of unarmed black Americans whose deaths at the hands of police were recently documented on camera. In New York, bystanders filmed the death of Eric Garner, who repeatedly shouted, “I can’t breathe,” as multiple NYPD officers placed him in a chokehold during an arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Grainy footage from a nearby surveillance camera captured the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot by Cleveland police in November while playing with a toy gun in a local park. A Staten Island jury declined to bring charges against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for Garner’s death in December. Rice’s death remains under investigation.
What do you think? Comments?