CAMERAS AND CHARACTER
©Wendell Griffen, 2015
April 10, 2015
Justice Is A Verb!
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out into the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper? And the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth. Genesis 4:8-13 (New Revised Standard Version)
…Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law… (Fourteenth Amendment, Constitution of the United States)
Walter Scott was shot to death last Saturday, the day after Good Friday and before Easter, in North Charleston, South Carolina. He was a 50 year old son to his parents, brother to his siblings, father to his children, neighbor, co-worker, honorably discharged Coast Guard veteran, and child of God.
Walter Scott was shot to death in the back by Michael T. Slager, a white North Charleston policeman. Slager claimed that Scott tried to overpower him and take his Taser after Slager stopped Scott for allegedly having a broken tail light. Slager claimed that he felt threatened.
The North Charleston Police Department knew that Walter Scott had been shot in the back. They knew that Slager killed Scott. But they accepted Slager’s claim Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
From Saturday until Tuesday the North Charleston Police Department never treated Slager as a murder suspect.
From Saturday until Tuesday the North Charleston Police Department never treated Walter Scott as a possible murder victim.
From Saturday until Tuesday the North Charleston Police Department viewed Walter Scott as merely another dead black man killed by a fellow policeman who felt threatened and exercised lethal force to protect his own life.
From Saturday until Tuesday, the North Charleston Police Department didn’t treat Michael Slager as a liar and murderer despite the fact they knew Walter Scott had been shot multiple times in the back.
But Feidin Santana was some distance away, but within view of the encounter between Slager and Scott. Santana had a cell phone. He videotaped the last moments of Walter Scott’s life. His video shows that Michael Slager killed Walter Scott in cold blood as Scott was running for his life.
Santana’s video shows that Slager fired eight shots as Scott was running, empty handed, away from Slager. The video then shows Slager approach Scott’s fallen body and handcuff Scott. The video shows Slager leave Scott, walk back to a spot several feet away, pick up an object from the ground, and take that object and place it near Scott’s body.
Feidin Santana’s video shows that Michael Slager murdered Walter Scott in cold blood as Scott was running from him, unarmed. Santana’s video shows that Slager planted something near Scott’s body. The video shows that Michael Slager didn’t attend to Walter Scott’s wounds. The same was true for a second police officer who arrived on scene.
The killing of Walter Scott, preserved on video that has now been viewed around the world, has strengthened the rising demand that police officers wear body cameras to document their encounters with the public. I do not oppose body cameras. But Walter Scott wasn’t killed because Michael Slager didn’t have a body camera.
Walter Scott was killed because Michael Slager is a sociopath. Slager lacked the character to be trusted about whether to use lethal force. That character deficit cannot be corrected by issuing a camera.
Let’s stop pretending that body cameras will solve the problem of abusive and homicidal conduct by people in law enforcement. The problem isn’t caused by lack of cameras, but lack of character. The character problem should be thoroughly investigated, explored, and addressed before someone is given a police badge, firearm, and unfettered authority to mistreat and slay other people. It says a lot about the culture of policing in the United States that more attention and emphasis is placed on how well someone can shoot and kill than how well they can relate with the people they are to protect and serve.
But the character deficit doesn’t exist only within the police culture. Judges, prosecutors, legislators, mayors, and the general public bear a lot of responsibility for enabling the police culture with the opportunity and authority to engage in abusive and homicidal conduct with impunity.
There is abundant evidence that the police disproportionately mishandle and kill unarmed men and women who are persons of color and/or poor. Despite what the Fourteenth Amendment declares about people not being deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law, the police who mishandle and kill unarmed persons are almost never charged, prosecuted, tried, and convicted after doing so. It says a lot about the character of prosecutors, investigators, judges, and jurors that the overwhelming majority of those tragic situations are deemed “justified.” We seem unable to realize the moral and ethical contradiction in blithely accepting the abuse and death of unarmed people by others who are armed and sworn to protect and defend all persons.
The hard truth shown by the death of Walter Scott, as was shown by the deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, Eugene Ellison and Monroe Isadore in Arkansas, Michael Brown, Jr. in Missouri, and so many other unarmed men and women of color, is that our nation has nurtured a culture that allows the law enforcement community to recruit, select, train, promote, and protect people who place little value on the lives of people who are black, brown, and poor.
Judges and juries excuse these sociopaths. Prosecutors and police leaders refuse to treat these killers as sociopaths. The general public rushes to defend killers who carry badges even when they kill unarmed people. That character deficit is widespread and deeply entrenched. That may explain why Feidin Santana feared for his own life. People who expose murderous law enforcement agents have good reason to be afraid in a society that enables law enforcement agents to mistreat and kill unarmed people with impunity.
Rather than admit that we have a sub-culture of sociopaths within law enforcement and address that disease, we talk about issuing body cameras. Sociopaths who kill unarmed people will not be deterred by cameras they can disable and video footage they can alter or destroy. We are fools to think otherwise.