08 April 2015
A smoking gun in South Carolina
The temptation, now that we have some fairly irrefutable evidence, will be to make the policeman arrested for murder in South Carolina a scapegoat for all the other cops who've killed unarmed people. For some he could serve as proof that the system works when the facts fit properly, if not as inverse vindication of all the other killer cops. This time we can all see with our own eyes, in necessarily terrible detail, a fleeing suspect shot in the back by a police officer. It still doesn't prove everyone's points, of course. The video doesn't prove this one a hate crime, for instance. It doesn't let us read the cop's mind, but it does let us see him at work, perhaps most damningly after the victim has gone down. At the barest minimum the video proves that the accused is a bad cop. It should prove to those who now say that "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" was nothing but a big lie that, whatever the facts were in Ferguson, the general thing protested against there does happen. Does the video prove that this could only happen to a black person? No, but for me, at least, the focus on Ferguson and its echoes elsewhere has been more about cops and their power than it has been about blacks and their systematic victimization. Yes, I get "Black Lives Matter" and the need to affirm that specifically, and the point bears repeating again this week, but police power (including firepower above all) and its abuse also matter, regardless of the target, and I'm not sure that it'll be much affected by racial sensitivity training. A white person may well be less likely to find himself at the point where the video begins, but I suspect that if he starts there he ends the same way as the actual victim. Discussions of excessive police force and excessive tactics overall, whether provoked by the blatant outrage in North Charleston or by the possibly more forgivable tragedy triggered by tazing in Albany, should be about procedure as much as they're about prejudice. Police don't just need to change their ways toward blacks; they need to change their ways, period.