The legendary James Baldwin once said that “To be Black in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all of the time.”
This morning, all I can do is keep it real. I must confess that I’m angry, frustrated, and right on the verge of that rage Baldwin speaks of.
Yesterday, in North Charleston, South Carolina a jury of 11 white men and women and one lone black man, refused to convict a white Officer, Michael Slager, in the horrific shooting death of Walter Scott, a beloved black father and veteran who was pulled over for a traffic violation. For a living, I study and write about injustice. Over the past two years I’ve written over a thousand articles on police brutality and injustice in America. What happened yesterday may very well be the most egregious, outrageous, ridiculous, preposterous, offensive miscarriage of justice I’ve ever covered. To me, it is one of the most unjust court decisions in the entire history of the United States of America.
No injustice, no single case of police brutality, was clearer, more flagrant, and better documented than Officer Michael Slager repeatedly shooting Walter Scott in the back as he ran dozens of feet away.
Filmed on a bystander’s cellphone who was on his way to work, tens of millions of us saw the injustice with our very own eyes. It was an execution.
After Slager shot the fleeing Scott in broad daylight, he was filmed planting a Taser right next to him. His story would later be that he shot Scott because Scott stole the Taser. It was all a lie.
Walter Scott was running for his life. Knowing what we know now, he may have very well looked into the eyes of Michael Slager, who had a record of excessive force, and know that he was immediate danger of being killed. Whatever the case, even though Scott was more than a few dozen feet away, Slager aimed and repeatedly shot the brother in the back and killed him.
After he fired the shots, Slager made no effort to show even a smidgen of care, concern or urgency about Scott. The North Charleston Police Department did the right thing and fired him that same week. The video was indisputable proof for their white police chief to make such a decision. They determined that Slager lied about the incident on his early reports. Local prosecutors didn’t drag their feet either. They charged Slager with murder, but also gave the eventual jury the option to convict on a lesser charge.
But a year later, in the shadows of the election of Donald Trump as our next President, a lone white man on the jury simply refused to convict Slager. From the notes and comments we’ve seen from his fellow jurors – nothing, no amount of evidence, could persuade him. The lone black man on the juror, who became the foreman, told the judge last week that he thought this juror needed to be removed, but he wasn’t. That’d be too much like right.
Simply put, I don’t respect a justice system that refuses to convict Officer Michael Slager ON ANY CHARGE for what he did. He shot a fleeing unarmed man in the back in cold blood. It was filmed. Not only did activists believe it to be an injustice, but local police and prosecutors also agreed.
Nonetheless, here we are. Of the thousands and thousands of people who’ve been killed by police in our country over these past few years, this was the case where I knew in my heart and mind that we’d finally get a conviction.
But just as millions of people underestimated the role of white supremacy in this past presidential election, I simply underestimated what it could do in this case.
I’ll close with a thought I’ve shared before. We must stop saying this criminal justice system is broken. That would suggest it was well designed and somewhere got off track. No, this system is functioning exactly the way it was intended to function. It’s firing on all cylinders.
And if we’re going to impact it in any measurable way, we must organize like we’ve never done before.