If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words must a video be worth? Ask Walter Scott, if you could. Officer Michael Slager killed him while the camera rolled yet the jury failed to convict him.
Slager never saw the 50-year-old Scott as a father and veteran. He only saw what was obvious, his blackness. He never saw the unarmed Scott with a gun or a knife. He only saw what was threatening, his blackness. He said he felt “total fear” for his life. He said he had no choice. He said Scott took his Taser and tried to use it on him. He said he fired in self-defense. Eight times.
The video said otherwise. Scott ran from Slager yet Slager shot him and shot him and shot him and shot him and shot him five times in his back. Scott was threatening in the sense that all black men are threatening. We are black and we are men. Slager was never even the least bit concerned that he killed Scott. He calmly walked to Scott’s dead black bullet filled body, handcuffed his dead black lifeless arms and dropped his Taser by his dead black worthless body.
He said he did exactly as he was trained. About that, he is truthful. Professor Timothy Loehmann who feared and killed Tamir Rice trained him. Professor Daniel Pantaleo who feared and killed Eric Garner trained him. Professor Sean Williams who feared and killed John Crawford trained him. His professors were many. Now Slager, the graduate, will be among them for the next class of killer students.
Scott’s black life mattered on April 4th 2015. It was the very reason Slager shot him. Scott’s black life mattered on December 5th 2016. It was the very reason the jury (11 whites, one black) hung.
Scott must wonder, if he could, what must it feel like to really matter? To feel like your cries are heard, your complaints heeded and your pain felt? He must wonder, if he could, what must it feel like to feel white? To an outsider looking in, as he was and I am, it must feel awesome. It must feel empowering. It must feel affirming.
It must feel like a superpower.
It may not be the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound but it is the power to enter tall buildings and know that no one fears your whiteness. It may not be the power to breathe under water but it is the power to know that no one wearing blue will choke the breath out of your whiteness. It’s the power to have a jury look at you being shot five times in the back and not feel that you somehow were the aggressor.
Even when they’re bad, they’re still super. They get to shoot up movie theaters and black churches and have that magical superpower thing called due process. I don’t care to do either but I do care to know that if I have car trouble or a traffic accident I can seek help. When Jonathan Ferrell wrecked his car and knocked on doors for help, Officer Randall Kerrick shot him dead. When Renisha McBride crashed her car and knocked on doors for help, the homeowner shot her dead.
Their kids have superpowers too. They get to do cool superpower kid things like play with toy guns in parks. They get to walk to stores on cool, rainy nights wearing hoodies and buy Skittles. I have to tell my kids they better not dare leave home with a toy gun or anything black, shiny or sugary. I have to tell them they better not dare wear hoodies, rain be damned. I wish I could tell them to not wear their blackness. It would be safer that way. But I can’t. They’re stuck in it.
But it’s the other superpower that really awes me. That superpower that privileges the privileged to not feel privileged. That superpower that angers them at the mere suggestion of their privilege even though it’s as ever-present as the fragrant air they clearly breathe.
My air is not so fragrant. In fact, it reeks. I smell Tamir Rice. I smell Trayvon Martin. I smell Eric Garner. I smell Freddy Gray. I smell Philando Castille. I smell Rekia Boyd. I smell Jordan Davis. I smell Sandra Bland. I smell Laquan McDonald. I smell Michael Brown. I smell Eric Harris. I smell John Crawford. I smell…I smell…I smell…until I cry. They wore their blackness and because of it they’re dead.
But with Scott, the jury had an opportunity to hear his cries, heed his complaints and feel his pain by convicting Slager even of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Scott deserved better. He deserved to know what it feels like to feel white. He deserved to have those with the superpower show him the human power of empathy.
If only more of those with the superpower could share some of the outrage they usually reserve for radical Islamic terrorists and radical kneeling football players for radical abusive police officers. Until then, a picture may be worth a thousand words, but a video’s worth will be determined by whether it’s in black and white. As in black Walter Scott and white Michael Slager.
That video was worth as much as Walter Scott’s life—nothing.
Article By Arnold Mays Ragas