Thursday, April 9, 2015

Walter Scott and the Big, White Lie

The day before the video of the murder of Walter Scott came out, the headline for an article about the event in the local Charleston paper read "Attorney: North Charleston police officer felt threatened before fatal shooting."

Under that headline was the grinning face of the (white) writer, Andrew Knapp. And blown up big under Knapp's picture was an official photograph of police officer Michael Slager, clean cut and smiling in front of an American flag. 

Then came the first words of the article. The lead. The thing-being-presented-as-the-takeaway: 

"A North Charleston police officer felt threatened last weekend when the driver he had stopped for a broken brake light tried to overpower him and take his Taser. That's why Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager, a former Coast Guardsman, fatally shot the man, the officer's attorney said Monday."

Listen up, people, and listen good: IT MATTERS WHAT YOU LEAD WITH. 

The vast majority of the rest of the article goes on to basically build Slager's lawyer's case for him, quoting and quoting and quoting again the statements of the (lying, sack-of-excrement, murderous) police officer, and talking at length about his exemplary record (directly after blathering on about Scott's arrest record). While there is a one-line, not-quite-quote near the very bottom of the article that says that people who knew Scott insisted he wasn't violent, for the most part the article delivers exactly what the headline, the (white) writer, the officer's picture, and the first lines promised: more of the same. 

And if you've been living under a rock for so long that you don't know what I mean by same-old, same-old, just scroll to the bottom of the article and read the comments from all the RACIST folks out there who immediately went into hyper-drive on the whole, "He was just doing his job and Scott shouldn't have resisted and it wasn't racism" narrative. 

You'll have to scroll down a ways through the comments to find all the racists, though... because after the video came out, the racist jerk-wads suddenly left the conversation, silenced by evidence that could not be spin-doctored away: proof that Officer Michael Slager fired eight shots at Michael Scott from behind, as he attempted to run away. 



Because apparently in America, when a (black) man runs from a (white) police officer, it's an offense punishable by death. 

Now the internet is outraged.

And rightly so.

But will it change anything, when the problems are so systemic? When the powers-that-be use the power they have to suppress the truth and to make sure the disenfranchised stay that way? When people-of-color are incarcerated at astronomically higher rates, and mothers of black children have to spend their lives in fear of the people they're supposed to be able to count on for their safety?

It's so easy to despair about our chances for positive change in an age when lies travel six times around the world before the truth has a chance to open its mouth. 

But we can change. 

We've changed bad things about us, before. 

We don't have to retreat behind white privilege and make those tired old arguments about "he had it coming" or "yeah but most police officers are good peoples." 

Yeah-sure-fine-whatever. Most police officers are good peoples. Who the @#%^!! cares!?! There is a culture of injustice that sustains and allows these things to keep happening, and it's so widespread that you can smell it in the air. 

I don't know if I've told this story before, but earlier this year I was driving home in moderately-moving traffic, a ways back from a black, luxury sedan. I see this police officer come up from a side road, and I tap my brakes a little. I do this not because I'm speeding but because I drive a crappy vehicle, which marks me as poor, which (in the past) has marked me for harassment from police officers. 

So I slow down and the police officer turns right, after the black, luxury sedan, and even though there is no way the guy in the sedan was speeding or that the (white) officer had had a chance to run his plates, the officer flips on his lights and pulls the guy over. 

And as I'm driving by that sedan I glance sideways to see a well-dressed, businessman-looking chap in his fifties. I'm guessing I don't even have to tell you the color of his skin.

What I do want to tell you about, though, is the look on his face.

It was this look that said "Come ON!?!"

It said "Again???" 

It said, "What the HELL do I have to do so that this stops happening to me? Become a lawyer? Tint my windows all the way? Dye my skin white?"

My heart broke, a little. 

Because in this way, people, America is broken.

And while it sure is nice to be white, and not actually as poor as I look, and college-educated, and male... it still isn't right.

I don't (can't) hurt nearly as bad as my darker-skinned brothers and sisters, but I can hurt a little. I can let myself feel a little of their rage, impotence, and the despair. I can make sure that I never, ever, ever retreat behind that white privilege of mine into snot-nosed proclamations of "Well, people need to learn to respect the authority of blah-blah-blah." 

Shut up. 

Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!

YOU ARE MAKING IT WORSE, AND YOU NEED TO STOP!

What am I going to do about this?
I don't know... unfriend you on Facebook?

I'd like to say I'm going to stand arm and arm with the poor and the downtrodden and the imprisoned and the hungry and the weak as we march resolutely, together, toward what this country can be. But I don't know. I don't know how to do this. I don't know what to do next. 

I do know this, though: we have to tear down white fear and white privilege. 

We have to stop all the big, white lies.

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