"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Enough Is Enough”: Walter Scott’s Death Should End Public’s Denial Of Police Victimization Of Blacks

There is a phenomenon in the United States which most of the public is unwilling or unable to fully acknowledge. The killings by police of unarmed black men and boys is akin to climate change – for many, seemingly no evidence will convince them that there is a relationship between race and police violence. The justifiably outraged reaction to the apparent murder of Walter Scott suggests that the denial may be finally wearing off. Now is the time to confront that denial and ask whether the reforms that are typically called for are sufficient to combat an obvious disparate impact on black Americans.

For years black Americans and their allies have been saying that officers are killing blacks with impunity. The common reaction is to dissect each fatal encounter and explain what the deceased did to justify being killed. This allowed the majority of the public to disengage from the conversation and write off each death as the deceased’s fault. What the shooting of Walter Scott tore off was any pretense of a legal justification that he was posing an imminent threat to officer Michael T. Slager.

What is still missing is any evidence of racial motivation. The circumstantial evidence, though, is strong because each questionable death seems to occur when the civilian is black or brown be it on a New York City sidewalk, the back corner of a suburban Walmart, a park in Cleveland or a field in South Carolina. The recent President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing addressed racial bias and recommended better collection of demographic data of police encounters and the racial composition of police departments and adoption and of policies prohibiting racial profiling. Those recommendations have to be expanded upon and implemented.

First and foremost, the dearth of data surrounding lethal use of force must be eliminated. Lawmakers have to force police departments to adopt a culture of transparency where a range of data including the use of force, traffic stops and complaints are made public.

Second, de-escalation tactics must always precede the use of force. The current legal justification for using both lethal and non-lethal force is very broad. As long as an officer can demonstrate that he feared an imminent threat of harm and it appears reasonable, he is not subject to any discipline for the use of force.

Third, addressing implicit bias through training may not be enough. What the Department of Justice investigation of Ferguson, Mo. clearly showed is that the bias can be very explicit. Departments have to adopt zero tolerance for racial bias and dishonesty and remove any officers from their forces when racial motivations or lying is uncovered.

Finally, investigations of deadly force incidents must be far more robust. In far too many troubling shootings, investigators are not willing to ask the officers the tough questions they would ask in any other homicide that did not involve cops but instead let them off the hook with softball questions.

There are no easy answers but the killing of Walter Scott demonstrates once and for all that some cops lie and murder and think they can get away with it. As long as the public was in denial that approach worked, now the burden is on all of us, police departments and their political leadership to say “enough is enough.”


By: Walter Katz, a former public defender, was part of a task force that challenged convictions in cases brought by corrupt Los Angeles Police Officers in the Ramparts case; Opinion Pages, Room for Debate, The New York Times, April 9, 2015

April 13, 2015 - Posted by | Police Abuse, Police Shootings, Walter Scott | , , , , , ,

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