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“It Might Be Fox-Proof But It’s Not Foolproof”: The Video Of The Walter Scott Killing Has Silenced Fox Critics

The video that Feidin Santana took of Michael Slager, a white North Charleston, South Carolina police officer, allegedly shooting and killing Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, is Fox-proof.

The three-minute-plus video shut up the inevitable police apologists who’d always find a way to blame the black guy for his own death by saying he acted in a threatening manner. But now, even Fox News folks are saying it’s right and just that Slager has been charged with murder.

“This is not Ferguson,” Andrew Napolitano said on Fox & Friends on Wednesday. “In Ferguson, there was a bona fide fight over the officer’s gun and the officer won the fight. This is [sic] two disparate cases. This is a victim running away from the police, shot in the back. This is what some people said Ferguson was, but it turned out it wasn’t.”

Dr. Ben Carson, Fox’s favorite black GOP presidential candidate, called it “an execution.”

(UPDATE: You might think that the dash-cam video released last night showing the traffic stop and Scott running away would trigger a Fox instinct to reverse course and blame the victim. But, so far, that hasn’t happened. Sean Hannity said last night that Scott “was not a threat to anybody” and that it’s “irrelevant what happened leading up to” Slager shooting him. And this morning on Fox, conservative radio host Lars Larson said he still believes “the officer committed murder.”)

No, the Fox line seems to be that now that Slager is sitting in jail without bail, justice has been served, the system works. So let’s move on, folks. And, oh yeah, it’s not a race thing. Greg Gutfeld on Fox’s The Five claimed, as if channeling the “color-blind” Stephen Colbert, “I didn’t see a black man killed by a white cop. I saw a man shoot another man in the back.”

That’s funny, because the video is incredibly detailed and definitive. Arguably more definitive than the videos showing the death-by-chokehold of Eric Garner in New York, or the death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland shot by police for playing with what turned out to be a toy gun, or the unprovoked shooting of an unarmed man, Levar Jones, by a South Carolina state trooper, or the brutal beating of Rodney King that set off the Los Angeles riots in 1991 after the officers were acquitted. They are all shocking videos, and they led to various degrees of punishment—or not—for the police involved. But the Walter Scott video is the most overwhelmingly convincing of them all.

While it’s always possible for video to be misleading or confusing, Santana’s isn’t. We don’t have to wonder what’s not in the picture.

First of all, it’s long. It’s true, the video doesn’t show the very beginning, when Slager stops Scott for a broken tail-light and Scott reportedly runs into a nearby grassy field. That’s where Slager used a taser on Scott and claims that the motorist tried to wrestle it from him; the officer told authorities he “feared for his life.”

It’s at that point that Feidin Santana, a young man walking his regular route to his job at a barbershop, began recording the incident on his cell phone. As Scott runs away from him, Slager is seen firing at Scott’s back eight times until he falls to the ground. After cuffing Scott, who is possibly dead at this point, Slager goes back to pick up what appears to be the stun gun and drops it near Scott’s body, as if to frame Scott as a very dangerous man. (The video also appears to show that none of the police who soon arrived administered any life-saving measures.)

Secondly, the video is shot in the middle distance—not so far that people look like blurry dots, nor so close or narrowly framed that vital information is missing. (The too-close classic: footage of people tearing down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad after the American invasion. They looked like a passionate, American-welcoming mob—until later footage zoomed out to reveal they were a small group of people who needed help from an American military vehicle to actually take the statue down.)

Santana’s video is choppy and shaky, surely because he was nervous, but also because he was moving with the action. “I witnessed it with my eyes and let the video do the recording,” he said in one of his several MSNBC and NBC interviews. Toward the end of the video, Santana still more bravely walks closer to the officer and Scott’s body. Widely called a hero, Santana said that early on he considered erasing the video because he feared for his life. But after reading the police report that made it seem that Scott was the aggressor, Santana gave the video to the Scott family.

The worst thing about the video is that it surfaced by pure chance. “A gift from god,” the Scott family lawyer, Chris Stewart, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid. “A person happened to be in the right spot at the right time to see this incident, and be quick enough to pull out that phone and record it. And not only that, that probably happens all the time. Right now somebody is probably filming an incident that if they stepped forward it would help that person, but they’re going to keep driving or keep walking or say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get involved,’ or feel threatened or scared.”

Walter Scott’s younger brother, Anthony, put it best. “I hate that it had to be a video to prove to take it to this level. Because we have fallen brothers all the time, and they just fall for different reasons in different parts of the country, and they’re just not investigated or taken to this level. And I think it should be looked in deeper.” He’s hoping for justice, he said, but “I won’t be satisfied till I hear a guilty verdict.”

Indeed, this video might be Fox-proof but it’s not foolproof. Nor are the increasing number of body cams and dashboard cams used by police departments throughout the country. They can absolutely help—North Charleston has them on order, and if Slager had been using one, it’s reasonable to wager that Scott would still be alive.

Cameras, however, whether wielded by bystanders or police (or with the help of apps that film and upload to YouTube with one push of a button), don’t get to the root of police corruption and systemic racism.

But video is now a matter of life and death, crime and punishment, and all too often it’s the only way that white people and white media will believe what black people have to say.

 

By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, April 10, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, Police Violence, Walter Scott | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is What White Supremacy Looks Like”: A Party At The Bundy Ranch, A Funeral In North Charleston

This weekend, the Bundy ranch in Nevada will host a reunion to celebrate owner Cliven Bundy’s continued lawlessness. Bundy became a hero of the far-right a year ago when his refusal to pay 20 years’ worth of federal grazing fees for his cattle—totalling $1.1 million—brought federal agents to collect, which Bundy and several hundred armed right-wing militia members repelled with a show of force. Fox News and other right-wing news outlets raced to the ranch to report on what Bundy supporters called the “Second American Revolution” and the “American Spring,” the moment when the rhetoric of “tyranny” and “totalitarianism” under President Obama would materialize into actual armed conflict against the loathsome federal government.

For anyone confused about whether a political movement which celebrates the Second Amendment and rallies around an iconography of war and rebellion is interested in actual combat against the “liberal” federal government, the Bundy affair answered any remaining questions: Yes, the prospect excites many far right-wing conservatives like nothing else. Fox News’ Sean Hannity was giddy in his initial introduction of Bundy as someone threatening a “range war” against the federal government. Fox News covered the ranch saga daily, with Bundy presented as a hero, and Hannity alone would feature Bundy on his show numerous times over the several weeks of the standoff, at times giving the rebel rancher a primetime microphone multiple times a week to rally right wingers to his cause.

Two extremists, Jerad and Amanda Miller, who traveled to Bundy’s ranch, only to be turned out, would go on to execute two Nevada police officers in June, draping the familiar Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag over the corpses and pinning a note to their government victims saying, “This is the start of the revolution.” Jerad and Amanda heard the call for a “range war” and took it upon themselves to be the vanguard of the Bundy rebellion.

In the end, the two officers were the only casualties and Bundy’s boys went home with not so much as a band-aid, as federal agents were backed down by a veritable army of militiamen. The government blinked, and Bundy was allowed to continue to flout a law he’d decided didn’t apply to him.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is white power.

And this is black vulnerability: In the intervening year since the Nevada showdown, much of America has become outraged by a series of cases of unarmed black men killed by police. The epidemic of police violence against black men has been ongoing for decades, of course, but a confluence of a new public attentiveness and video evidence in some cases has pushed the crisis into the mainstream discourse.

The latest case, the shocking murder of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC, should be held up for comparison with the Bundy standoff. Before the video surfaced and contradicted his report, Scott’s killer, Officer Michael Slager, justified his use of deadly force by claiming that Scott gained control of Slager’s taser, thus making him a threat worthy of fatal elimination.

So the threat of a 50-year-old black man with a taser is so great that 8 shots into the back can be justified — but line up hundreds of white men on horseback and armed to the hilt with military-grade weapons, and agents of the government are powerless.

A single unarmed black man in Staten Island selling loosies is considered enough of a threat to be choked to death in broad daylight. Yet armed ex-military men protecting a criminal with high-powered rifles trained on federal agents are not enough of a threat to law and order to similarly merit the use of force.

Is that what we learn when we look at the cases? Does the specter of some imagined violent nature of black men exceed the fear stoked by white men with actual guns, actually pointed at state agents, fingers on triggers?

Or is it that the Bundy army was too much of a threat? The simmering anger on the American right since President Obama’s election has seethed just at the precipice of violence, and for Obama’s troops — as they would be viewed — to rightly fire on white people angry about taxes would have no doubt enraged extremists to a degree unseen since perhaps the 19th century. These weren’t the creepy cultists of the Waco standoff; Bundy was a hero headlining Fox News, the Drudge Report, and the other leading conservative news outlets. He would have been a martyr to Tea Partiers and the far right.

The militia and “Patriot” movements have seen “stunning growth” during the Obama years, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks violent extremism. Bloodshed at the Bundy ranch could have very well sparked violence elsewhere, just as the federal sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco during the 1990s animated the nascent militia and Patriot movements.

What lesson then have we learned from Cliven Bundy? What lesson do we learn from Walter Scott? Or Eric Garner. Or Michael Brown? Sean Bell?Oscar Grant? Amadou Diallo? Ramarley Graham? Maybe the Huey P. Newton Gun Club in Texas has the right idea. Named after Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton, the group takes advantage of open carry laws in the Lone Star State to patrol their neighborhoods in squads of men and women armed with assault rifles, what Newton and the Panthers did in Oakland in 1966.

But while Panther-style armed resistance might protect some victims from police violence, it’s hard to imagine it remedying the underlying problem: white supremacy and the assumption of black men as almost supernaturally dangerous. That’s why Slager’s initial story about Walter Scott would have probably sufficed, were it not for the video; the perceived threat posed by black men is that great. And it’s why Bundy’s men were permitted to point sniper rifles at state officials and still not be considered a threat worthy of elimination.

Saturday will be a day of celebration in Nevada; the day brings a funeral to North Charleston.

 

By: Matthew Pulver, Salon, April 10, 2015

April 14, 2015 Posted by | Cliven Bundy, Walter Scott, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lonesome Death Of Walter Scott”: Why Michael Thomas Slager Should Share The Blame

Soon after video recorded by Feidin Santana showing officer Michael Thomas Slager killing Walter Scott went public, Ed Driggers, the chief of the North Charleston, South Carolina, police force where Slager was once employed, spoke to the press. Like an increasing number of law enforcement officials as of late, Driggers found himself suddenly thrust into the media spotlight, tasked with explaining to an outraged nation why one of his officers used deadly force against an unarmed African-American, a 50-year-old father of four, who posed no threat.

But although Driggers’ public appearance was, on a superficial level, all too reminiscent of what we recently saw in places as disparate as Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; Staten Island, New York; and Los Angeles, California, the substance was different. Because rather than mount a defense of officer Slager — who repeatedly claimed that he shot Scott only after a routine stop over a busted taillight led to physical altercation, one during which he feared for his life — Driggers buried him instead. “I have watched the video and I was sickened by what I saw,” he said. “And I have not watched it since.”

What a difference a smartphone can make. As Judd Legum of Think Progress has noted, if not for the remarkably brave Santana, who used his smartphone to record the final moments of Scott’s life, the only version of the story the world would know is the version Slager told. Which, in plain language, was a monstrous lie. There’s no evidence that Scott tried to use Slager’s taser against him, as the officer claimed; the only reason it was found near the dead man’s body, it appears, is because that’s where Slager put it. And contrary to what Slager said in the official incident report, he never feared for his personal safety; as he pumps Scott’s back full of bullets he is calm, cool and collected.

According to the work of one local reporter, Slager’s neighbors didn’t suspect him of being especially malevolent or inclined toward violence. To them, he seemed normal — even nice. Driggers responded with a similar mix of sadness and bewilderment. “I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop,” Driggers said on CNN. “I always look for the good in folks,” he continued, “and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that.” Keith Summey, the town’s mayor, was also fatalistic: “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” he told the press. “And if you make a bad decision … you have to live by that decision.”

Neither man was interested in damning Slager; and considering he is now facing charges for murder, that’s probably for the best. But both men went further than simply biting their tongues; they made a point of distancing Slager’s behavior from that of the overall North Charleston police force, too. “The one does not totally throw a blanket across the many,” Driggers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The mayor and he noted that the NCPD is composed of more than 340 officers. The video traveling all over the world was hideous, no doubt. But it told us nothing of the overall law enforcement system; it was merely a single man making a horrible, horrible mistake.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, because Slager is not the only officer seen in the video. After Scott had fallen to the ground, prostrate and bleeding, and after Slager had barked at him to put his hands behind his back (so he could handcuff him before he lost the ability to move his arms), officer Clarence Habersham, who is African-American, arrives at the scene. His body language, like Scott’s, indicates this was not the first time he’d come upon such a scene. He seems unperturbed as he kneels down to check Scott’s pulse. He makes no real attempt to save the back-shot man’s life. And that’s understandable, really; Scott was likely already dead.

We don’t know yet what exactly transpired between Slager, Habersham, or the third, Caucasian one who joins them later. We don’t know how much they knew, and we don’t know when they knew it. What we do know, though, is plenty. We know that the police department of North Charleston was content to treat Slager’s story as fact; and we know that this was not the first time a member of the force had engaged in acts that we’d otherwise describe as thuggery. We know that in the past five years, police officers in South Carolina have used their guns against 209 human beings; and we know that they were exonerated of wrongdoing every single time.

Lastly, we know that Walter Scott — a father, brother, cousin and veteran; a man who loved to joke and loved to dance, and who was known as the extrovert of his family — died after being shot multiple times when his back was turned. And we know that if he lived long enough to be conscious as Slager tightened the cuffs around each of his wrists, he spent his final moments on this Earth alone, and enchained.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, April 9, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Michael Thomas Slager, Police Abuse, Walter Scott | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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