Race and po­lice bru­tal­ity

So­cial me­dia en­cour­ages in­stant out­rage, not thought­ful judg­ment

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Po­lice bru­tal­ity is real, and there are bad cops among the good. Po­lice bru­tal­ity and po­lice mis­be­hav­ior must be swiftly and firmly pun­ished when and where it oc­curs. A star on a po­lice­man’s breast con­fers re­spon­si­bil­ity along with author­ity.

In­ci­dents of po­lice bru­tal­ity, though rel­a­tively rare, give race hus­tlers the op­por­tu­nity to make a killing on a killing, spin­ning the story of tragedy into a story of wide and run­away po­lice bru­tal­ity. So­cial me­dia, en­abling ev­ery­one with an iPhone or a lap­top to spread var­i­ous ver­sions of the news, en­cour­ages in­stant re­ac­tion rather than rea­soned, thought­ful judg­ment.

The shoot­ing of Wal­ter Scott, 50, a black man, in North Charleston, South Carolina, on April 4 pre­sented what ap­peared to be a text­book case of out­rage and tragedy. A by­stander with a cell­phone cap­tured video images of Mr. Scott flee­ing from a traf­fic stop, and a white pa­trol­man, Michael Slager, shoot­ing him in the back as he ran away. This in­evitably ig­nited protests like those that fol­lowed the death of Michael Brown, 18, killed in a strug­gle with Of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wil­son in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, last sum­mer.

But there are big dif­fer­ences. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment, su­per­vised by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder, con­cluded that the of­fi­cer in Fer­gu­son used his weapon in self-de­fense. The in­ci­dent in North Charleston was swiftly in­ves­ti­gated by the of­fi­cer’s own su­pe­ri­ors, and he was charged with mur­der.

De­prived of an out­rage not re­dressed, demon­stra­tors in North Charleston, led by Muhiy­din d’Baha and an or­ga­ni­za­tion named Black Lives Mat­ter, swiftly es­ca­lated emo­tions with a de­mand for a civil­ian re­view board with sub­poena pow­ers to over­see and dis­ci­pline the po­lice depart­ment. Mr. d’Baha promised to make his voice heard “by any means nec­es­sary.” Would that in­clude vi­o­lence? “Any­thing’s pos­si­ble,” he said.

The legal sys­tem ap­pears to be work­ing as in­tended in North Charleston; the pa­trol­man has been charged but has not yet had his day in court. Nev­er­the­less, the race hus­tlers could not let such an op­por­tu­nity for ex­ploita­tion “go to waste.” Last week demon­stra­tions popped up in sev­eral cities to protest “po­lice vi­o­lence” against black men. In New York City, 250 “ac­tivists” stalled traf­fic on New York City’s Brook­lyn Bridge, bear­ing signs de­mand­ing “Stop mur­der by po­lice” and “Stop cop killers.” Sim­i­lar ral­lies drew at­ten­tion in Los An­ge­les, San Fran­cisco, Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, and Madi­son, Wis­con­sin.

A sea­son of po­lice shoot­ings and in­ci­dents have de­spoiled race re­la­tions since Ge­orge Zim­mer­man, a neigh­bor­hood watch­man, strug­gled with a young black man named Trayvon Martin in 2012, and shot him, claim­ing self-de­fense. Mr. Zim­mer­man, of His­panic ori­gin, was widely de­scribed as “white.” Pres­i­dent Obama, with­out wait­ing for the facts, joined in the con­dem­na­tion of Mr. Zim­mer­man, who was sub­se­quently ac­quit­ted of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der by a jury in Florida.

The death of Wal­ter Scott in North Charleston opened a break be­tween es­tab­lished civil rights lead­ers, with a his­tory of work­ing with may­ors and po­lice de­part­ments, and the younger demon­stra­tors, ea­ger to make noise and a name for them­selves in the streets. Dot Scott, the pres­i­dent of the Charleston chap­ter of the NAACP (and no re­la­tion to Wal­ter Scott), has worked for years to im­prove race re­la­tions with pa­tient ne­go­ti­a­tions, of­ten get­ting re­sults and needed change.

“If some­body else can keep this mes­sage to the fore­front, then so be it,” she tells the Charleston Post & Courier. “But at this point, we would be protest­ing what, ex­actly? The killing hap­pened, we can’t undo that. The ar­rest has been made. Where it goes from here in terms of [Pa­trol­man] Slager’s pros­e­cu­tion, of course, that’s un­de­ter­mined.” The cool voice of wis­dom some­times does not go un­heard.

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