Race and police brutality
Social media encourages instant outrage, not thoughtful judgment
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.