‘I’M GOING to pray for Mr. Scott’s family, but ….”
Thus began one reader’s email after I’d written about the tragic shooting death of Walter Scott at the hands of a North Charleston police officer.
“… but let’s not forget that running from and disobeying a police officer never has good results.”
I responded that, yes, we must obey officers and not flee. But running from the police on a broken brake light infraction doesn’t rate the death penalty.
The emailer’s next response was interesting:
“So what you are saying is that if the officer had not shot at the offender, and the offender had been a terrorist and he ran into a school full of K1-5 children, had a bomb and blew up a class room killing all 30 children and teacher, plus the property damage, then the officer would have made a decision that you would accept and found no fault with.
“Again, when are citizens going to accept the fact that running from an officer is breaking the law and may result in death?
“Unfortunately he had (to) pay a severe penalty for that decision. But he made the first decision that resulted in a poor decision by the officer.”
So, Mr. Scott got what he deserved?
Despite the emailer’s elaborate hypothetical, Mr. Scott, broken light and all, was no terrorist. His family speculates he might have run because he was behind on child support payments and wanted to avoid jail.
I’d argue he shouldn’t have even been shot at, let alone shot. Officer Michael Slager had his driver’s license and Mr. Scott had fled, leaving his car — and a passenger — behind. Officer Slager knew who Mr. Scott was; officers could have picked him up another time.
Let me be clear: It’s wrong to run from police. But many people run. And not all are murderers or felons. Some do simply owe back child support. Some are innocent; scared, they panic and run.
It’s mind-boggling to hear people put Mr. Scott on trial for running as if it is a capital crime, while seeming to overlook Mr. Slager’s reprehensible actions. Had a passerby not recorded cellphone video of Mr. Scott running away as Officer Slager fired eight shots, striking Mr. Scott in the back multiple times, we might never have known the tragic truth.
The officer initially said Mr. Scott tried to take his Taser during a scuffle and that he shot for fear of his life — a story about as true as the emailer’s absurd hypothetical involving a terrorist.
Despite the video, there are still those who seem deadest on prosecuting Mr. Scott.
Consider this email from a second reader: “It is sad he lost his life, but nowhere in your (column) did you say if he had just stopped, he could have saved his life. … I am sorrow for him and his family that he lost his life, but if he had just followed orders he would be alive today.”
Certainly we would hope that he would be alive had he not run. Frankly, we don’t know. After all, he was dealing with an officer who was willing to shoot a fleeing man in the back repeatedly and then craft a phony story. Officer Slager even picked up what appeared to be his Taser and planted it near Mr. Scott’s body. And, based on the video, the officer didn’t attempt to assist Mr. Scott. Yet he managed to cuff the dying man.
“Had he not run, he would be alive.” “Had he obeyed the officer, he wouldn’t have been killed.” We’ve heard similar comments in shootings across the country.
That kind of rhetoric and mentality, which blames the true victim, only exacerbates the raw and painful emotions surrounding the phenomenon of black men being tried, judged and executed on the streets at the hands of white police officers.
Most officers are dedicated servants committed to keeping us safe. But there are some bad apples who cast a poor light on law enforcement. We need to weed them out while providing better training to help officers deal better with these encounters. And we should reject tactics that teach officers to fear certain people — black men in this case — whether they’ve done anything to warrant it or not.
That said, I know there are dangerous people on the streets who are threat to officers and citizens. And, unfortunately, there are times when officers are forced to take a life to save that of their own and others. But we can’t allow officers to take lives wantonly out of ignorance, bad policing or some more sinister reason and then cover it up with the blanket statement, “I feared for my life.”
What I can tell you is that more and more black men are becoming fearful of being stopped by police. That’s not good. It sets us up for potentially more deadly confrontations.
That’s why we need body cameras. That’s why we need well-trained officers who, while protecting themselves, exercise sound judgment and treat people appropriately. They’ve been entrusted with immense power, authority and fire power. The wrong mistake — or mindset — could lead to the loss not only of others’ lives, but of their own. Please, no more.
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.