Black Death Has Become a Cultural Spectacle: Why the Walter Scott Tragedy Won’t Change White America’s Mind

The most recent coldblooded police slaughter of an unarmed Black man is not the story of “one bad apple.” I refuse to narrate this story as another “isolated incident.”


On Saturday morning, Michael Thomas Slager, a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, shot and killed Walter Scott, after pulling Scott over for a broken tail light. Slager initially claimed that he used his taser on Scott after Scott ran during the traffic stop.  He then claimed that Scott tried to take his taser. Therefore, Slager was forced to use his gun.

But video shot by an anonymous bystander shows a very different, chilling version of events: As the video begins, the two men’s hands are interlocked. It’s unclear what is happening. But a second or so later, Scott breaks free and runs at a fairly slow pace away from the officer. Slager calmly pulls out his gun, aims and fires eight times at Scott’s retreating back. He then walks over to Scott’s now prone and bullet-ridden body, and handcuffs him, without offering him any medical assistance. Another officer, a Black man, arrives on the scene and also fails to administer any aid to the victim. Meanwhile, Slager, retraces his steps a few feet, picks up a dark object, widely believed to be the taser, casually saunters back over and tosses the object near the victim’s body. The nonchalance, the lack of urgency, is almost as unsettling as the murder itself. The casual way that Slager aims, fires and snuffs out Walter Scott’s life is devastating.

On Tuesday, Slager was charged with first-degree murder. I am glad there are charges. I hope for a conviction. But charges and convictions are not the ultimate solution here. We need the killings to stop. We need the state to stop creating a culture that facilitates the taking of Black lives and that induces Black mothers’ tears. Walter Scott belonged to somebody. He has brothers, parents who have been married for 50 years; and he has four children of his own.

We keep shouting that Black lives matter, for one simple reason. We want Black folks to live.

Lest anyone be tempted to excuse this as again just another bad apple, the San Francisco chief of police fired eight police officers late last week, after evidence surfaced of them trading racist and homophobic text messages. One text message read: “All niggers must fucking hang.” And another said, “cross burning lowers blood pressure. I did the test myself.” How many rotten apples do we need before we start chopping down the apple tree?

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