Monday, April 13, 2015

Slager and Scott

I was in Atlanta on business last week and intended to spend the evenings finishing a post that was two-thirds of the way done when I left Tampa. However, that didn't happen because a downward medical spiral landed me in the hospital for much of the week.

I like this blog to be about things and ideas, not me, so I won't dwell on the medical issues here -- other than to say 1) don't hesitate to seek treatment if you find yourself vomiting more than once in the same hour, and 2) don't ignore those "please consult your physician before starting a new diet" warnings. I violated my own advice on #2, which is why I wound up in the hospital. Fortunately, I took my own advice on #1 and that is why I'm still among the living.

While laid up, I had a lot of time to scroll through my smart phone and think about current events, and my mind swayed from my almost-finished post to the recent police shooting in South Carolina.

Although I hate commenting about alleged crimes before knowing all the evidence and before they are tried in court (especially when the crime in question is packed with incendiary racial powder) sometimes it's so hard to avoid. This is one of those times.

Multiple videos document the incident which led to Walter Scott's death: The well-known one of him being gunned down by Michael Slager, plus the less publicized dashcam video of Slager pulling him over, as well as dashcams from the cars of other responding officers. Reportedly, none of the other dashcams captured the shooting.

Based on what I can gather, it certainly seems that Slager is guilty of murder with the only question being to what degree? It chills me to say that about a man before he is tried, but no matter what context gets applied, there is no question that Scott was fleeing, meaning their confrontation was over. The rules of engagement dictate that an officer may pursue a fleeing suspect, but may not shoot him unless he is believed to be a threat to the life or safety of the officer or others. In this case, even if Scott did manage to separate Slager from his taser and even if he at some point used the taser against him, Scott was still fleeing and unarmed when he was killed. I find it impossible to believe that Slager believed he was in danger when he fired, and although it is often unfair to armchair-quarterback the police, I cannot think of any reason for him to have believed that anyone else was in danger either.

There does not seem to have been premeditation -- I don't think Slager pulled Scott over intending to kill him -- so this does not seem to be a case of first-degree murder. However, it certainly appears to be second- or third-degree murder, or, at the absolute least, manslaughter. Slager did not pull the trigger when he and Scott were confronting one another, nor did he pull it when they were in close range, nor did he pull it by mistake. Slager pulled the trigger on purpose, a total of eight times, and shot Scott in the back -- and as he surely knows, moving targets are hard to hit, so some shots fired at fleeing suspects are sure to miss and keep traveling to God knows where, endangering the lives of people nearby who are innocent and uninvolved. I'm not a prosecutor or legislator, but I suspect South Carolina has some laws regarding "reckless endangerment" or "negligence" that Slager violated when he fired eight times at a moving unarmed man from a considerable distance away.

Finally, here is what I really thought while propped up in a hospital bed scrolling through my phone: Whatever degree of harm Slager committed from a legal perspective, the degree he committed from a civic perspective is worse, for the United States is a self-governing society whose survival relies upon the trustworthiness of those employed by the public to keep it safe.

As Ronald Reagan said, "We the People are the driver, the government is the car." Because police are the armed representatives of the government, it is absolutely essential for the people to trust that police will properly and faithfully perform their duty -- and it is absolutely essential for the police to perform their duty in such a way that the people's trust is warranted. When an officer of the law violates the trust, he tears at the fabric that holds a free society together, and there are only so many times a fabric can be torn before it becomes impossible to sew back together.

In short, when Guilty Person A kills Innocent Person B, the damaging effects ripple through the lives of friends and family; but when Guilty Law Enforcement Officer A kills Innocent Person B, the damaging effects can ripple in various ways throughout the whole society, all the way from North Charleston, SC to Los Angeles, CA and across the Pacific to Honolulu, HI.

When, as happened in the case of Michael Slager and Walter Scott, the mayor of the police officer's town goes on the air and seems to minimize the officer's actions by calling them merely "a bad decision," the ripples that go out through society become immeasurably worse. They suggest the government is out for itself, not for the people who entrusted it with power, and this creates a poisonous environment that is an affront to the American experiment and deserves to be treated as such.

Michael Slager will have his day in court, which he deserves, and all Americans should respect that fact before casting their final judgment. To be clear, I do not believe he is guilty of premeditated murder and do not know if there were any legitimately mitigating circumstances at work when he slayed Walter Scott on April 5th. Maybe this article will prove to be on to something, and we will come to learn that Slager is being railroaded.

But for the life of me, I cannot imagine any mitigating circumstances that could erase the fact Slager killed Scott from behind and risked killing innocents in the process, at a time when he had no reason to fear for his safety and no reason to believe Scott was a threat to anyone else.

Some will try to lessen the wrongness of the shooting by pointing out that Scott was behind in child support, or by pointing out that it appears he was driving a stolen vehicle. Such statements are nothing more than red herrings, the mouthing of irrelevancies. Their purpose is to dehumanize the deceased and portray him as less deserving of life than your average citizen. Nowhere in the annals of American justice does it say that death is an appropriate penalty for not having enough money to pay your child support. Nowhere in the annals of American justice does it say that death is an appropriate penalty for the alleged theft of an automobile.

The annals of American justice do, however, attest that we are all equal before the law and each of us should have our day in court. Those who seek to dehumanize Walter Scott and defend Michael Slager by citing the former's petty offenses should remember this: Scott was denied his day in court by Slager, and denied his life by Slager, while Slager continues to live and will no doubt have his day in court.

As I see it, those who would seek to dehumanize Scott are just as responsible for causing damage to the American experiment as are all of the policemen who violate their oaths of office.

1 comment:

James Thomas said...

I've danced in the mirror like no one was watching and I've danced in public. Though I'm bias on my abilities, if my mirror were instead police lineup glass you'd get a glimpse of some moves that still need work, but looked similar to my public shimmy and shake.

Slager dances like no one is watching too. His mirror turned out to be smartphone glass and his moves would make Elaine Benes look like an accomplished ballerina.

"He went for my taser" "I feared for my safety and for other's" "He's such a big man" "He's so strong" I believe Digital Underground said it best, "All around the world the same song..."