Walter Scott’s Killing Is a Direct Result of the Current State of Policing in America Today

It’s déjà vu. And it’s also a nightmare.

Police gunning down unarmed black men and boys is an American horror film that keeps getting replayed. Except that it isn’t a movie you can turn off: It’s a painful, outrageous, and unacceptable reality.

The latest iteration is the execution of Walter Scott – pulled over for a traffic violation, and who allegedly owed child support – by a South Carolina police officer. As Scott ran away from the officer, four bullets slammed into his back and one hit his ear. After the shooting, he walked calmly over to Mr. Scott’s body, lying in the grass – and then, for good measure, handcuffed him.

Why was Walter Scott killed? Why does this keep happening?

Did we not just see a South Carolina police officer shoot Levar Jones for trying to retrieve his driver’s license at the officer’s request at a gas station? Did we not just watch Eric Garner, an unarmed man, choked to death in Staten Island while being arrested for selling cigarettes on the street? Are we not still grappling with 12-year-old Tamir Rice being shot and killed in a Cleveland park while playing with a toy gun within seconds of police arriving? Did we not just recoil from images of Michael Brown’s lifeless body left unattended in the street for hours?

Have we not recently heard the testimony of Milton Hall’s mother recalling how her son’s life ended in a barrage of 45 bullets in Saginaw, Michigan? What about the killing of Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, shot 14 times after an altercation with the police because he was sleeping in a park? Or John Crawford in a Walmart near Dayton, Ohio, gunned down for picking up a BB gun in the sporting goods section?

The list is long, and yet there are hundreds more that haven’t gone viral online or been caught on video.

The tsunami of incidents of police brutality against communities of color has further frayed America’s trust and confidence in police departments to achieve their singular function in our society: to serve and to protect our families and communities. The slaying of Walter Scott shows that all too often the police perform the opposite function, by terrorizing and profiling people of color.

And for what?

Steps to halt this parade of horrors have been taken, but we’re not there yet. We have a long way to go. Recommendations put forth by the President’s Task Force for 21st Century Policing, DOJ’s announcement of resources for pilot sites in six cities aimed at strengthening the bonds between police and citizens, reports of and recommendations to end jaw-dropping racial profiling and selective enforcement of low-level offenses in communities of color – all of these are important efforts. Yet the number of tragic and avoidable killings of people of color continues to mount.

In addition to the steps above, police departments need to shed their abusive and profiling pasts and recommit themselves to the communities they are responsible for serving. This promise must be grounded in the principle of dignity and respect for the community. Police must see their departments and officers as part of the fabric of the community. Police departments need to reconsider their enforcement priorities and to start treating arrests as rare commodities to be used sparingly.

Our country’s addiction to arrests and incarceration has created fear in poorer communities of being arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses, prompting interactions with police that we have seen time and again escalate quickly into unnecessary tragedies. A moment of conjecture: If Walter Scott does not fear that a routine traffic stop or owing money is going to lead to his arrest and possible imprisonment, does he flee from the officer? Is he alive today?

Police need robust training for police officers on de-escalation techniques, relegating force to a last resort. Force should be understood on a continuum that allows for only the minimum force necessary in any given situation. Police need to ban racial profiling, provide implicit bias trainings, and train officers on how to practice procedural justice. When officers or departments violate policy or break the law, those departments and state officials must hold the responsible parties accountable.

We welcome the swift action in this case by North Charleston – undoubtedly propelled here only by the existence of a damning video – in bringing charges against the police officer. Video or no video, prompt investigation and appropriate action following a police shooting – just as with any possible crime –should be the rule nationwide, not the exception.

But these incidents are more than just bad-apple cops: The problem of unjustified lethal force is endemic.

Sadly, we only know part of the story because we have no uniform, comprehensive reporting requirements of police shootings. The data just doesn’t exist. Indeed, even after the many discussions of police force generated by these incidents in recent months, and notwithstanding the DOJ’s documentation of widespread problems around use of force in Cleveland and the use of unreasonable force and racial profiling in Ferguson, we have not been able to reconcile the mandate of fair, constitutional, and humane law enforcement with the current status of American policing.

The unjustified killings of unarmed people of color by police, often arising from racial profiling or enforcement of minor offenses, continue with reckless and tragic abandon. The steps taken by DOJ are very important, but much, much more needs to be done. 

Walter Scott should be alive, and at home. Instead, he’s dead. His death is not an aberration. It is a direct result of the current state of policing in many parts of America today.

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Anonymous

exactly. If anyone files a complaint on police criminality, the only option is to complain to their own department and they "investigate" one of their own, They consider themselves as "family"! What a joke. It's a mockery. 99% of the time citizen complaints are not sustained and no action taken of that officer though they clearly violated citizen's constitutional rights

Diane M Emerson

To server and Protect: protect the people not them self's to service the people not gov .
What is wrong is :when I was a child born6/1/1939 in Milwaukee Wis. the German immigrants would run and hind behind doors when a policemen was on the street "Gustopel"sorry about the spelling , for when they left their home they were most feard now I feel the same way but I fear myself because I do not know when to shut my mouth ans have been told "I will die by bullet" If you need to know I am white in a poor but all white part of town and the policemen on the route where very nice new all of use teenagers buy name or home It scares me that this county seams to becoming fascist

Anonymous

thank you for all that you have done for us Americans. without you guys we would be in death camps

Mike

Let start off by saying that I Have been a Police Officer for over 10 years now in 2 different states. I have drawn my weapon count less times, I have been involved in fights, I've been attacked, and I was involved in a shooting. I deployed to Iraq and had my fair share of action over there. I want to say that there are alot of bad things happening at both ends of the spectrum. On one hand you do have situations like theone in S. Carolina, the officer is trying to make the scene match to what he is going to write in his report. I will not be a hypocrite and say that this does not happen. This does not mean that all Police Officers do this. I can honestly say that about 98 % of the officers I have worked with will never put themselves in that position, but of course like in every profession there those that break the Law. I do agree that a change is needed but things are not going in that direction. With everyone all up in arms and going crazy rioting, things will only get worse. With the media turning this into a racial thing, it will only continue to cloud actual issues. Not all bad shooting are against unarmed black males. Look at the ELPASO Texas shooting of a handcuffed Hispanic man while he was on the ground. That story got some attention but you don't see high powered lawyers and civil rights activists visiting El Paso. Some of the talk in the media is that there needs to be some kind of reform in policing. That we need some cure all desalination training. That is a good tactic but not every situation is the same. Some times people are just set on what they are going to do. Now maybe more training in non-lethal tactics and weapons would help today's police in making those life and death choices. Maybe more intense training in use of force situations. This will help those officers that are not as experinced in making those type of choices. But for anyone to come in and try to change the way police do their job should walk in our shoes first before making it seem that we have some kind of training or magic tool for every situation out there, because you will be in for a rude awakining. No body tells a doctor how to do his job, no body tells a priest how to do their jobs, but police have always been the unwanted bother in everyone's life. We are not bad people, the majority of us choose this profession to help people, if that means arresting people then so be it. The one thing that I know for sure is that there is nothing good at the end of this road we are all on, citizens and officers will get hurt in the wake of all this!

Mark Hemingway

Agree there is a greater problem of policing in America, not to take away from the loss of life of these individual incidents. Police have become a self-serving militarized force. My personal experience of walking to and from work in a Midwest subburb is that police act as a gang, street thugs trained with military tactics. When there isn't anything happening, they make things happen by harassing citizens and making false reports of activity as suspicious to justify needless interference with citizen activity and freedoms. Part of the gang mentality of police is their sticking up for each other- their Blue Code of Silence - for their own wrong doing. While I was walking to and from work, I would be stopped on my regular route, at the usual times repeatedly. The officers said it was awfully suspicious. I was ask if I owned a car and why I didn't drive. The aggressive harassment became so badI reported this to the local police chief. The harassment stopped, but I feared retaliation as the officers would glare at me as I walked to and from work. I was walking to work early one morning, when a naked man crossed a major street in the direction of a residential area. I report this by calling 911. Uniformed officers arrived. I proceeded on to work. Ten minutes after the 911 call, I called the local police and asked if they apprehended the naked man. The police said they looked for half an hour and could not find the person, though it had been only ten minutes and the police were right where the man was standing akimbo, not running away. I saw the man again in daylight hours in the same area wearing exercise clothes. this was a few blocks from the local police station. A year and a half after I reported the naked man, I was at the local police station and recognized the naked man. He was a detective of the local police. I requested an investigation by the local county sheriff. The sheriff deferred the investigation to the local police chief, all of the same ethnic origin. The investigation report finding by a local officer muddled it to not credible or did not happen. The police have refused to turn over the investigation details. Who was interviewed, what did they say, where were they at the time of the incident, etc? I was never interviewed. The detective quietly became a sergeant. I have talked about this to others citizens, who are of color. Their experiences are worse than my own. I have asked them to come forward. They refuse for fear of retaliation by and of being singled out by the local police. Their fear is justified. Fear of the police works quite well, for the police to retain their job, their income, continue their fear mongering and to acquire their pension paid for by the citizens they abuse.The Emerald Brigade works.

Virux

Police have a long way to go, but so do "racial minorities". African Americans make up less than 15% of our population, but make up nearly 50% of prisoners.

Anonymous

The police seem lately to have just one tool in their toolkit, and that's their gun. Today I read a news story of a schizophrenic man whose mother called the police, hoping that they would help her get him to the hospital. But because the man was holding a screwdriver and wouldn't put it down, they shot and killed him, "fearing for their lives." When was the last time you heard of a cop getting killed by someone with a screwdriver? Another story I read told of an officer who responded to a silent alarm at a home. When he arrived on scene, he encountered a fence surrounding the yard, with several signs posted saying to beware of the guard dogs. So of course, he ignores the signs and climbs over the fence, and one of the dogs (a young, friendly one) comes up to him, and he shoots it! I'll bet those homeowners are glad that cop came along to help them! A few months ago here in Los Angeles, a high-speed car chase was shown on TV. It ended in a crash, and the driver jumped out of the car and began to run. He had nothing in his hands, and was running away from officers, but was immediately executed. The city had to pay his family several million dollars.

And then there are the cases of sheer brutality, like the 10 deputies in San Bernardino County who punched and kicked the guy who had fled from them on a stolen horse, or the Fullerton police officers who beat Kelly Thomas to death a few years back.

Police nowadays have this sense of entitlement to do whatever they want, to whoever they want. It goes all the way from little stuff like not having to follow traffic laws (when was the last time you saw a police car use a turn signal or come to a complete stop at a stop sign?) and goes all the way to, let's just say it, murder. They get to do it all, and they do it with impunity.

We need to take back the authority we've given them and put them back in their place, i.e., as employees whom we've hired to protect us. As it stands, there are very few situations in which I would choose to call the police, because I don't want myself, my loved ones, or my dog to get killed for my trouble.

Curtis California

!!!!! All Law Enforcement Officer's should be required to wear body cameras due to the fact that cameras don't lie or plant evidence .!!!!! A digital picture is worth a thousand words .!!!!!.
All Los Angeles Police Officer's, Deputy Sheriff's, Correction Officer's, Marshall's, California Highway Patrol Officer's, Jailer's, Jail Mental Health Staff, Jail Medical Health Staff, Custody Asst., These officer's are held to higher standard's and control the rights of inmates and citizens daily, therefore there shouldn't be any objection to these civil servants wearing body cameras since they uphold and enforce the law and to protect and serve all of our civil and constitutional rights.!!!!!

Curtis P California

All Law Enforcement officer's have been exposed for what their organizations are, A fraternal order of brotherhood, A fraternaty that will cover up and protect it's brother's & sister's in blue, !!! Do not forget that fact. Law enforcement is a close rank organization and has an excellent union. Let's not make it a race issue everyone say's, okay, then it must then be a law enforcement training issue. Civics 101, Humanities 101, we are all human beings and have rights. We have to vote for change to occur. The systemic problem with police vs citizen's of color and it's white citizens has been exposed and comes from the lack of accountability,transparency,respect & compassion for the citizen's in which law enforcement officer's serve, destroying future families with no legitimate probable cause, the look like law, being black is a blessing because it makes you realize real quick how corrupt the system is and because we are targeted by law enforcement, harassed and disrespected as if it's the thing to do, dashboard camera's and body worn camera's have assisted in providing evidence of interactions of police and the public and has saved some lives already,but the officer's should not be allowed to review or delete body camera's or dashboard camera's.!!!! Vote to stop mass incarceration for profits. !!! Please vote for new Police Commissioners, Police Chief, & Politicians, push for transparency,community review board,accountability, Vote!!!! Mass Incarceration of its citizens for profits is not the answer. !!!! Vote!!!! Credibility is gained through transparency of operations,full disclosure equates accountability, and a community police actions review board would restore some trust and respect for law enforcement. Vote for a change!!!!!!!!!!!!!!California needs reform.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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