On Walter Scott & Justice

A picture of Walter Scott while he was in the Coast Guard

Today, I learned that Michael Slager, a police officer who shot Walter Scott, a black man, in the back while he ran away from a traffic stop, was granted a mistrial. Thankfully, the prosecutors have decided that they will take Slager to trial again, but as of right now, he is off scot-free.

I thought that this would be the time when the status quo was challenged. If you watch the video, the case is clear. Slager shoots at Scott eight times, yells at Scott to put his hands behind his back, handcuffs him, and then drops an object next to him while he is on the ground in handcuffs. Last year, when I first saw the video, I thought that there was no question the officer would be convicted. The other viral instances of police brutality have left the officer’s intent ambiguous, but I thought it would be obvious to anyone who watched the video that Slager committed a cold-blooded murder.

When I got the news that a jury couldn’t come to a unanimous decision, I was stunned. But I didn’t have a visceral reaction at all. Because of who I am — a young, liberal, black guy — it feels like every time I hear bad news about a police officer shooting a black man, I have to react strongly. Some of the videos I’ve seen of police officers killing black men have been disgusting, shameful, and heart-rending. However, after seeing so many of them, it’s hard for me to feel sad every time. Because it feels more human, I wish I could cry every time, but it happens so often that I’ve become numbed by it. I’ve seen so many black men die at the hands of the police that it feels wrong if I don’t see it happen for a few weeks.

But the justice system has proven time and time again that justice will not be served when the victim is black. Based on all of the evidence we’ve been given, it feels silly to think that the outcome of a trial like this would be fair. I can only be stunned so many times, and as my friend said about her reaction to the mistrial “it’s a fool me once kind of thing.” At this point, this sort of injustice feels as reliable as the sun coming up. Wouldn’t it be stupid to expect the sun to stop coming up one day?

In order to live our lives in society, we assume that there is justice and reasoning. We have to assume that bad things happen to people for a reason and that bad people get what they deserve. On days like this, I think about what would happen to me if a police officer killed me. Previously, I believed that justice would eventually be served, but today was the catalyst. Justice is never served, and I shouldn’t expect it to begin with me.