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On April 7, 2015 the world witnessed the murder of Walter Scott by police officer Michael T. Slager.
In the video, Slager is shown shooting Scott eight times in the back. He was unarmed, several feet away, and not in any way able to cause Slager any harm.
When it was over, I turned my head and thought to myself, “Another black man dead, another trending topic, just another day living in America.” I then said to myself, “We are wild game out here and the main goal is to stay alive.”
Being a black man in America is to know a couple of things: America does not and has not ever cared about us in any shape or form unless we are dribbling a ball or singing a song. We are feared and you are despised. Everyday I am reminded of this.
From the glances of disgust, the clutching of purses and being followed throughout department stores, I never forget who I am. Besides, they would never let me.
The great Malcolm X once said, “I live like a man who is dead already. I have no fear whatsoever of anybody or anything.”
That still rings true today—it’s how I think.
I have lived a good life. I joke with my girlfriend that my chances of survival have increased by 10% because I don’t drive, so I don’t have to worry about a cop pulling me over. What I do worry about, however, are the younger black boys. The ones that have yet to fulfill their promise. The ones that don’t know quite who they are or what they want to do. The fact that these boys are looked at as a threat worries me.
They could be killed before they have even begun to live.
For someone who is not black, I cannot describe to you what it is like to walk around like you have a bulls-eye on your back. The closest thing I can describe it as is that you are living your life knowing that at any moment your number can be called. That’s it, times up. A cop sees you as an enemy, your dead.
Living that kind of life, you ask yourself, “Should I plan on going to college? Marriage? Vacation? Should I plan on the future? Does it even fucking matter when I am a possible target?”
You may think I am flippant, but in my reality the stakes are much higher. It doesn’t matter what age I am, what height I am, what I am wearing, what I drive, if I have a record or not, if I am rich, poor—it does not matter. If the cops view me as a threat, they will neutralize me.
When I was younger my Mother would talk to my brother and me about what to do when stopped by the police. She would say, “Remain calm, don’t do anything to scare them, and keep your hands to your side. As we got older and started driving, she added, “Be respectful and nice, if you get stopped pull over in an area with lots of people, and of course keep your hands where they can see them at all times.”
I didn’t know at the time, but we had “The Talk,” a discussion that many black parents have with their children to teach them how to interact with the police. Many of my friends would have it as well with variations such as not to wear hoodies (Yep, even back then), not to blast rap music loud because that would attract police attention (We never listened to that rule), and never ride four deep, which means to never ride in a car with four or more people (To this day I follow this rule). Now we looked at this as normal, but in retrospect at 12, 14, 16 our parents are teaching us how to stay alive.
Isn’t that sick? We weren’t living in a war zone, this wasn’t Sarajevo.
It hurt me to the core when I had to repeat the same words to my little brother, a smart young man that I mentor. We were grabbing a donut and I had asked him what he knew about the Mike Brown murder. He said his friends had been talking about it. I then gave him “The Talk.” It went something like this:
Me: Listen little brother, you and I are black and because of that there are going to be certain people that look at us as criminals, no matter what we do or look like. There are gonna be certain challenges that we will have to overcome because we are black. It is not fair, but that is the way it is. Have you had any problems with the police?
Him: Yeah, they’ve messed with me when I was walking home, asking me where I was coming from.
Me: (pauses) Just understand that this is something that you and I will have to deal with. Never be ashamed of who you are, never stop going for your goals. Be proud to be black and don’t let them belittle you.
And we went on. I shared examples of my many times of being profiled and what I did in those situations with the police. As I was talking to him about this, I had to stop and pause because I would have broken down in tears telling him how to survive in a world that doesn’t want you to live.
Giving “The Talk” was one of the hardest things I have had to do. It is not a normal way to live.
At the core of this shooting is racism/white supremacy, a system that has disenfranchised and discriminated against Blacks for over 400 years ago, while favoring whites. Racism has ranged from slavery to Jim Crow, segregation to The War on Drugs, and The New Jim Crow to the prison industrial complex.
Racism has allowed the slave patrols during slavery to evolve into the police we have today, still carrying the old philosophy: Keep blacks captive and if they grow too big and aggressive and you fear for your life, kill them.
The killing of Walter Scott isn’t just about one bad cop. Anyone that has been paying attention to the news for the past several years can see that.
Black man after black man have been gunned down by the police.
Since the Mike Brown shooting, there has been 14 additional young, black men killed by cops. This isn’t just a problem in rural places like Ferguson. New York, LA, Atlanta, Phoenix, Cleveland, San Francisco… The list goes on and on.
What happens next? Well we get a march, prayer leaders come out to urge calm, our Attorney General gives us lip service that does not translate into anything, conservatives try and dig up dirt on the victim which steers the narrative that he deserved it, and our “black” president will make a very weak comment, since he is too chicken shit to say anything about a black man not named Skip Gates.
What is it going to take to realize that police terrorism is systemic? That there is a way of thinking within police departments that look at all black men as dangerous and must be killed. This transcends cities, coasts, ages, and sexual orientation. How many other black men have to die on camera for this to sink in?
At this point I don’t want another Department of Justice report detailing how scandalous and racist a police department is if you’re not going to dismantle it. The report will only be a paper weight because nothing will happen after that. I don’t want more marches down the street because all that is going to accomplish is folks getting exercise and camera time.
I want justice—I want third party independent investigative committees to look into police shootings. I want Grand Juries to be done away with. I want people to stop blaming the reason of police terrorism on “bad training.”
I hope Walter Scott gets justice. To be shot in the back by an law enforcement officer (not to mention the attempted plant of drugs on him) while fleeing with no weapon is unbelievable. But if we do get justice, then what? That is just one victory.
The brutal racist culture in police departments still stand, seemingly able to kill black men with impunity. And until that system is replaced with something that resembles right and wrong, I will keep conditioning myself to go at any time and I will keep having the talk with young black boys.
Our lives are not promised, especially being black.
RIP Walter Scott.
Author: LeRon Barton
Editor: Emma Ruffin
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