Why Walter Scott matters

Unfortunately, this will not be a happy post with my usual cheery demeanor. I wasn’t sure whether to write about the topic, but the recent events involving Walter Scott and Michael Slager in South Carolina have hit me harder than I expected.

When I saw a link to the video a few days ago, I never thought it would strike me as hard as it did. We have become so desensitized to violence in the media to the point where seeing shootings on television are almost surreal.

This video was as real as it gets, and it was chilling.

Another thing that hit me was reading a short but moving blog post by my brother-in-law, who briefly describes how seeing the shooting affected him as a black man. In his blog (link HERE), he states:

As a black person I could not help but weep because in watching that short video it was a painful reminder how little value my life has in the eyes of others. I hope next time a police officer draws to act as judge, jury and executioner upon another “dangerous” black man he realises:

We have loved ones
We have dreams and aspirations
We love our children and want to see them grow
We want to see the sun and the moon
We want to live our lives in peace and happiness too
Our lives have value too

Reading this brought me incredibly sadness. The fact that someone I know and love feels that there are people who consider his life less valuable tore a hole in my heart.

At Scott’s funeral, the Pastor who officiated the ceremony stated that the shooting was the result of overt racism (link HERE). He says,

“Walter’s death was motivated by racial discrimination. You’ve got to hate somebody to shoot them in the back.”

The United States does indeed have a problem with racism. It seems like only a few weeks ago that the public was up in arms after Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson. We now have a video of another unarmed black man being shot in the back. These events fall onto a long list of deadly shootings of black men by police officers. It is a nail in the coffin for any argument that race is not an issue in the country.

The problem with the race issue in America is that it cannot be changed with new policies and procedures – it is embedded so much deeper than legislation. We have seen with gay rights in America that even when the laws change, the social stigmas do not. No matter what policy changes may come from this incident (if any), it will not stop people from abusing their powers in a discriminatory fashion.

To be clear, I don’t believe every police officer is racist, just as I don’t believe every back person is innocent (or white person, or hispanic person, or asian person). I also realize that there are black people who are being killed at the hands of other black people, which is equally problematic. What I do believe is that there are far too many incidents between black men and excessive force being used by police officers to mark it up as “normal”. The law is supposed to be colour-blind, yet it is clear that this is not so. There is a culture problem deeply rooted in history which must change. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy like Walter Scott to spark social action.

What is important is that we do not stop fighting for this change. Too often there is a massive public outcry after a tragedy which is then followed by deafening silence. A few weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there was silence. A few weeks after Michael Brown was shot, there was silence.

We can no longer allow for this silence to settle. We cannot let Walter Scott fall into this same silence. Without a continuous and relentless fight for change, change will not come.

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