As I watched the horrifying video of Walter L. Scott being gunned down, two words kept looping around my thoughts: responsibility and restraint.
Just 31 days ago—March 6, 2015—Madison, Wisconsin police officer Matt Kenny shot and killed Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old unarmed black man.
I remember the heaviness that washed over me as I read about this young man losing his life. His story mirrored too many to count:
Unarmed Black male “allegedly” does something wrong
Armed, innocent officer responds to the scene
A struggle ensues (somehow, the narrative ALWAYS presents this detail)
Armed officer becomes afraid of unarmed black male because somehow something that black male does not have is greater and more powerful than the bullet-laden weapon the officer is carrying
Armed officer shoots unarmed Black male…numerous times
Armed officer “performs” CPR (on police reported paper, that is)
Unarmed Black male dies
And let’s not forget the best part…
Unarmed Black male is painted as a thug and criminal with a violent past who most assuredly caused his own death because that’s what initiating the struggles that ensued will get you. Duh.
Walter Scott’s horrific murder took me back (and sadly I didn’t have to go that far because it was just last month) to Tony Robinson not only because, yet again, I cannot blink without another Black male being murdered by the people appointed to protect him, but because that same heaviness…and pain…and disgust…and outrage I’ve felt each time I’ve witnessed the perspectives of those “armed, innocent” officers and their colleagues overpowered me as I watched Scott undeservedly lose his life.
You see, when Tony Robinson was killed, Police Chief Mike Koval urged protestors to express their emotions with a sense of responsibility and restraint.
That was no different than when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was so “concerned” about how Ferguson protestors would respond to the grand jury’s (failed) decision in the case against Darren Wilson that he kept threatening to send the National Guard.
This outrages me to no end.
Why are officials more concerned with the public exercising responsibility and restraint than ensuring its officers display these traits as they encounter those they swore to protect and serve?
To be responsible means having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone. Hmmm.
Restraint is a measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits. This is interesting.
Don’t both sound like characteristics and actions an American police officer should display?
Yet, even our nation’s immediate history continues to show that many officers continue missing the mark.
Did Randall Kerrick restrain himself when he shot unarmed Jonathan Ferrell TEN TIMES, killing the unarmed North Carolina man?
Was Daniel Pantaleo acting responsibly when he continued choking Eric Gardner, even after Gardner repeatedly told the officer he couldn’t breathe?
Or what about the Cleveland officers who forced Tanesha Anderson’s head into the pavement?
It seems the people who oversee today’s men and women in blue have their priorities confused.
A protestor exercising responsibility and restraint is not the problem; the officer who lacks both and murders unarmed Americans is.
Stop worrying about our response and focus on those creating the inhumane and unjust “act” that warrants millions to flood the streets and “re-act.”
I’ll give it to Koval, Dixon and every other police chief, governor and official so worried about how protestors are acting when norms like this occur; Officer Michael Slager did uphold these two “duties” when he shot and killed Walter Scott.
Slager was responsible enough to shout “Put your hands behind your back” and act like, on radio, he was following protocol when apprehending someone…even when that someone was unresponsive, laying face down in the grass because Slager shot him 8 times.
The officer was responsible enough to drop something beside Scott’s body, cover his tracks and make sure his he-grabbed-my-taser story would add up.
Oh, and let’s not forget about restraint. Slager certainly restrained himself from offering Scott the CPR he made sure to note in the police report. He restrained himself from calling an ambulance and remotely attempting to get Walter Scott any help and chance of survival. He restrained himself from caring that Scott was not just another thug and criminal—but a human being.
I can assure you Slager’s portrayal of a responsible, restrained officer is not the idea Koval had in mind when he urged protestors to act in these manners. Yet, most often our reactions are what make headline news.
Herein lies the problem.