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It Only Takes One White Man in America: Why I'm Not Surprised by the Mistrial in the Walter Scott Case

By Lauren Whiteman | @Lwhiteman_9 |with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016.

Black people all over the United States are tired, but after slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, Reagan, the New Jim Crow, and Trump…we can’t exactly say we are surprised. Surprise is what white liberals feel when they are reminded that fighting class inequality while ignoring racism is in the service of maintaining white supremacy. This ain’t that.

Michael T. Slager, the police officer charged with killing Walter Scott (main picture), was not convicted because one of the twelve jurors on the case didn’t feel he could confidently he could say the officer was guilty (Apparently watching a man murdered on video wasn’t strong enough evidence).

No, we are not surprised. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said on Twitter, “When the DA sounds like the defense, [one] can't really be surprised by a mistrial.” Yet, we are surprised by the fact that the North Charleston police department was not standing by the officer. If all the extrajudicial shootings of unarmed Black men by since 2013 were a movie, that piece of information would be the plot twist we didn't see coming. Yet, despite all this (the video, the police department’s distancing from the officer, the public outrage) the jury was still unable to reach a verdict—and all I can do is shake my damn head.

Many black folks are emotional like Carl Thomas these days. We go from numb to angry and back to numb. Sometimes there is a sadness that feels empty; a sense of heaviness that’s somehow that’s begun to feel hollow. These are all contradictions that don’t seem possible, but, nevertheless, feel real all the same.

We know what’s next: conversations about how he shouldn’t have run away; discussions about how the officer felt fearful. Perhaps CNN will have another town hall, and maybe they can get Jesse Williams to attend so Black folks can feel excited. Black folks love Jesse Williams. I love Jesse Williams. CNN loves ratings.

There might even be a seminar hosted by a local church teaching Black boys and girls how to interact with the police without getting killed--or maybe a police officer will stop by another playground for a photo op with a Black boy that will be racially profiled and arrested a few years later.

At some point, a pastor of a multicultural church will talk about prayer. Indeed, prayer can be helpful, but prayer isn’t everything. If you ain't talking about justice, then you can miss us with the “Just a little talk with Jesus” clichés. I ain’t here for those “just pray about it” comments…at least, not today.

In The Future of The Race, Cornel West said, “the first difficult challenge and demanding discipline is to ward off madness and discredit suicide as a desirable option.” West said that 20 years ago, and not much has changed. Walter Scott had his back to the police officer and was running away with his hands up and was still shot and killed.

We were taught to be respectful of authority. We were told that if we were wronged that the justice system would make things right. However, it is clear that no matter what we do, the color of our skin communicates hostility and precludes the possibility of justice. Even if we are not perfect in our compliance with law enforcement, even if we are engaged in illegal activity, we deserve to be treated with the decency American citizens should expect from those who have taken a vow to serve and protect.

Walter Scott was born in this country, he served in the military, but he was not a full citizen. He was a second-class citizen. And a jury just confirmed that for us.


Shit hurts, fam. But what else is new?


Lauren Whiteman, M.Ed., is an Assistant Director of Student Life and Coodinator for African American Student Programs and Services at the University of Oklahoma. She serves as the advisor for African American Student Life, the Black Student Association, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Lauren’s work focuses on the miseducation of Black and African American students in higher education, advocacy, and student development.

It Only Takes One White Man in America: No Surprise in the Mistrial in the Walter Scott Case

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