CHARLOTTE, N.C. ― When Rakeyia Scott saw cops surrounding her husband, Keith Scott, she immediately worried they might shoot him. She pulled out her cell phone camera.
The horrifying video she captured has now been seen millions of times. One poignant moment, however, stands out.
As officers huddle around her dying husband, she shouts out: “Did y’all call the police?”
Call the police. It’s what one does, or is supposed to do, when a crime has been committed, when someone is in need of help. The idea that the police exist to protect and serve is so powerful that it broke through the reality of what she had just witnessed: police shooting her husband to death.
She quickly caught her mistake. “I mean, did y’all call the ambulance?”
Given the nonchalant attitude officers betrayed as Keith Scott lay on the pavement bleeding, she didn’t wait for an answer and took it upon herself to call 911.
The reaction of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers to a man dying at their feet was strikingly familiar. The ubiquity of cellphone, dashcam and surveillance video has transformed the way the public understands police violence. But as scene after scene unfolds on shaky screens and in grainy contours, another element of the violence is beginning to come into focus: the pattern of officers seeming to show no concern for the person they have shot, often fatally.
The nonchalance around the injured and the dying is stunning in its own way.
Set aside the question of whether any particular shooting was justified, either legally or morally. Perhaps it was. Perhaps the officer had no other choice. Even in such a situation, though, the officer has just exercised the most terrifying of powers ― the use of lethal force against another human being. And yet no care seems to be taken of that human being.
Consider another recent police shooting caught on video: that of Charles Kinsey, who survived. Kinsey, a black behavioral therapist in North Miami, Florida, was trying to help a man with autism who was sitting in the street blocking traffic. A cellphone video shows Kinsey himself lying on the ground with his hands in the air. He was trying to explain to police that the other man had a toy truck and not a gun, contrary to what a 911 caller had reported.
One of the officers fired three times, hitting Kinsey in the leg. Then Kinsey said he was handcuffed and left bleeding on the street for 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
And this was a case in which the police understood, right from the start, that the man they shot was the victim.
Letting the body lie where it falls is a fairly common trend in these high-profile police shootings. After Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police shot and killed Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, on July 5, the officers appeared rattled by what had happened. But as for Sterling, they said to “just leave him,” according to a witness.
In Ferguson, Missouri, officers left Mike Brown’s body in the street for four hours, an indignity that protesters have referred to often.
Cedrick Chatman was shot four times, within 10 seconds, as he ran from officers on the south side of Chicago. Then they handcuffed the dying teen, and an officer placed his boot on top of him.
After officers shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, the child was still alive. Even when police realized he was just a kid with a toy gun, they still failed to offer basic medical assistance. (They have since said they thought his toy gun was real and were afraid for their lives.) Instead, when his 14-year-old sister, T.R., ran toward him crying out, “My baby brother, they killed my baby brother,” one of the officers tackled her. She tried to get up and crawl toward her dying brother, but the second officer dragged her down. She was handcuffed and put in the backseat of a car, left to watch her brother continue to bleed while the officers did nothing.
“When Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, heard about the shooting and rushed to the park, the officers refused to release T.R. into her custody and told her she had to choose between going to the hospital with her fatally wounded 12-year-old son and staying with her handcuffed 14-year-old daughter, who was in the back of the car with the very same officers who had shot her son,” the Rice family’s lawyers have since written.
On Dec. 28, an Ohio grand jury chose not to indict the officer who fatally shot Tamir.
When a Tulsa, Oklahoma, reserve deputy accidentally shot 44-year-old Eric Harris, he was already being subdued by other officers. “Oh shit, he shot me!” Harris says in the video. “I’m losing my breath.”
“Fuck your breath,” one officer says in response, among the last words Harris would ever hear.
If black lives truly mattered, police would make an attempt to save the dying. If black lives truly mattered, the dead would be afforded more dignity. It is this lack of caring for a fellow human being in his last moments, over and above the violence itself, that reinforces the belief that black lives don’t matter.
After shooting LaQuan McDonald, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke can be seen in video meandering about the crime scene. When North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott, he casually walked toward his body. Later, more officers stand around Scott, and it takes some time for any of them to check for a pulse.
Videos of police behaving nonchalantly after shooting white people have also come to light. Andrew Thomas, driving drunk, flipped his car and his passenger was thrown from the vehicle. Paradise, California, police officer Patrick Feaster witnessed the crash and pulled up behind them. Instead of attending to the passenger or helping Thomas out of the car, he simply drew his weapon, aimed, fired and struck Thomas in the neck, all in a matter of seconds. Then he radioed that the driver was refusing to exit the car, not mentioning for 11 minutes that he had shot him.
Almost instantly after confronting Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, police shot him. Then they rolled over his body to put him in handcuffs. “They’re putting him in cuffs. He’s dead. Oh my God,” one bystander can be heard saying in a video. “Now they cuffin’ him, he’s already dead.”
In fact, in reviewing nearly every publicly available video of a police shooting over the past year or so, it is close to impossible to find footage of an officer aiding the person who has been shot.
Video of 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s arrest shows him screaming out, possibly in pain, as he is placed in the back of a Baltimore police van. Knowledge of what happened inside the van is limited, at best. But prosecutors argued in cases against several of the six officers charged in Gray’s death that not buckling his seatbelt was a mistake, whether intentional or not, that contributed to the severity of his injuries. William Porter, whose first trial ended in a mistrial, has also been accused of failing to ensure that Gray was provided immediate medical assistance once he requested help.
That lackluster response, as much as the rough ride, might have cost Gray his life.
It’s this nonchalance that gives weight to claims that too many police officers are operating more like law enforcement warriors than like public servants dedicated to the protection of others. Couple this with officers’ unwillingness to publicly shoulder any moral responsibility in these deaths, and we can only conclude that they believe those on the receiving end of police violence have invited death upon themselves.
When social activists like Colin Kaepernick protest police violence against black people, the black-on-black crime rate is often raised in response. But Rakeyia Scott’s powerful slip of the tongue ought to show people who couldn’t see it before why that response is so offensive, and why police violence itself carries a unique resonance. The police are supposed to be the ones you call for help. Learning that they are, instead, the perpetrators of violence, flips everything upside down.
If police officers want to convince the public they value black lives as much as any others, they need to start acting like the life they just took matters to them. They need to call the police.
Video produced by Amber Ferguson.