Yesterday, a Judge in South Carolina declared the case against former police officer Michael Slager to be a mistrial. This development is not entirely surprising, but it is the kind of news that sends a visceral shockwave of fear and rage throughout our nation.
It is an outrageous affront to justice. We all have a responsibility to Walter Scott.
We live in a nation where a police officer can shoot an unarmed, black man multiple times in the back as he is running away, then plant evidence near his body to set up an alternative narrative — all of it caught clearly on camera (take that in) — without a conviction.
There will be a new trial for Michael Slager, as well as a federal trial that was previously scheduled. But it is remarkably disturbing to learn that the jury deliberated 22 hours over 4 days and could not reach a verdict in a case that should be quite clear. On Friday, one juror sent a letter to the court, saying, “I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” and, “I cannot and will not change my mind.”
We cannot know the full story of the deliberation behind this letter, but I note how troubling it is to ponder the words will not consider. Notice that those are different words than cannot conclude. While we cannot know the full thoughts behind this juror’s statement, we do know that they ring true for many white Americans: Some will never consider a guilty verdict, even in the court of public opinion, when it comes to police officers, especially if they are charged with violent offenses against Black Americans.
And that should trouble us greatly.
Walter Scott was a man of great worth with full humanity. Above all, he deserved life. Now that his life has been taken, he and his family deserve justice.
Black Americans deserve safety in a nation that is often unsafe toward them. White folks, are we unwilling to consider a conclusion that our nation is guilty of creating these realities?
We are responsible to Walter Scott. We may not be responsible for pulling the trigger which murdered him, but we are responsible to these realities. We are called to mount a response that permanently changes them.
As activist and journalist Shaun King has noted, police officers killed 102 unarmed, black men, women, boys, and girls in 2015. He says we would have to go all the way back to 1902 to find a year when the number of lynchings were that high.
It is beyond time to hold police officers and all people accountable for their procedures and actions. That means we have to do some learning and personal soul-searching as well.
We are responsible to Walter Scott. Time to act.
This piece was first published at Smuggling Grace.
Renee Roederer is an ordained PC(USA) minister and the founding organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones, a community for people who are “spiritually curious but institutionally suspicious.” This community in Southeast Michigan includes people who are religiously unaffiliated (the Nones), people who have left established forms of institutional churches (the Dones), and people who remain connected to particular faith traditions but seek new, emerging visions for their expression.
Please visit Smuggling Grace to subscribe to Renee Roederer’s blog. You can also follow her on Twitter: @renee_roederer.