Last week in South Carolina we heard a sad story for the umpteenth time, one so familiar that we don't even need to know the details to complete it. Black male, police officer, minor infraction, "struggle", gunshots, dead body. Like school shootings or the weather, it has become part of the background of American life. It is estimated that every 28 hours a black male is killed by the police or a gun-toting vigilante; it's difficult to keep up even if one is willing to try.
A funny thing has happened with the South Carolina incident, though. Nobody has rallied to the officer's defense. His department hung him out to dry. Conservative talking heads refuse to talk about it. No one is handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars for his "legal defense." The reason, of course, is that the entire incident was videotaped and so clearly contradicts the traditional Police Story (there was a struggle, he took my gun, I was afraid for my life, etc.) that the usual parade of full time cop apologists can't even muster the energy. Oh, and it's kind of hard to generate sympathy when you're on video trying to plant a Taser near the guy you just shot. In the back. That's a level of callousness and corruption that even a Darren Wilson fan can't condone.
The distinctly American aspect of this reaction is the complete inability, or perhaps conscious unwillingness, to make the connection between this incident on video and thousands of other nearly identical incidents that happen not to be on video. This is a story that plays out time and time again across this country every year, and every time it is the officer's word versus the victim or witnesses and we are compelled to accept the official version of events. The idea that the one time the officer lied happened to coincide with the incident being clearly and completely captured on video redefines implausibility. I know that reactionary/authoritarian types are good at faking naivete when it protects them from thinking. What they no doubt tell themselves (and the rest of us) is the old Bad Apple argument – this was an unfortunate and isolated incident and all other incidents in which literally the exact same thing happens and the cop gives literally the exact same story are in no way connected.
The shooting and the callous reaction of the shooter are understandably the focus of most reactions to this depressingly predictable and familiar video, but the part that jumps out to me (and should be the most telling, at least to a sentient person) is the effort to plant the Taser near the dead body. I'll tell you what – ask someone in your circle of friends or family who is in or has worked around law enforcement what the phrase "drop knife" means to them (alternately, "drop gun"). True, I've never previously heard "drop Taser" but the officer in this video had to improvise. Work with the tools you have, right?
People are stubborn and often willfully ignorant. A person would need to have both of those qualities in spades to compartmentalize this incident in a separate reality. This cop was full of shit but all the others – the ones whose behavior isn't captured on video – are best consumed unskeptically. I refuse to believe that the hundreds of black (or otherwise inherently "dangerous") men who end up dead after what should be innocuous encounters with police are the violently resisting, weapon-grabbing, Hulked out monsters who require nothing less than a lethal response that the police always claim they are. If you think this is the first dead black male who had a weapon tossed near him by the cop who just shot him, in a just world you'd find out the hard way how these situations unfold in reality. Without the video, this would have been swept under the rug just like the hundreds of others; "Cop kills black male" isn't even news anymore without something more to make it interesting.