JUST THIS ONCE

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.

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43 Responses to “JUST THIS ONCE”

  1. Halcyon Says:

    "That's a level of callousness and corruption that even a Darren Wilson fan can't condone."
    You, uh, offering odds?

  2. coin operated Says:

    "That's a level of callousness and corruption that even a Darren Wilson fan can't condone."

    But…he ran!!!
    /wingnut

  3. John Danley Says:

    Slager will enjoy his prison time with Crew 41.

    The future's so white, he's gotta wear shades.

  4. Dan E Says:

    I don't mean to seem as though I am making light of this whole situation, but it reminds me of the classic Dave Chappelle bit where he talks about cops coming to his house after he reports a robbery and saying "He's still here! BAM!" Then, once they realize their mistake, casually say "No, no paperwork. Just sprinkle some crack on him and let's get out of here." At this point the police understand that dropping a taser/knife/weapon in the general vicinity of the person they just gunned down is plenty of evidence to warrant their actions. In this case, the cop just happened to do the exact same thing with a camera rolling.

  5. Brian M Says:

    – 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.

    I heard this very argument, explicitly, on FOX GNUS. 99.9% of police are HEROS, HEROS I tell you!

    There is not a group of human beings on the planet that is this pure. Outside the North Korean electorate, of course.

    Especially when it comes to a profession that leads to jaded views of your fellow man (rightfully, perhaps) and one which attracts "authoritarian" personalities.

  6. mojrim Says:

    All I can add is that these incidents are not accidents, they are not anomalies, they are the system functioning as intended. It happening on video *and* said video getting to the news media is the problem that Texas is now seeking to solve. The cameras are multiplying, and that sound you hear is panicked bleating from the few cops that actually understand the situation.

  7. Skipper Says:

    The video itself was not the reason for the reaction. Eric Garner was murdered and it was videotaped. The cops got off. Rodney King was savagely beaten. It was videotaped and made no difference. What the cop did wrong this time was let the cat out of the bag. He let people know that cops plant phony evidence. That was his undoing.

    Remember Leona Helmsley? She went to jail not for tax evasion, but for telling a peon that the rich don't pay taxes. If you're rich, you have to pretend that you are overtaxed. She let the cat out of the bag.

    Martha Stewart didn't go to jail for insider trading. Wall Street runs on insider trading. But it's all done in winks and nods and in exclusive country club locker rooms or over dinner in a gated community or on someone's yacht. Martha left voicemail messages, for crying out loud. She let the cat out of the bag.

    Cops are supposed to pretend that their life was in imminent danger every time they execute a person. This guy was stupid enough to let the cat out of the bag. That can't be tolerated.

  8. Andrew Laurence Says:

    @Skipper: Your last paragraph is awesome. It reminds me of the very early South Park episode where Uncle Jimbo explain that you can kill any animal you want, even a harmless bunny rabbit, if you yell, "He's comin' right for us!" first.

  9. Andrew Laurence Says:

    And also the one where all the Catholic priests of the world gathered around at a very serious conference on how to stop getting caught buggering little boys. Only the priest from South Park had the temerity to suggest that maybe a good way would be to STOP BUGGERING LITTLE BOYS! He was, as expected, roundly denounced and dismissed as a crank.

  10. Huntly Says:

    Didn't someone, grifter or not, start a Gofundme or some such page only to have the website take it down? I am sure that had it stayed up it would have taken in just as much as the page for the pizza shop in Indiana. I bet there are several still going but no one is talking about them. There'll be one for the idiot in Tulsa too most likely.

  11. Edward Says:

    Another telling fact about this incident is the officer fired eight times. Why eight times? Why not just one shot?

  12. eau Says:

    I watched, but did not join, a FB conversation among a bunch of authoritarian-type Americans this week. A cop had killed his wife, then his buddies on the force had helped him cover it up. They fucked up, got caught redhanded. These knuckleheads on FB were outraged, outraged I tell you!

    Outraged that this was being presented as a 'bad cops' story in the press, that is. They all agreed that this was a domestic assault. He should go to jail, of course, but why did everyone have to make it about the fact he was a cop? 'Not all cops', right? This was just a bad man who killed his wife. His job was completely beside the point!

    Not one of them mentioned the other cops covering it all up. It was as if that part of the story was edited out of their version of the story/ reality in general.

  13. Deggjr Says:

    Yes, 99.9% of police shootings are justified. It's only the videotaped shootings that aren't.

  14. Southern Beale Says:

    Culture of stupid reaches its predictable denouement in Milwaukee:

    https://southernbeale.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/partners-milwaukee-style/

  15. Well mostly Says:

    There will probably be a round of laws passed making it illegal to video tape "official police activity" because it would interfear with their "investigations."
    Any odds on the first state to come up with that? If they haven't already.
    My bet is Texas, I know, not a brilliant insight. But Kansas and Missourri are contenders and there are always states in the Deep South ready to put their wisdom on display.
    Fearing for my life……..is not a reason to shoot a kid with a knife 17 times. Hello Chicago. How do good cops keep agreeing to this defense that makes them look like pussies?

  16. Emerson Dameron Says:

    PICS OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. That's why Chris Brown is a pariah and Sean Penn… isn't.

    I'm a bit more optimistic than you. I have to believe that blatant incidents like this make calculated naivete a tiny bit harder to pull off from now on.

    At the least, it's one reason to despair a bit less about the unprecedented proliferation of recording devices.

  17. c u n d gulag Says:

    I wonder how many people in our police forces around the country are avid FOX watchers and Rush listeners.

    They sprinkle bigotry, fear, and hatred, into almost(?) any and every story.

    It's not hard to understand why police act the way they do, if they've been properly marinated in anti-minority, gay, etc., propaganda.

  18. cat Says:

    He was hung out to dry so quickly because the video surfaced very quickly. If it had been a few more days all of the paperwork would have justified the lies and they would have had a real mess on their hands from the coverup.

  19. MS Says:

    A few corrections. First, the initial response was to defend the cops; the first statements from the police spokespeople and similar folks were strongly on the side of the officers, and so was the public response. It's just that the video came out just a little too early, cutting off the big public groundswell of support at the knees.

    Second, you all know that this guy is going to walk, right? The jury needs a unanimous verdict. That is, you have to pick 12 random South Carolinians and not get a single racist KKK asshole. Really you need about 20+ non-racists in a row, since the defense will be able to substantially alter the jury composition through challenges. Odds of that = 0. The officer is going to claim he believed the fleeing motorist was a threat, which gives him the legal right to use deadly force. If I were this officer's defense lawyer, I would get up and say "Obama. Obama Obama Obama Obama Obama Obama. Obama. Obama." And then sit back down again. My client would be exonerated.

    Third, I would point out that Officer #2 watched Officer #1 shoot someone in the back and plant a taser on the body, and said nothing. He filed an obviously false police report. He has faced no charges or discipline.

    You might as well get your protest signs written up now for the Not Guilty verdict. Marches, "rioting", tear gas, public figures saying "justice was done and we need to move on". It's all coming.

  20. Khaled Says:

    @MS I fear you are correct.

    A couple random thoughts that I would usually struggle to connect.
    – Minneapolis "Gang Task Force" about 10 or so years ago got caught doing a similar thing. Someone got shot, and a gun was recovered at the scene. The family of the victim swore that the guy never, ever had a gun. The gun that was found was a gun that was missing from police possession, supposedly in evidence lockup. So, yeah.

    – The "I feared for my life" and "he was going for my gun/Taser" or "resisting arrest" are what police say as they are about to beat the shit out of someone. Remember the video that someone posted a few months back about the guy in Jersey who was lying on the ground getting the shit kicked out of him while the cops are shouting "stop resisting!" It is like the South Park "They're comin' right for us!!" Andrew Laurence, you are correct.

    – The reason the "resisting"/ "self-defense" bullshit works is because whitey is scared of big black devils. The moment a 6'4" police officer said that he was scared for his life because an equally big black kid was "charging" him or "reaching into the SUV"? Oh WTF. He's supposed to be a POLICE OFFICER, not a wet nurse. It's like the police that sat outside Columbine Highschool while two teenagers shot up the school. Get in there and do something about it. That's why they're paid more than mall security. The reason the knee-jerk reaction about fear works is because racist assholes are scared shitless of black people, and sheltered white people are scared shitless of black neighborhoods and the black people that live there. That's why they don't think they're racist, they know the nice negro family down the street who keeps their lawn neat and have smiling, pleasant children. They like that family, they're good people, and they can't understand why *those* other people don't just act like that family. The segregation that seems to afflict our cities is destructive in more ways than just property values and schools.

    – There are laws being drawn up already to outlaw video taping police. A lot of the "freedom!!!!!" and "2d amendment solutions to government tyranny" people don't seem to understand that we live in a fucking democracy. Change does not come from the bullet. The camera function on an iPhone will do more to "prevent government tyranny" than a closet full of guns. I mean, for fuck's sake people, if the US government was planning on stealing everything and keeping us down, you really think a couple of fucking AR-15s will keep a tank or a stealth bomber at bay? I mean, training your guns on a bunch of BLM agents will make you feel like a fucking cowboy, but shit, if the US Federal Government really felt like enforcing a fucking court order, a few flash grenades and a nighttime assault would make all of them run for the hills. Unlike in Call of Duty, you don't get to start over if you get fragged.

  21. NonyNony Says:

    @cat
    He was hung out to dry so quickly because the video surfaced very quickly.

    Just the opposite – he was hung out to dry so quickly because the person with the video sat on it afraid for their lives for a while. He had filed his report and his buddies on the scene had filed theirs and they all corroborated each others stories. THEN the video hit.

    Had they known about the video, the paperwork would have been filed with their stories in such a way that it "explained" the behavior in the video – even the planting of evidence next to the body would have had some kind of innocuous sounding explanation. But they didn't get that opportunity, so the discrepancy between the filed police reports and what is on the video is what sunk him and made it so the department had to hang him out to dry lest all of them get taken down for backing him up.

    (He's going to walk, BTW. I have no doubt on this. Unless his lawyer is an idiot and lets him take some kind of plea bargain, you can guarantee at the very least a succession of hung juries. If it doesn't happen that way my estimation of human behavior will definitely improve, but right now I'm pessimistic.)

  22. BigHank53 Says:

    He's been charged with first degree murder, which is going to be a pretty easy one to beat. Was he planning on shooting this particular black guy? Nope.(Being a racist doesn't count here.) Did he have a premeditated grudge? No, they'd never met. Now, is he guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter? Oh my yes. But the prosecutor didn't charge him with that. I wonder why not?

  23. Andrew Says:

    IANAL, but in some states murder charges automatically charge the lesser crimes of lower-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntarily manslaughter, and the jury will be instructed that they can find the defendant guilty of those lesser charges if they can't find him guilty of first-degree murder. Premeditation, to my knowledge, only needs to be momentary. The defendant need not have left home that morning intending to shoot the victim. But this does seem like an example of a lesser homicide charge than first degree murder.

  24. Brian M Says:

    CRISPIN SARTWELL:

    thousands gone

    if you are not an anarchist, your are in favor of this: thousands of police killings done with impunity. killing with impunity is the very essence of state power, or a good definition of 'government'. say you cannot picture human life as possible without police. well, what you are thinking is that human life is impossible without arming some people heavily against others and authorizing them to commit what would be crimes for others or, looking at it another way, giving some people rights that others do not enjoy, including the right to control those others' bodies or damage them: that is what a policeman is. you think it's the rule of law but by your own account it is the rule of crime: these people can kidnap you and hold you for cash, for example, or tase you, or just beat the shit out of you or kill you. if you think that a total asymmetry of power like that is necessary, then just accept all its inevitable results. one thing you should absolutely expect, one thing you are practically endorsing: this asymmetry will mirror all the others: if you are a statist, you practically endorse beating those on the bottom of whatever hierarchies there are: economic, racial, etc. also, power of the sort you are enthusing about or regarding as a baseline necessity of human life is, given what human beings are, always abused. and also, given what human beings are, it is resented, and will be violently resented. admit it: this is what you want. so stop whining about it or hop off this state jive.

  25. Andrew Says:

    @Brian: This is just crap. A stable society requires laws. Laws require enforcement. Enforcement requires enforcers. Enforcers require the power of arrest. That doesn't mean we have to sit idly by while a black man is killed by the police every 28 hours. That doesn't happen in civilized countries.

  26. Major Kong Says:

    Anarchist? Seriously?

    OK mister anarchist. Me and my friendly biker gang are on your property, well no, actually we've decided it's not your property any more.

    You're outnumbered, outgunned, and we don't work and play well with others. What now? Have your attorney draft a sternly worded letter?

    Oh yeah, I can imagine a world without cops but it's a world full of private armies. Things are never so screwed up that someone can't make them worse.

  27. Andrew Says:

    I find it unlikely that the cops would intervene to take back your property form the biker gang. And even if they did, the bikers would just come back and take it again. In California, the cops have no obligation to help you. Still, I'm not okay with anarchy. Not even a little.

  28. Freecookies Says:

    USA – United States of Alabama.

    The real reason the USA implemented civil rights, was because the Soviets embarrassed them into it. We were supposed to be better and more moral than them and they were going to hold it to the USA.

    But the Soviets are gone these days, been gone for a while and ain't coming back. Hell the Russians are more racist than you're average USA citizen. There's nobody to hold them that standard anymore.

    So we're seeing what Murica has been all along, except this time it's all going backwards in reverse. Dumb, mean and violent.

    USA – United States of Alabama

  29. Chicagojon Says:

    “The evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and thrived with the enslavement of Negroes and the trade in Negroes, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the Black people.”
    Mao Zedong 1963

    We ain't there yet.

    Today former US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was interviewed on NPR and had the nerve to say that China's government wasn't sustainable. He said he told Chinese leaders:
    "'You live in an information economy, and you're not going to succeed if you close people off from information and innovation."

    If I was there I would have said "yeah? Are you succeeding with your systemic killing of a black man every 28 hours?"

  30. Andrew Says:

    We appear to be succeeding very well with it, unfortunately. The number of cops killed in revenge in the past year has been what, two? That's hardly enough to inspire change. I'd prefer change came about another way, of course, but it rarely does.

  31. Chicagojon Says:

    I have a new test standard for cop videos. If at anytime an officer says "stop resisting" or a variation of "don't reach" they are guilty of any claimed police brutality.

    It's a highly accurate test. The ones that are ready to shoot people in the back have their procedures down pat and rarely forget to throw in a 'stop resisting' for the camera prior to or immediate after murdering the victim.

  32. Southern Beale Says:

    Oh, and this fresh hell from Tennessee — while the nation is wondering why volunteer "pay to play" wannabes are walking around armed with guns and tasers, the gun-happy Tennessee State House just passed a bill allowing constables to be armed. Constables are … like a step up from crossing guards or something. Just 3 years ago our legislature was debating whether we even still NEEDED constables and now we're fucking ARMING them.

    UN-BEEE-LEEAVABLE

  33. Skepticalist Says:

    Problem solved. Putting blacks in prison was getting too expensive anyway and nowhere near as much "fun."

  34. Skipper Says:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/14/1377712/-Former-Philadelphia-police-officer-I-planted-drugs-too-many-times-to-count

  35. Skipper Says:

    Oops. Cop admits to planting drugs, falsifying evidence, and lying in court — too many times to count.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/04/14/1377712/-Former-Philadelphia-police-officer-I-planted-drugs-too-many-times-to-count

  36. yourcrazyuncle Says:

    I know this is going to start a shit-storm here but…
    why doesn't anybody just stop. Why do they run? Because there is a fucking backstory, that's why. A guy owes 16K in back child support and gets pulled over test driving a Mercedes he is going to buy (dig dos hoops man) and he engages that crack jellied mass between his ears and decides to run…to where is anyones guess.
    The kid in Ferguson turns out to be a strong arm thug who robs, steals, beats up old people and as it turns out WAS threatening the cop but that's not sensational news anymore is it?
    I say its Darwinism at work.
    Should the cop have shot the running guy, of course not, but come on, why doesn't anybody just ask, why did he run?

  37. Andrew Says:

    @yourcrazyuncle: You're making a lot of assumptions about someone who, because he is dead, cannot defend himself. If you owed back child support and didn't want to go to jail for it, might you not try running? It doesn't really matter where, just far enough away, or more likely well enough hidden, that the cops stop looking for him. Also, if you think you might get a beating, running might be a way to try to escape it. Unless the person running is armed and dangerous and the cop saw him commit a felony, and the cop ordered him at least twice to stop, there's no reason to shoot him.

  38. mothra Says:

    I work in a law firm that represents a family of a young man killed by cops in our city. I had a project to review all the past investigation files of use of force by cops for the past 10 years and note how many were killings (there were a lot). What struck me was the bullshit excuses used in every single goddamn case. In one case in particular, a suspected UNARMED shoplifter was pursued on foot across a parking lot. Suspect ends up in an arroyo behind the store. There is a cop on the scene in a cruiser behind the store, who advises he sees the suspect and will handle. Just the cop and the suspect at the arroyo now and the suspect gets dead–shot in the back. The cop didn't even really try to say he was threatened–just that the suspect was resisting. The shooting was justified. I cannot even understand why.

    So, yeah. With no video (and even sometimes WITH a video), the cops can do whatever the fuck they want. It's not very encouraging. Oh, and as everyone has pointed out, even if a cop is indicted, he or she isn't going to get a conviction. It's just impossible to get a jury to convict–partially because of the difficulty in proof, but also because people don't want cops too scared to shoot the boogeyman.

  39. Robert Says:

    Wow, it's almost as if the man ran because he was afraid of being shot and killed. Why oh why would he have thought that?

  40. democommie Says:

    "Should the cop have shot the running guy, of course not, but come on, why doesn't anybody just ask, why did he run?"

    You're not black, are you?

  41. Andrew Says:

    If you're black, all the more reason NOT to run. But still, I understand why someone who didn't want to go to jail and/or take a beating might make that choice.

  42. Barry Says:

    eau: "That is, you have to pick 12 random South Carolinians and not get a single racist KKK asshole. Really you need about 20+ non-racists in a row, since the defense will be able to substantially alter the jury composition through challenges. "

    And that's assuming that the prosecutors aren't working with the defense. I would not bet any money against that that I could not afford to lose.

  43. Barry Says:

    BTW, the reason that various police officers are so sensitive to some of this is that the percentage of real a-holes in PD's might be low, but the percentage of police who let them get away with this stuff (repeatedly, deliberately) is likely quite high.