Walter Scott should still be alive. But he’s not.
Since Walter Scott isn’t alive, Michael Slager, the officer who shot Scott in the back, should be on his way to jail. But he’s not.
On Monday, a mistrial was declared when a Charleston, S.C. jury — made up of 11 White and one Black jurors — was unable to reach a unanimous verdict regarding Slager’s guilt. The facts, at this point, are indisputable.
During the trial, Slager testified that he feared for his life and “just knew I was going to lose the fight” with the 50-year-old Scott, who was initially pulled over for a minor traffic incident. While Slager likely thought that his version of the events would never be challenged, a bystander video shows him firing eight shots into the back of a fleeing Scott before dropping his taser near Scott’s deceased body.
Both actions conflict the “scared for my life” defense.
Despite video evidence, one juror simply refused to convict. On Friday, the unidentified holdout sent a note to the judge, stating, “We all struggle with the death of a man. My heart does not want to have to tell the Scott family that the man who killed their son, brother and father is innocent. But with choices, I cannot and will not change my mind.”
Local prosecutors vowed to try Slager again, but the sting of justice delayed is all too often the precursor for justice denied. And while this case directly impacts Charleston, it is also another reminder that the system, as a whole does not protect us in life or death.
Through it all, we continue to have faith. Evidence be damned that this system isn’t for us, some of us maintain undeniable, unshakable faith in a better tomorrow.
Tomorrow is not coming. For centuries and countless Black lives, tomorrow is not coming. Tomorrow did not come for Tamir Rice. Or Alton Sterling. Or Eric Garner. Or Korryn Gaines. Or Sandra Bland. And it would not have come for Walter Scott, who almost certainly would’ve been arrested for owing back child support, which presents a host of additional hurdles for an aging man to jump over.
Still, in an ideal world, we’d be talking about Walter Scott in regards to how the legal system can be economically crippling for Black men. Arrest records do not bode well during a job search. But dead men cannot work at all.
Tomorrow is not coming. Earth is hell and the idea of heaven is a hustle. The choices are a rock and a hard place. We can be asphyxiated by pessimism or continue to be heartbroken by misplaced optimism. Both are insufficient, reactionary and lead to a slow, painful demise.
What we are doing isn’t working. What we have asked for doesn’t provide a means for justice. Body cameras and bystander video don’t prevent police from brutalizing or killing Black people. It just provides crude footage of one’s final moments on earth. All of the consent decrees and Department of Justice reports do not prevent rogue officers from terrorizing us and making the most minor incidents punishable by the maximum penalty of death. And in the rare case that a police officer be tried by a jury of his or her peers for shooting an unarmed Black man or woman, none of what we’ve asked for prevents a jury that walks into a deliberation room and refuses to believe their lying eyes over the discredited word of a lying cop.
Tomorrow is not coming. The pretense of protection we have under Obama’s America, the America that gave us Walter Scott, will all but evaporate under president-elect Trump. Though Slager is likely to still face a federal trial in Scott’s death, police are already gearing up for more leeway in the coming “law and order” era.
“It makes a difference knowing you’re not going to have the (U.S.) Department of Justice breathing down your neck and watching everything you do as a police officer or as an agency,” Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Doug Lombardo said following the election. “I think it has a direct effect whether officers are proactive or not.”
Tomorrow is not coming. For that, we should be angry. We are entitled to be angry. We should be angry for Walter Scott. Angry at a system that repeatedly denies us humanity and angry at anyone who pretends we are fully equal and human under the law.
I don’t pretend to know the solutions. As police continue to escape judicial accountability, the reality is there may not be a solution. Running and respectability haven’t saved our lives. There hasn’t been a victim perfect enough to receive justice in death.
To quote Walter Scott’s mother, “it’s not over.” But the way forward is a little more murky than it was a week ago. New solutions will come.
But on this day, we should all be angry at a tomorrow that’s not coming.