When it comes to the predictable cycle of outrage that follows an incident of police brutality, it is often easier for us to address the “low-hanging fruit” than it is the state, the systemic nature of said brutality, as well as the ritual and the religion of police violence. We can take down the offensive commentator, the editor behind the insensitive headline, the racist cybertroll who was smart enough to leave her employer’s name in plain sight while cheering the latest killer of an unarmed Black body.
There’s something that seems silly about addressing a tweet from a young reporter covering the murder of Walter Scott, when his killer was trained to be one by the state, his right to be one sanctioned by systems. His murderous pursuit was but a ritual, and the religion in question? White supremacy. Blue gods. White shields. White gods. Blue shields. Whatever.
But that tweet from Deanna Pan, posted after speaking to neighbors of officer Michael Slager, though not nearly as guilty as the hands that took an unarmed man’s life, that tweet spoke volumes. She hoped his dogs were okay. She hoped his dogs were okay. She hoped his dogs were okay.
It made me think of a Common lyric: “Why White folks focus on dogs and yoga/While people from the Low End trying to ball and get over?” While we’re out here trying to survive, other people have the luxury of thinking about dogs. Thinking about dogs after a Black man was hunted and chased like one.
She hoped his dogs were okay.
I understand that Pan’s comment was made whilst interviewing neighbors of the accused murderer. But I’m astounded by the professional space she was able to put between herself and a man who she likely watched fleeing for his life, before being further victimized by being handcuffed and having a Taser planted at his side—yet she was unable to do so when it came to the dogs.
(Sotto voce: Justice might look like those poor dogs watching officer Slager run, in vain, for his life, as someone bent on murder and wrought with hatred and entitlement filled his body with slugs and then desecrated his remains. One may then summon the slightest bit of sympathy for pugs who were likely loved and cared for by a man who had more regard for them than he did a human being.)
But it’s deeper than misplaced sympathy. It’s the pugnacious persistence of White supremacy and the inability of so many of our White countrymen to be consistently outraged at the extrajudicial murders of Black people. It’s the fact that this shooting will be treated as an outlier but some, and even as justified by others. It’s a nation of people who can hope the dogs are okay, but are less concerned with the children of a Black man cut down for no reason. A nation of people who demand calm when an officer is observed murdering an unarmed citizen, but give a pass to raucous college students who take to the streets with violence to celebrate a tournament win. A nation of people who feel safer because police officers can kill Black people with impunity.
It is my sincere hope that the murder of Walter Scott (and that we can even call it a murder without making a deliberate decision to refute the state’s interpretation of his death) challenges the endless dismissals and defenses of high-profile police killings that we’ve heard over and over again. That those who failed to be moved or shaken by the Ferguson DOJ report will now understand why “justified” killings bring throngs of outraged citizens into the street. The unchecked violence of American police cannot continue, and the communities who are victimized by it cannot be the only ones troubled by it. Time will tell if Scott’s public murder will affect a sea change, or if it will remain easier to sympathize with dogs than with Black people.
Jamilah Lemieux is EBONY.com’s Senior Editor. Views expressed here are her own.