I am truly weary, deep in my bones, of writing columns about the killings of unarmed people of color by the police. Indeed, you may be weary of reading them. Still, our weariness is but a dim shadow that falls near the darkness of despair that a family is thrust into when a child or parent or sibling is lost.
So, we can't stop focusing on these cases until there are no more on which to focus.
Which brings me to the latest case, a truly chilling one: A video shows an apparently unarmed 50-year-old black man, Walter L. Scott, running away from an officer after an incident during a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C.
Officer Michael T. Slager fires his weapon eight times, striking Scott in the back, upper buttocks and ear. According to a report in The New York Times: "Moments after the struggle, Officer Slager reported on his radio: 'Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,' according to police reports."
The news report continues: "Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.
"The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott's body, the video shows."
In fact, the video by a witness disputes much of what the police reports claim.
After the video surfaces, the officer is charged with murder and fired. In a news conference, the mayor of the city, Keith Summey: "When you're wrong, you're wrong. And if you make a bad decision, don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision."
But even the phrase "bad decision" seems to diminish the severity of what has happened. A life has been taken. This case is yet another in a horrifyingly familiar succession of cases that have elevated the issue of use of force, particularly deadly force, by officers against people of color and inflamed the conversation that surrounds it. It further erodes an already tenuous trust by people of color in the police. This case is likely to redouble calls for the universal implementation of police body cameras. What would have happened if this video had not surfaced? How many such cases are there where there is no video?
But the issue is not one of equipment, or even policy, but about culture, starting with "good cops" no longer countenancing "bad cops."
This case also highlights once again the issue of police forces being representative of their communities. North Charleston is South Carolina's third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent but the police department is about 80 percent white.
Tuesday on CNN, the North Charleston police chief, Eddie Driggers, was asked whether he thought race played a role in what happened. His was a diplomatic and humane response: "I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop. ... "I always look for the good in folks, and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that."
I, too, would hope nobody would ever do something like that, but it seems that the end of the line has come for hoping alone. Now is the time for fundamental change: not just in one case or with one officer, but also systemically. (The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing has already recommended some policy changes.)
And now is the time for not only considering the interplay of race and power in these cases, but also the ability to register and respect humanity itself.