Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Homicide on Video: What Is It Going to Take?

Here is the unedited footage of the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, three days ago.

I have now watched the clip three times--almost as many times as I watched the footage of Oscar Grant's killing, and of Eric Garner's killing, and of countless others. I am having a hard time seeing it as anything but murder, with a bloodcurdling effort to cover the murderer's tracks after the fact. Then again, when I had watched the video of Oscar Grant's killing, and of Eric Garner's killing, and of countless others, those were also hard to interpret as anything but murder, and each of those times ended in what I can only describe as absolute legal impotence, and each of those times I've looked at my screen, incredulous, thinking, "what more could you possibly want/expect to see before you called this what it is?"

I am trying to imagine how this footage can be interpreted in a different way--what sort of teary-eyed testimony the cop might give in his own defense--and how a rational jury could possibly interpret this footage as anything but murder. I am trying to get into the head of the cop's defense attorney, to think how he can possibly describe this footage in a different way. I can't even imagine such a scenario. But you know what? I had the exact same thoughts when I saw Eric Garner's killing, and we all know how *that* turned out. It seems like the evidence is getting better and better, but the results are not, and we are fast losing hope that there is such a thing as "perfect" video footage of murder.

Ask yourself, gentle reader: all those other times you saw unspeakable horror on video, did you not say to yourself, as I did, this time it's the ultimate evidence? This time the evildoer won't get away? What makes us think that this one, this last one, will be different? That this time someone has finally managed to catch indefensible evil on tape? That this one won't be a hung jury or some involuntary manslaughter or somesuch? And if this one isn't, what more could "they" possibly need to see what we see? What, if not this--if not Eric Garner--if not Tamir Rice--if not any number of videos we've seen--is going to be incontrovertible evidence of murder? Will there ever be incontrovertible evidence? What, for Heaven's sake, is it going to take?

My heart is with the many sad and angry people in South Carolina who are trying to make sense of it, some of whom may have just realized that Ferguson is not a place, it is a state of consciousness. Yes, black lives matter. They should matter. But until all lives matter equally, none of us should feel calm, or safe, or contented.

The screaming, struggling civilian was a dark man with a face white as flour from fear. His eyes were pulsating in hectic desperation, flapping like bat’s wings, as the many tall policemen seized him by the arms and legs and lifted him up. His books were spilled on the ground. “Help!” he shrieked shrilly in a voice strangling in its own emotion, as the policemen carried him to the open doors in the rear of the ambulance and threw him inside. “Police! Help! Police!” The doors were shut and bolted, and the ambulance raced away. There was a humorless irony in the ludicrous panic of the man screaming for help to the police while policemen were all around him. Yossarian smiled wryly at the futile and ridiculous cry for aid, then saw with a start that the words were ambiguous, realized with alarm that they were not, perhaps, intended as a call for police but as a heroic warning from the grave by a doomed friend to everyone who was not a policeman with a club and a gun and a mob of other policemen with clubs and guns to back him up. “Help! Police!” the man had cried, and he could have been shouting of danger. 

--Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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