It's getting so predictable you can mail the script in. A young, or not so young, unarmed African-American is gunned down by a cop. It makes brief news -- except the news is not really news but the script. He was reaching for the officer's gun, or his Taser or his nightstick. The officer feared for his life. The officer had no choice but to use the required deadly force. Police officials will hold a press conference and solemnly promise there will be a vigorous internal investigation. The officer will be placed on paid administrative leave. The investigation finds that the officer acted appropriately given the deadly threat to his life. The officer has been returned to duty. The case is officially closed. The only wrinkle to this pro-forma script is that if there's enough of a howl about it, the FBI and Justice Department will promise their own vigorous investigation. That will take weeks, or months, and the result will be the same. There are no grounds for bringing civil rights charges against the officer.
The standard script was rolled out the instant former North Charleston cop, Michael Slager, gunned down the unarmed Walter Scott. The script in the Scott killing, as in nearly all the others from Michael Brown to Eric Garner, is made possible for the same real, compelling and perverse time-tested reasons. It starts with the victim. Chances are the victim will have some kind of criminal record as was the case with Scott, and no matter how petty, or how long past, every detail of it will be endlessly looped before the public. The crude and clumsy message is that he was a bad guy. The dangling implication is that he, his past, and his alleged criminal actions are the reason he's dead. This, of course, is all based solely on the police reports and statements.
This is how it was initially tailored and massaged with Scott. He has a violent criminal, on the run, who when cornered ran, then fought, and then attacked Slager and he had no choice but to kill to protect his life. The evidence supported this version. Other officers at the scene supported this version. And police officials supported this version. The version we know was a bald-faced lie.
Not one person in the legions of talking heads that have dissected the ins and outs of the Scott killing horror has disputed the point that if Feidin Santana hadn't been there with his cell phone camera and recorded the horror, the official lie would have stood. There have been 11 officer-involved shootings in South Carolina since January. Some are just as dubious as the Scott killing. Yet not one of them resulted in even a hint of a dispute of the official version. The trumped up lies to work are dependent on a compliant media that will not ask too many questions about the official version no matter how much of a stretch it is to believe. The days before the video surfaced that shredded the police lie about Scott's killing, the press account of his slaying read like a verbatim handout from the North Charleston Police Department's media relations department.
The problem with the silly juvenile attempts by police officials to cover themselves in bad shootings like the Scott killing is they're routinely believed because they hold most of the cards in these cases. They know that merely dropping a telltale litany of veiled and not-so-veiled hints, innuendoes, digs, and crass, snide, accusing comments, remarks, slander and outright lies about men like Scott is more than enough to divert, distract and pollute the air surrounding the killing. The image mugging often works because it rests firmly on the ancient, shop worn, but serviceable parade of stereotypes and negative typecasting of young black males. It's the shortest of short steps to think that if Scott can be depicted as a caricature of the terrifying image that much of the public still harbors about black males, then that image seems real, even more terrifying, and the consequences are just as deadly. In other words, if Slager, and those like him, wantonly kill a Scott then there must be a justifiable reason they killed them.
Despite the video, and the shock of many at seeing it, the image mugging of Scott is far from over. Slager's sad-faced, teary-eyed mother made the rounds pleading for sympathy. And he'll get a lot of that. Police officials with the help of some in the media are still trying to do damage control by dropping strong hints that there's more video footage somewhere that gives a more favorable police take on what happened. None of this will alter the horrendous fact that Scott was apparently unarmed and no threat to Slager. But as in so of many of these cases, that means little as long as police officials, much of the press, and the public want and is prepared to believe otherwise when the Walter Scotts are killed.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of the forthcoming book From King to Obama: Witness to a Turbulent History (Middle Passage Press)
He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.