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Monday, October 24, 2016

Let us give Sean Groubert every benefit of the doubt.

Let us assume he is a good person. Let us assume he is kind to children, well liked by neighbors. And by all means, let’s assume he has a black friend. For good measure, let’s assume he has two.

Now, with those assumptions in force, let’s ponder why Groubert, a white South Carolina state trooper, shot an unarmed black man last month at a gas station in Columbia. The incident has received less notice than did the shooting of Michael Brown, probably because the victim, 35-year-old Levar Jones, survived. But it deserves attention because it promises to enlighten us in ways the Brown killing did not.

Groubert, who has been fired and charged with assault and battery, tells his side of the story in audio obtained this week by MSNBC. He explains how he stopped Jones for a seatbelt violation, how Jones “jumped out,” of his car, and “stared at me.” Groubert says that “as I approached him, he jumped headfirst into his car” and that is when he ordered Jones out, “he jumped out of the car. I saw something black in his hands. I ran to the other side of the car, yelling at him, and he kept coming towards me. Apparently it was his wallet.”

But that is not what happened. Groubert’s story is contradicted by an unimpeachable witness — his own dashcam video. You can see it online for yourself. Groubert pulls up as Jones is exiting his vehicle. The officer asks to see Jones’ license. Jones reaches into the car to get it. The officer, voice rising in panic, orders Jones out of the vehicle. Jones is complying with this when Groubert opens fire. He’s still shooting as Jones falls out of frame, hands raised.

“Why did you shoot me?” Jones asks.

Now Jones, shot in the hip, is walking with a cane, Groubert is facing 20 years, and that question hangs like smoke. So let us accord him the benefit of the doubt because in situations like this, people always want to make it a question of character. And the shooter’s friends always feel obliged to defend him with the same tired words: “He is not a racist.”

He probably isn’t, at least not in the way they understand the term.

But what he is, is a citizen of a country where the fear of black men is downright viral. That doesn’t mean he burns crosses on the weekend. It means he’s watched television, seen a movie, used a computer, read a newspaper or magazine. It means he is alive and aware in a nation where one is taught from birth that thug equals black, suspect equals black, danger equals black.

Thus has it been since the days of chains, since the days of lynch law, since the days newspapers routinely ran headlines like “Helpless Co-Ed Ravished by Black Brute.” It is the water we drink and the air we breathe, a perception out of all proportion to any objective reality, yet it infiltrates the collective subconscious to such an unholy degree that even black men fear black men.

The Groubert video offers an unusually stark image of that fear in action. Viewing it, it seems clear the trooper is not reacting to anything Jones does. In a very real sense, he doesn’t even see him. No, he is reacting to a primal fear of what Jones is, to outsized expectations of what Jones might do, to terrors buried so deep in his breast, he probably doesn’t even know they’re there.

You almost feel sorry for Groubert, his life in ruins for a crime he probably can’t even explain to himself. But let us also spare some empathy for Jones, for Trayvon Martin, for Oscar Grant, for Amadou Diallo, for all the other African-American men who have died because of — or who struggle to live through — this nation’s unreasoning fear of them and their sons.

Consider that video and answer honestly: Just who should be frightened of whom?

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at [email protected]

  • adler56

    This clown definitely should have been given at least one psych test before he was hired. Looking at him I can only think of Aryan nation.

    • Yes, all white men are evil.

      • A_Real_Einstein

        This one is.

      • highpckts

        Oh grow up!!!

      • holyreality

        The sarcasm is thin thus I take your post literally.

  • charleo1

    To make the Adults among them as easy & as comfortable in their circumstances as their actual state of ignorance & improvidence would admit; & to lay a foundation to prepare the rising generation for a destiny different from that in which they were born; afforded some satisfaction to my mind, & could not I hoped be displeasing to the justice of the Creator.”6

  • mah101

    No, I don’t almost feel sorry for him. When did “Protect and Serve” become “Control and Shoot”?

  • HowardBrazee

    We need to keep mentioning that these guys are cowards. Being so scared of young unarmed black men that they have to shoot is cowardice. Make sure other cops hear us call those scum cowards.

    • annienoel

      thank heavens besides his lack of training he also is a lousy shot.

  • dana becker

    I don’t feel sorry for him in the least. He is the problem. He is why all of these innocent black people, yes hear that, they are PEOPLE, he is why they are dead. Mr. Crawford in Ohio is dead. He did nothing to deserve but a stupid white guy lied about him and got him killed. Those officers all shoot first and ask questions later if it is a black person involved. Some drunk white guy with an AK 47 gets talked to for hours. I hope they send him to prison for the rest of his life. Justice.

  • holyreality

    While I have no sorrow for this soon to be ex-cop, I do understand that traffic stops can be dangerous, and the hazard escalates when the ‘suspect’ exits the vehicle.

    Even then, Groubert is more Barney Fife than Sheriff Andy. When cops base their frame of reference on the public = the enemy they are an occupying army.

    This means the land of the free no longer applies. We the People are serfs subject to seizure of any assets the cops confiscate.(John Oliver has a great take on this) When we obey the cop we get shot for not obeying quickly enough, when we cannot hear the cop to obey, we can be shot for not obeying even though it is clear we cannot hear them yelling.

    Clearly America is no longer free, unless free means free to agree and obey.

    • beulahmo

      I am old enough to actually have a small measure of sympathy for Groubert, even though I’m not the slightest bit inclined to excuse his behavior. But it strikes me how young he is, and your comments prompted me to consider how inadequate and improper his professional training likely was. In a moral sense, the institutions that professionally trained him may well be equally culpable here, but Groubert is the one who has to bear the responsibility for committing the deed.

  • beulahmo

    Mr. Pitts does a beautiful job with this essay. Thank you for publishing it here.