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Walter Scott, Just Another ‘Isolated Incident’?

Memo Pad National News

Walter Scott, Just Another ‘Isolated Incident’?


“…You foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear.” — Jeremiah 5:21

So here we are with another isolated incident.

That, at least, is how the April 4 police killing of 50-year-old Walter Scott will play in those conservative enclaves where the notion that there is such a thing as systemic racism is regarded as deluded and absurd. Those enclaves will not, of course, be able to claim innocence for now-fired North Charleston, SC, police officer Michael Slager. As cellphone video captured by a passerby makes brutally clear, Slager repeatedly shot the fleeing, unarmed African-American man in the back after a traffic stop.

They will likewise find it difficult to defend a police report that claims officers administered CPR to the dying man. The video shows them doing no such thing. Finally, they will find it problematic to support Slager’s claim that he shot Scott after the suspect seized his Taser. The video shows Slager picking up a small object and dropping it near Scott’s body, fueling strong suspicion that he planted the Taser.

The video, in other words, will make it impossible to deny Slager did wrong. But conservatives will dispute with vehemence the notion that the wrong he did has larger implications.

Indeed, Bill O’Reilly of Fox “News” has already invoked misleading statistics to assure his audience that “there doesn’t seem to be, as some people would have you believe, that police are trying to hunt down young black men and take their lives.”

In other words, move on, nothing to see here.

We ought not be surprised. It is only human that a Bill O’Reilly would want to think of himself and of the culture in which he has flourished as decent and good. To acknowledge that there is bias in that culture is to put oneself into an unenviable moral squeeze: One must either bestir oneself to say or do something about it — or else stop thinking of oneself as decent and good.

It is easier simply to deny the bias, to say that what is, is not. Small wonder that’s the default position of conservatism on matters of race: Absent burning crosses and pointy white hoods, nothing is ever racism to them. And the more fervently one denies self-evident truth, the more emotionally invested one becomes in doing so.

Thus, every incident that illustrates the racism of our system, every statistic that quantifies it, every study that proves it, becomes just another “isolated incident.” There is never an accumulation of evidence pointing toward an irrefutable, irredeemable conclusion. They are a thousand trees, but no forest, a million raindrops, but no storm.

Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima? Isolated incidents.

Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice? Isolated incidents.

Sean Bell, Levar Jones, Trayvon Martin? Isolated incidents.

A study co-authored by law professor David Baldus, a 1991 study by the San Jose Mercury News, a 1996 report from the National Criminal Justice Commission, a 2000 study co-sponsored by the Justice Department, a 2004 report by The Miami Herald, a 2010 book by reporter Joseph Collum, all documenting profound and pervasive racial bias in the justice system? Isolated incidents.

Sometimes, you have to wonder at our conservative friends: Where is conscience? Where are intellectual integrity and moral courage? Where is simple, human decency?

Because if you are a decent person, you are up in arms right now. You are demanding solutions — not making excuses.

And if you are not up in arms yet, then pray tell: how many more “isolated incidents” do you need? How much more obvious must this be? How many more bodies will it take?

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. bhndr April 13, 2015

    Fabulous article. What else can you say?

    1. prenestino April 13, 2015

      It is a great article. Everyone should also read the article by Charles Blow in todays NYTimes, also beautifully stated

  2. adler56 April 13, 2015

    The deniers have a small circle of friends who are exactly like them. Their mistake is thinking they are the majority because of the large amounts of money they pay for candidates to spout their lies. They have still not recovered from the shock of “one of those people” being elected President. That accounts for the fact that almost seven years into this they still deny the success’s of President Obama. If the US used the guillotine
    I would think they would be having nightmares about losing their heads. As it is they see the inevitable- in 15-20 years old while men will be the minority in this country. Why else would Roe v Wade be such an obsession given their lack of conscience or religious beliefs?

    1. Sand_Cat April 13, 2015

      They’re terrified that when they become the minority, all the people they’ve abused for centuries will give them the same treatment.

  3. idamag April 13, 2015

    The sad thing is that it took laws to stop the lynchings and other atrocities against a race of people. Those who were against any civil rights for minorities were clamoring for “states rights” as they are today. We even had a director of the FBI who was working hand-in-hand to stop civil rights. Those bombers, executioners, and other illiterate thugs had children they passed their “values” down to. And the hue and cry for states rights has risen.

  4. Jerry Schull April 13, 2015

    Folks, I understand the feelings that people of color are being targeted by the police. But I have to ask, are we sure that the color of their skin is the only issue?

    I don’t think it’s the main issue. Yes, in high crime neighborhoods there are probably more victims of both over-zealous policing and crime. And the makeup of the neighborhood definitely comes into play.

    Look, I’m a white male. I’ve, in my youth (years ago), made aggressive moves in the presence of police. NOT a good thing to see down the barrel of a gun. Really scary. And that was before the Dirty Harry films and the evolution of the police state we have today.

    NO I think this police state/entitlement mindset we live in is the biggest issue. The police should NEVER be licensed to kill, and they are today. Not directly, but the laws are such (verified by the SC) that the benefit of doubt goes to the police. Without video it’s their version that will be believed every time.

    Even their training, hours of mandated range time, dictates shoot for dead center. Dead center means DEAD person. With all the range time they should be better shots, and be able to stop someone without killing them. But then again, should they ever be allowed to wear a badge if they have the entitlement mindset to shoot someone in the back?

    How in the hell did we get here?

    1. johninPCFL April 13, 2015

      How did we get here? Easy. A mindset today that says police are ALWAYS RIGHT. I’ve been stopped many times over the years and the training drift of the officers has shifted steadily from the 1970s until today from the “I’m your friend” mindset to the “you’re the enemy” mindset. As we criminalize more activity, the training becomes more slanted toward the public as criminal.

    2. Sand_Cat April 13, 2015

      The police protect the status quo, which includes pervasive racism.
      But you’re definitely correct that we have a huge and growing problem with the police in this country.

  5. Daniel Jones April 13, 2015

    Conservative voices against equality, fairness, and the rules being the same at all levels keep on and on about isolated incidents, but after so many of them, it just does not wash!

  6. Whatmeworry April 13, 2015

    Once again rather than vilifying the perp It’s the cop who Is blamed. Why did he run, why did he Taser the cop?? In the end he took his own life

    1. Daniel Max Ketter April 13, 2015

      Typical cop killer and black victim. History repeating itself, ust like the badge wearing bigot who shot that young boy in Ferguson. The cops here in Williamsburg are just as crooked and brutal, so it must be widespread. It’s time for President Obama and the AG to make an intervention. God bless our labor organizations for their service to our country.

    2. eaglesfanintn April 14, 2015

      And your proof he tasered the cop comes from which source?
      Let us know what state you live in when running from a cop is a crime worthy of the death penalty and the cops are judge/jury/executioner. That’s a state I’ll avoid. K? thanks.

  7. Insinnergy April 13, 2015

    O’Reilly? Ha.
    He doesn’t actually have a conscience, intelligence, morals or ethics…
    He only says things that get him paid.
    End of Story.

  8. Whatmeworry April 13, 2015

    Once again, another brutal cop killing


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