Police Officer Michael Slager fatally shot an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, as the latter was fleeing from a traffic stop. Slager’s official story was one of a struggle over a taser, resulting in his need to use deadly force against Scott. Slager has been charged for Scott’s murder after video emerged capturing the entire event, debunking his version of events. The issue at hand is not one of mere murder; it is one of treason.
The police are street corner politicians. They embody the law in a very real and tangible sense. The police are the only point of contact that most people will have with the law. For almost all who go further in the judicial system, the police are the initial point of contact. As denizens of the US, we are to trust the police to keep us safe and enforce the laws in a just manner. This is part of the state’s sovereign responsibility. When police fail to act justly, within the bounds of the law, and instead abuse their power, then the legitimacy of the state must come into question.
Mr. Scott was failed by the police. And while some may say he shouldn't have tried to run, the fact of the matter is simple. He was unarmed. Officer Slager had no justification to shoot him. This act was a criminal act. It was an act that was done in the name of the state. It was an act that Officer Slager tried to justify with the authority of the state. And, because it was an act that was not legitimate, it has tarnished the legitimacy of the state. Actions which undermine the state and its sovereignty by agents of the state are treason.
To their credit, prosecutors in South Carolina have charged Officer Slager. It is the only thing they can do in order to restore the legitimacy of the state. Yet to think that Officer Slager is some bad apple and anomaly across police departments is farcical. The public has been exposed to officers overreacting and doing wrong for a while, with few officers receiving any real consequences for their misdeeds. The failure of the state to police its own control apparatus and correct it when it does wrong is a direct violation of the social contract that we have in liberal democracies. The powerlessness of denizens to claim against officers and have any real results without having to fear the oppression of other actors of the state (other police officers) is a common perception – which is arguably a reality – within the minority communities in the US. It is a perception that there exists two states: one which is free for the haves and one which is not for the have-nots.
This is not a new problem. We shouldn’t forget that Martin Luther King, Jr was murdered less than 50 years ago during the heart of the civil rights movement. Less than 50 years ago we were living in a country where citizens with different colored skin were treated differently. Less than 50 years ago the non-white citizens of the US were subjected to a tremendous amount of hate and discrimination. And not 50 years later, do we see the fears gone from the communities most affected by discriminatory practices.
With the rash of coverage on police shootings over the past several months, those fears have been thrust prominently into the public spotlight. For the first time white America has to take notice that these fears are not unjustified. The Ferguson report was a clear example. And for poor, non-white America, that report is no surprise. For poor, non-white America that was but one example.
I come from an admittedly privileged background and I still have a fear of cops in the back of my mind after being forced to strip in sub-freezing temperatures in Chicago on suspicion of buying drugs and after having the sheriff’s deputies grill me on suspicion of being a terrorist. Those are not white experiences, generally speaking.
But as a society we call for more and more policing. What ever happened with the NYPD slowdown earlier this year? Where is the report about crime? Maybe, as I suggested when it was going on, that the people in heavily policed areas actually felt safer because they weren’t at such a steep risk of being stop and frisked.
It is a shame and a sham that public conservative figures cannot point out the treasonous nature of these officers, instead supporting them unequivocally, while they can criticize the efforts of the NSA in gathering the information necessary to act against terrorist actors. The typical line is that bad things happen to people at the hand of the authorities when they deserve it – but only so long as those authorities are not allowed to watch those who are in positions of privilege.
But we mustn’t forget that the obligations of the state in a democracy are not only to those with privilege but they are to everyone, citizens and denizens alike. If the state allows police to make a distinction, as it historically has, it undermines its legitimacy, its authority, and, eventually, its ability to control. Crooked cops bring into question the good work of straight cops. Crooked cops (and overzealous prosecutors) bring into question the legitimacy of convictions that have resulted in the severely skewed demographics of prisoners relative to the general population.
Let me be clear, I don't want white America to suffer as non-white America has at the hands of law enforcement. That is not justice. I don't want white America to go to jail more. I don't want them to feel as I do -- scared to make someone afraid of me for no good reason. I want justice and with that I want everyone to understand that crooked cops are an affront to the sovereignty of the state and they must require the state to respond forcefully because treason cannot be tolerated if the state is to remain strong.