There are some who believe that Alton Sterling deserved to be shot. These same people may also believe that the officer in the Philando Castile case was justified in his actions. In the Walter Scott case, many have argued that Scott likely would not have been shot if he had not run from the police. For every shooting and killing of an unarmed black man by the police, there are those who will find reasons to justify the police officer’s actions and blame the victim. These people are almost certainly not the ones who will be moved by the videos of police shootings in Louisiana or Minnesota, or prompted to act as a result of Black Lives Matter protests.
As with the Civil Rights Movement, it appears that the attitudes toward these events can be grouped into three categories: those who are sympathetic to the plight of those being discriminated against, those who do not believe there is a problem, and those who are casually indifferent. It is vital that those who are currently on the sidelines become vested in finding a solution to these problems.
We all benefit from having law enforcement we can trust and which also has the support of the whole community. In contrast, the escalating violence, which has included the shooting of innocent police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, will only lead to more mistrust and lost lives.
It seems we are reaching some type of tipping point between African-American communities and the police. With each shooting that is caught and broadcast on video, it becomes harder for those who deny there is a problem to justify the shootings. Even in communities where there is not a questionable killing by the police, there are tensions because black men are routinely stopped and detained for stop-and-frisk searches for no other reason than the color of their skin.
Amidst this backdrop is the startling reality that Charleston is no different than many other cities in the United States. We have had our own shooting incident with Walter Scott. If Michael Slager, the North Charleston officer who shot Scott, is acquitted, which is a distinct possibility given the history of these cases, we may very well experience demonstrations in our own community that are very different from the peaceful Mother Emanuel unity marches.
All one has to do is look at the most recent Black Lives Matter protest in Charleston; it was clear from the tenor of that rally that many of the angry sentiments which have been expressed in other communities are also felt here, even among one of our most prominent black citizens, Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
Recently, Sen. Scott spoke on the Senate floor to share that even he has experienced the humiliation of disparate police treatment. To those who value the opinion of a conservative, Tea Party icon over those who speak at protest rallies, his words should help confirm that there truly is a problem, and it’s a problem that will not improve until the public first acknowledges that it exists.
We should demand accountability for any unjustified killings by police, especially when they occur in our own community. Black and white citizens should have a positive dialogue with each other in an effort to understand the mutual frustrations and prejudices regarding policing issues and to reach some common ground on those issues. We should also support our legislators who are advocating for reforms in the criminal justice system which would address racial disparities.
These steps will not immediately end the racial unrest. But if our own community takes some positive steps forward, we would be setting an example that other similarly afflicted communities could follow. We did that in the aftermath of the Emanuel Nine shooting. We can certainly do it here again.