A Betrayal: On Walter Scott And Black Lives



I do not fear for my life, but I do fear a treacherous betrayal. I fear the lie I know to be true, but believe in all the same, in the name of sanity. I will die one day, yes. But I intend to die the way all humans delude themselves: surrounded by family, in the serenity of one’s bed, safe, away from the world, a gentle sleep in which my consciousness slips into the void. This is privilege. This is the privilege of delusion. I participate in this delusion even though the privilege is not mine, never meant for me. I will die one day, yes. I will be betrayed.

Walter Scott was murdered by a police officer, Michael T. Slager, on Saturday April 4th, 2015.. He ran. He was shot in the back eight times. No one bothered to attempt CPR, despite police reports to the contrary. We know this because there is video evidence. Because there’s video evidence, the police officer is now charged with murder. Well—not because of the video evidence, perhaps. Maybe because of dumb luck. Maybe because of white guilt. Maybe because someone, somewhere, decided to do the right thing.

I do not celebrate the murder charge. The officer in question deserves to face trial, deserves to face the jury. But there is no celebrating the bare minimum of due process: review of the facts, appropriate charges assigned to the defendant, a trial, a verdict. If I celebrate this murder charge, it’ll mean the bar has been lowered, that a mere indictment is worth fireworks and cheers. Perhaps the bar has been lowered, but…I am prone to delusion.

Signing on to Twitter last night, I was faced with the plight of being black, the price of being a black writer, a man with a meager readership who might want to hear what I have to say.

  1. What would I say that hasn’t already been said?
  2. What magic words, what secret incantation could I possibly string together?
  3. In what hopes?
  4. How could I begin to exert my humanity?
  5. Why should I convince you of my humanity?
  6. Why should you have to see Walter Scott’s humanity?
  7. Eric Garner?
  8. Mike Brown?
  9. Phillip White? (Not even my hometown is safe.)
  10. Why?
  11. Why do you keep killing us?
  12. What have we ever done to you, besides build your country—no expense spared—in exchange for the erasure of our histories?
  13. Would you listen to me if I tweeted these things?
  14. Will you listen to me if I reduce myself to a listicle?

I swore I would never do this. I told my lover, I would never write a reactionary thinkpiece in the wake of another police murder, that I would never write to the beat of another black body banged against the pavement, lifeless, blood pooled. But here we are. We are gathered here, around more words, looking for the right words, in search of the right way to frame another atrocity, excavating our language, our grotesque humanness, to muster up enough outrage to meet the outrage standard of our new world, whereby meeting the outrage standard means we’ve done our part: we’ve protested, we’ve tweeted, we’ve shared barbaric videos on par with snuff films, we’ve sniffled and shed tears, we’ve stated our intent to hold all police officers responsible for the way they respond with lethal force, we’ve stated our intent to change. I dare you to change.

These murders are not at the hands of monsters dredged out of our imaginations. These people are not abnormal. They are normal white people who’ve decided to kill normal black people. It is laughably predictable at this point: the victim’s rap sheet has been revealed, as if relevant to the bullets in his corpse’s back, while a defense fund has been raised for the police officer. The victims’ families can no longer grief and rage with the dignity of privacy, huddled together within their arms as families flensed by tragedy long to do.

No, the victims’ families become PR firms. They must stand like centurions in front of the podium. They must tell a narrative. They must remind the world of their fallen brother, father, mother, wife—they must display the victims’ humanity. They must fight against the narrative that their loved one was a nigger who deserved to die because he didn’t follow directions, because she fought back, because he wouldn’t allow himself to be choked, because she valued her life over the words of a man empowered by the state—all of us—to protect and uphold the law. These families are stripped of grace. They take on the burden of becoming storytellers carrying the same message found in bound books in all the libraries throughout the word: we are human and we do not deserve to die, not like this.

I do not fear for my life, but I do fear a treacherous betrayal. The ghoulish dissonance between being told you’re equal in a country of equals, and all evidence—past and present—to the contrary, is the stuff of insanities, the building blocks of a malady so insidious, so absolute in the way it warps the mind and eats the body, there is no name for it in this language we run to now, looking for those right words. I don’t know how to succinctly describe the disconnect between fearing the police, and instinctively calling upon them when we need them. I don’t know how to describe supreme exhaustion, the fatigue of centuries. I don’t know how to explain the way we’ve—black people—been ruined for all eternity because of the need for free labor to build a superpower. I’m afraid that this country will betray me, and I will be murdered, and I will become a hashtag, and maybe my death will spark a revolution, but probably not, and I will be forgotten until the next police murder of a black person, when my name will be evoked—one among millions.