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Spectacles of Black Death and White Impunity

At this point, white ignorance on the subject is downright willful.—Kelly Hayes

"Police Officer" Michael Slager executes Walter Scott with multiple shots to Scott's back. Slager claimed he was "defending himself" and almost got away with this standard police cover up. — Until a video emerged which proved it was cold blooded murder. (Photo screen captured from video)
"Police Officer" Michael Slager executes Walter Scott with multiple shots to Scott's back. Slager claimed he was "defending himself" and almost got away with this standard police cover up. — Until a video emerged which proved it was cold blooded murder. (Photo screen captured from video)


By KELLY HAYES
A much-awaited decision was made in a courtroom in Chicago on Thursday, as a judge ruled that the world would in fact have a chance to watch a dashcam video that captured the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. McDonald, a young Black man, was gunned down by a white police officer last year as he attempted to walk away from police.

Defenders of the Chicago police, and of the officer who shot McDonald, have claimed that the young man had PCP in his system, and a small knife in his hand. Given these allegations, it is wholly unsurprising that the city is cognizant of the PR nightmare that would undoubtedly follow the release of the video, which by all accounts depicts a young man being shot 16 times while trying to walk away from a confrontation.

Such imagery would clearly render the city’s previous arguments irrelevant. The officer, of course, had no way of knowing what drugs the young man may have had in his system. And it would be fairly difficult to argue that the officer believed that his safety was imperiled by the small knife of a young man who was simply trying to walk away, after police approached him for allegedly slashing car tires. But those who have an interest in defending the police, either because it would be a financial liability to do otherwise, or because they benefit from the racist norms that police work to enforce, are rarely swayed by the details of Black or Brown death. The words “well, that person shouldn’t have…” will always find their way into some justification of yet another police killing, and the statistics will pile on.

I am not interested in speaking as to whether or not the video should be released. Some members of the Black community feel strongly that it should, while others feel it would only further the constantly replayed spectacle of Black death, which has arguably done little to slow the pace of police violence. McDonald’s mother, for her part, has stated that she does not want the video released, citing the unrest she believes it could incite in her community. The city’s uncharacteristic approach of offering the family a multi-million dollar settlement in advance of any lawsuit being filed seems to suggest that local officials harbor similar fears, and would like to see the matter dissolved quietly.

Local reporter John Kass, of the Chicago Tribune, has weighed in, suggesting that the video’s release could “rip Chicago apart,” but arguing that the public should see it anyway, because “the people deserve to see what happened.” My first thought, upon reading those words was that in an era of shuttered schools, slashed public services, rampant police brutality and a nationally known murder rate, some already experience Chicago as a city torn apart – although we might disagree with Kass about the reasons why, and what the remedies might be. But my second thought, as someone who has been deeply involved with movements against police violence, is a question I would pose to Kass and those who agree with him.

Have “the people” not already seen what police terror looks like?

The last year has been one of protest and awareness-raising around the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Videos of Sandra Bland’s violent arrest and the brutal deaths of so many others have flooded the popular consciousness. At this point, I honestly find it impossible that the public simply doesn’t understand what’s happening in Black and Brown communities.

At this point, white ignorance on the subject is downright willful.

It is the same willfulness that turns a blind eye to the emergence of the dungeon economies that replaced factory jobs as de-industrialization took hold, creating millions of human commodities for a whole web-work of industries, nonprofits and on-site employees.

It is the ignorance that allows people to believe that over two million of their countrymen are so dangerous and depraved that public safety demands they be kept in cages.

A much-awaited decision was made in a courtroom in Chicago on Thursday, as a judge ruled that the world would in fact have a chance to watch a dashcam video that captured the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. McDonald, a young Black man, was gunned down by a white police officer last year as he attempted to walk away from police.

Defenders of the Chicago police, and of the officer who shot McDonald, have claimed that the young man had PCP in his system, and a small knife in his hand. Given these allegations, it is wholly unsurprising that the city is cognizant of the PR nightmare that would undoubtedly follow the release of the video, which by all accounts depicts a young man being shot 16 times while trying to walk away from a confrontation.

Such imagery would clearly render the city’s previous arguments irrelevant. The officer, of course, had no way of knowing what drugs the young man may have had in his system. And it would be fairly difficult to argue that the officer believed that his safety was imperiled by the small knife of a young man who was simply trying to walk away, after police approached him for allegedly slashing car tires. But those who have an interest in defending the police, either because it would be a financial liability to do otherwise, or because they benefit from the racist norms that police work to enforce, are rarely swayed by the details of Black or Brown death. The words “well, that person shouldn’t have…” will always find their way into some justification of yet another police killing, and the statistics will pile on.

I am not interested in speaking as to whether or not the video should be released. Some members of the Black community feel strongly that it should, while others feel it would only further the constantly replayed spectacle of Black death, which has arguably done little to slow the pace of police violence. McDonald’s mother, for her part, has stated that she does not want the video released, citing the unrest she believes it could incite in her community. The city’s uncharacteristic approach of offering the family a multi-million dollar settlement in advance of any lawsuit being filed seems to suggest that local officials harbor similar fears, and would like to see the matter dissolved quietly.

Local reporter John Kass, of the Chicago Tribune, has weighed in, suggesting that the video’s release could “rip Chicago apart,” but arguing that the public should see it anyway, because “the people deserve to see what happened.” My first thought, upon reading those words was that in an era of shuttered schools, slashed public services, rampant police brutality and a nationally known murder rate, some already experience Chicago as a city torn apart – although we might disagree with Kass about the reasons why, and what the remedies might be. But my second thought, as someone who has been deeply involved with movements against police violence, is a question I would pose to Kass and those who agree with him.

Have “the people” not already seen what police terror looks like?

The last year has been one of protest and awareness-raising around the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Videos of Sandra Bland’s violent arrest and the brutal deaths of so many others have flooded the popular consciousness. At this point, I honestly find it impossible that the public simply doesn’t understand what’s happening in Black and Brown communities.

At this point, white ignorance on the subject is downright willful.

It is the same willfulness that turns a blind eye to the emergence of the dungeon economies that replaced factory jobs as de-industrialization took hold, creating millions of human commodities for a whole web-work of industries, nonprofits and on-site employees.

It is the ignorance that allows people to believe that over two million of their countrymen are so dangerous and depraved that public safety demands they be kept in cages.

A much-awaited decision was made in a courtroom in Chicago on Thursday, as a judge ruled that the world would in fact have a chance to watch a dashcam video that captured the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. McDonald, a young Black man, was gunned down by a white police officer last year as he attempted to walk away from police.

Defenders of the Chicago police, and of the officer who shot McDonald, have claimed that the young man had PCP in his system, and a small knife in his hand. Given these allegations, it is wholly unsurprising that the city is cognizant of the PR nightmare that would undoubtedly follow the release of the video, which by all accounts depicts a young man being shot 16 times while trying to walk away from a confrontation.

Such imagery would clearly render the city’s previous arguments irrelevant. The officer, of course, had no way of knowing what drugs the young man may have had in his system. And it would be fairly difficult to argue that the officer believed that his safety was imperiled by the small knife of a young man who was simply trying to walk away, after police approached him for allegedly slashing car tires. But those who have an interest in defending the police, either because it would be a financial liability to do otherwise, or because they benefit from the racist norms that police work to enforce, are rarely swayed by the details of Black or Brown death. The words “well, that person shouldn’t have…” will always find their way into some justification of yet another police killing, and the statistics will pile on.

I am not interested in speaking as to whether or not the video should be released. Some members of the Black community feel strongly that it should, while others feel it would only further the constantly replayed spectacle of Black death, which has arguably done little to slow the pace of police violence. McDonald’s mother, for her part, has stated that she does not want the video released, citing the unrest she believes it could incite in her community. The city’s uncharacteristic approach of offering the family a multi-million dollar settlement in advance of any lawsuit being filed seems to suggest that local officials harbor similar fears, and would like to see the matter dissolved quietly.

Local reporter John Kass, of the Chicago Tribune, has weighed in, suggesting that the video’s release could “rip Chicago apart,” but arguing that the public should see it anyway, because “the people deserve to see what happened.” My first thought, upon reading those words was that in an era of shuttered schools, slashed public services, rampant police brutality and a nationally known murder rate, some already experience Chicago as a city torn apart – although we might disagree with Kass about the reasons why, and what the remedies might be. But my second thought, as someone who has been deeply involved with movements against police violence, is a question I would pose to Kass and those who agree with him.

Have “the people” not already seen what police terror looks like?

The last year has been one of protest and awareness-raising around the issue of anti-Black police brutality. Videos of Sandra Bland’s violent arrest and the brutal deaths of so many others have flooded the popular consciousness. At this point, I honestly find it impossible that the public simply doesn’t understand what’s happening in Black and Brown communities.

At this point, white ignorance on the subject is downright willful.

It is the same willfulness that turns a blind eye to the emergence of the dungeon economies that replaced factory jobs as de-industrialization took hold, creating millions of human commodities for a whole web-work of industries, nonprofits and on-site employees.

It is the ignorance that allows people to believe that over two million of their countrymen are so dangerous and depraved that public safety demands they be kept in cages.

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