The names have changed. The need for change has not..
December 3, 2014. Eric Garner Protest.
“There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay. There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay”
Gil Scott Heron released those lyrics 44 years ago, in the 1971 song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The song expressed his hopes and dreams of the U.S. after this non televised revolution, as well as his complaints of the current situation. By way of social commentary, Dave Chappelle in his 2000 comedy special "Killin’ Them Softly” joked that he did not hate police, but he was just scared of them. We only laugh because we know it is true. Fast forward to April of 2015, when a video was released of a South Carolina police officer shooting unarmed Walter Scott in the back as Mr. Scott ran away. In moments like this, I don’t know whether to praise the genius of these artists such as Gil Scott Heron and Dave Chappelle for creating timeless work, or curse the fact that the situations they described are still so accurate, all these years later.
In a country built on the foundation of capitalism and on the idea of constant growth, expansion, and betterment, it can be a rude awakening to realize that not everything has progressed so far. These are the days where you can send money anywhere and talk to anyone, from literally a palm size phone/computer. However, these are also the days that some are using that technology to send money to a defense fund for an officer who killed an unarmed black man while in the line of duty.
In the line of duty. That sounds like something you hear on the history channel during a World War II program. But for police officers, the line of duty is supposed to demarcate how they protect and serve Us. Citizens. Members of society. Mothers. Fathers. Students. Lawyers. Unemployed. Far too often, that line of duty seems to have been drawn to exclude Black Men. Black Women. Black People. And when this system and these officers are accused of failing to protect all those within this line, one of the first things done is an attempt to separate the victim from the protected class. Namely, as a member of society. Suddenly, victim’s prior mugshots appear. Information is released that the victim has a violent history. He once got in a fight outside a McDonalds. He once pushed a kid in high school. He once didn’t hold the door open for that sweet old lady. “Well Darnell did lie on his Wal-Mart application, so maybe he did try to take the officers gun from 8 feet away with his back turned” said the Hoodwinked Citizen.
Do you know how this happens? Do you know how an unarmed man, running away, gets shot 5 times in the back? Do you know how he is told to place his hands behind his back as he lays facedown, taking his last breath? It happens because he is colored outside of the lines. It happens because at some point in that officers mind, Walter Scott wasn’t Walter Scott anymore. It happens because Walter Scott was not a person, but a problem made manifest. And more than likely, Walter Scott ceased being Walter Scott in that officer’s mind long before their first encounter. And when Walter Scott is no longer a man named Walter Scott, there is no duty. You don’t protect and serve a problem, you just solve it.
So I’m sorry Gil Scott, but there’s still pictures of brothers being shot down on the instant replay, and everything is still televised. We can only hope that the video will make these statements no longer so relevant.