When video surfaced of 50-year-old Walter L. Scott gunned down eight times in South Carolina, I was numb. I don’t ever watch videos of people killed because I find such voyeurism distasteful and dehumanizing. But I watched this time because I saw a Black body in uniform, hovering over a dead Black body, and taking orders from a white cop who fired those deadly shots.
Warning: This video is extremely graphic and full of triggers. I only posted to expose the Black cop who was complicit in racist criminality.
Officer Michael Slager, who
unsurprisingly “feared for his life” when he executed Mr. Scott and planted evidence, is charged with murder.
But my mind, heart, and spirit are exclusively concerned for the Black men and their families involved. The Black officer Clarence Habersham is proof that racism is more than Black and white, it’s institutional.
The institution of law enforcement — connected through legislation, agencies, policies, and authority — is inherently racist. Founded from the need to control slaves who dared to revolt, law enforcement agencies carried the ideal that white communities needed protection from Black slaves.
Low-income whites were employed to control slaves, after wealthy white landowners grew anxious of early organizing efforts between poor whites and Blacks. After shifts in demographics and social mores, Blacks eventually gained access to law enforcement agencies.
However, despite Black inclusion in law enforcement agencies, the underlying racist current which defined the methods by which they police and surveil communities held steady.
And here we are. With a Black officer aiding in the racist corruption of a white man.
I’d imagine that to be a Black cop means to always be in the clutch of crisis and compromise. That their Blackness becomes secondary when they put on that uniform that speciously validates illegitmate racist authority.
I’d imagine that to be a Black cop means to always be a target of suspicion; from white counterparts, colleagues, and higher-ups within a suffocating environment that breeds on distrust between racial groups, to Black communities who are rightfully suspicious of law enforcement given routine civil rights violations and authoritative disrespect.
I’d imagine that to be a Black cop means to choose between traumas; either the trauma of indifference or the trauma of resistance.
As I watched that Officer Clarence Habersham cradling over Walter Scott’s body, I couldn’t help but grimace. As
Officer Slager (who noticeably never touched Scott’s lifeless body except to handcuff him and check his pulse), instructed that Black officer to do his dirty work, I saw a slavemaster and a slave. I saw a power dynamic which reaffirmed that no matter how close we get to racism, we can never truly be racist ourselves because we simply do not possess the political, economic, or societal power to act on our prejudices.
Editor’s note: I’d love to hear from Black cops who’ve been confronted with their Blackness in blue. If you’re willing to share your story (anonymously if more convenient) please send me an email at email@example.com.