I was going to write about the recent murder of Walter Scott (black, unarmed) - but as misfortune would have it, before I could pen those thoughts, an even newer story emerged of an unarmed, black American man being gunned down by a white policeman. To wit: 44-year-old Eric Harris, shot and killed by a reserve police officer (as it turns out, an insurance company executive volunteering as a cop) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
When unarmed Harris cried out, "He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath,” another callous police officer swore at him and told him to shut up. To be clear, Harris - who died in hospital not longer after the shooting - was black and unarmed. Robert Bates, the 73-year-old reserve police officer who killed him, was white and armed with both lethal and non-lethal weapons. The blasé explanation offered just the other day by Oklahoma officials? It was a mistake; Bates had reached for his gun instead of taser. If Bates ends up being convicted of any wrongdoing, he could face a maximum of 4 years in prison, and a maximum fine of $1000. Well, how nice to be able to put a (paltry) monetary value on a life.
I’m not holding my breath waiting for a conviction against Bates. And this case would be shocking enough in isolation. But of course - it’s hardly an isolated case of an unarmed black man being killed by an armed, white American policeman.
Consider the case of Walter Scott: unarmed, 50 years old, shot multiple times in the back and killed by a white police officer; investigations still pending. 43-year-old Eric Garner: choked to death (on suspicion of selling cigarettes without tax stamps) by a policeman; police officer cleared of wrongdoing. 23-year-old Sean Bell? Died on the morning before his wedding after being fired at more than fifty times by multiple police officers — all of whom were cleared of wrongdoing. 22-year-old Amadou Diallo? Died after reaching for his wallet and having four police officers fire more than forty shots at him. Of course, all police officers were cleared of wrongdoing. 22-year-old John Crawford III? Shot and killed by police officers while shopping in Walmart and chatting on his mobile phone; a grand jury cleared all police officers involved. Michael Brown? 18 years old, unarmed, shot multiple times and killed; police officer in question cleared of all wrongdoing. 12-year-old Tamir Rice? Shot and killed within seconds of being spotted by a police officer; investigation against officer pending. And these are just the high-profile cases from recent years.
The long list of deaths of innocent black Americans at the hands of those meant to protect them - with the latter parties usually being cleared of wrongdoing - speaks to a disgusting blend of racism and racial profiling, police brutality, contagious shooting, and lack of police accountability that appears to be endemic to the United States.
I can only hang my head in despair. And be grateful that - especially since I’ve been witness to my share of police brutality in the UK - police officers in this country very, very rarely carry guns.
It was one of at least two shootings this month in which a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black man — and it has created a backlash for many reasons, one being Bates is not a real police officer. He’s a reserve sheriff’s deputy. And some fear he wasn’t qualified to be one.