Essay: Race, Power, and The Infallible Police Report – NBCNews.com

White Officer Kills Unarmed Black Man

This headline seems to have an unflinching hold on the American newsreel. The merciless execution of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager provides the latest rendition of this oft repeated headline. This instance is layered societal complexities, two of which are easily spotted: race and power.

While this horrific injustice shares basic similarities with other notable incidents which pit white officers against black men, to me, there is one element that must be discussed further: the perceived notion that police officers are infallible and what they “report” stands as definitive truth.

This is not an attempt to explain the relationship between police officers and black people in its entirety. Rather, this is an attempt to demonstrate that the veracity of what police officers report can and should be critically analyzed and weighed with evidence.

Can justice ever truly be served if we blindly accept the reports given to us by police officers?

Bearing a police badge does not remove humanity — rather it accentuates it. Because of the badge we should carefully analyze the decisions officers make instead of conclude that the badge lifts their actions are above reproach.

I’m an 11th grade US History teacher at West Tallahatchie High School in Webb, Mississippi. The relationship between blacks and whites in this country is a focal point throughout the history of the United States. This tragic incident provided my students with a contemporary lens through which they can analyze the world around them, particularly in regards to race relations.

When I read the New York Times story on Walter Scott with my high school students on Wednesday, I made them focus in on the number of times the phrase “according to police reports” was used. The tally came to four. We did this before we watched the gruesome video that unequivocally revealed a narrative that was starkly unrecognizable to the one that was offered by Officer Slager.

Before I could even stop and offer some insight on what we just watched, juxtaposed with what we read, my students immediately made the inferences I hoped they would make. They were outraged by the blatant lie that Officer Slager presented: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.” They expressed that this injustice may have gone a different way, if the bystander had not have videotaped it.

I asked them to ponder the amount of times this has happened to a black person and gone without an investigation (or any charges against the officer for that matter). “ALL THE TIME”, they yelled in unison. I quickly noted that we do not have access to any quantitative data to support their claims, but I was proud of the connections and thoughtfulness my students demonstrated nevertheless. Though I brimmed with pride because my students were able to critically analyze this situation, the anguish and disgust on their faces was difficult to bear.

There are many societal ills that the murder of Walter Scott brings to the forefront. In my estimation, police accountability has to be near the top of this list. I want to ask the question, “Can justice ever truly be served if we blindly accept the reports given to us by police officers?”

Though I brimmed with pride because my students were able to critically analyze this situation, the anguish and disgust on their faces was difficult to bear.

The old adage goes, “There are two sides to every coin.” When we blindly accept the reports given to us by police reports, we exhibit a mindset similar to that of Batman villain Harvey “Two Face” Dent, who infamously has a two-headed coin. When deciding the fate of his victims, Dent would flip the coin and normally have dire consequences for the person if the coin landed on heads. Because both sides of the coins were heads, the fate of the victim is already pre-determined.

I wonder how many black peoples’ fates were determined in a similar fashion.

Who knows what would have become of the investigation of the murder of Walter Scott if the video did not surface. I certainly do not know and I will be careful to avoid speculation. I simply implore that we demand more accountability from the individuals who are tasked to protect us.