Apr 13, 2015
Four days after a North Charleston cop shot Walter Scott in the back, killing him, the cop was charged with murder. He should have been.
But in this country, it is almost unheard of. Cops aren’t charged with murder.
At least two thousand black people were killed by cops in this country from 2005 to 2012. Only a handful of the murdering cops ever faced charges, hardly any were convicted, and most of those convicted spent no time in prison.
In hundreds of cases, cops claimed that the people killed were armed – when they were not; claimed the people killed were a danger – when they were not. In most of those cases, the cops’ lies were contradicted by witnesses or even videos. Just like North Charleston.
Nothing about North Charleston was different, nothing that would explain why a cop was finally charged with murder.
What is different is the social atmosphere. Ever since Ferguson, authorities have worried about what the black population might do.
Certainly, the black population has more than enough reason to act – to go out in the streets, to erupt in fury.
For more than 30 years, police agencies in this country have been rounding up young black men – and sometimes not so young ones. Walter Scott was 50 years old. Using pretexts like a “broken tail light,” or “failing to signal a right turn,” police agencies around the country consciously rounded up people. Almost everyone who was stopped was subjected to the indignity of a search – of their cars and of their bodies. If a small amount of drugs was found, those stopped for a traffic infraction ended up charged with a felony. Of course Hispanics and whites got caught in these round-ups too, but proportionately by far the largest number are black.
The federal government effectively has paid local police departments a bounty for every person picked up in this fashion and convicted on a drug charge. The more people arrested, the more money police departments get. Presidents from Reagan up to Obama justified it, saying the government was carrying out a “war on drugs.”
No, it is not a “war on drugs.” It is a war on young black men. The proof is that hardly any young wealthy white men spend time in prison – and yet they are the ones who use more drugs than anyone else in the population. Every large population study has shown it.
Young black men are being sent to prison at such an ungodly rate that the overall rate of incarceration for the total population is eight times higher than it was 35 years ago when this “war on drugs” began. So many people have been sent to prison that the U.S., with only 4% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prisoners.
That’s right, one quarter of all the prisoners in the world inhabit cells in this country that pretends to be “democratic.” Most of them, by far, were sent to prison the first time on a simple drug possession charge.
Instead of providing enough jobs – which this economy can no longer do – authorities throw people in prison on bogus charges. Instead of paying for schools that would give people the training and skills they need to inhabit this technologically modern world, government pays to build more prisons –12 times the number there were 35 years ago.
This is a conscious policy aimed at criminalizing the part of the population that has been most doomed to absorbing unemployment in a society unable to provide jobs for everyone. Above all, it is a conscious policy aimed at locking up and otherwise incapacitating that part of the population that has always demonstrated its readiness to fight for justice and human rights.
The killing of young black men, which lately seems to have reached epidemic proportions, is only a consequence of this much wider policy, a policy aimed at the very heart of the working class. These killings, in fact, are not new. What is new, ever since Ferguson, is the bright light parts of the black population have focused on these despicable murders.
Murder will not be stopped only by shining a bright light. But the flooding of people out into the streets – which people in Ferguson began to do – can push the government and its cops back. The police power fears power in the hands of the population.