Last Saturday, Walter Scott was driving his Mercedes in North Charleston, S.C., when he was pulled over by police officer Michael Slager for driving with a broken taillight. Scott had a complicated life, as many of us do. He was employed and engaged; he owed back child support; in all likelihood he really didn’t want to go to jail. When Slager approached, Scott ran.
There is video of what happened next. Our first clear view is of Scott twisting his doughy body away and moving—half-sprinting, half-waddling—from Slager through an abandoned, grassy lot. Initially, the scene is almost comical. Scott's legs have 50 years' worth of wear on them, and appear to have but 50 yards' worth of running in them. For a brief moment, the video takes on a familiar quality, like something from an episode of Cops. Instead of pursuing, though, Slager, 33, draws his handgun and fires seven times. After a pregnant pause, Slager shoots once more. Around 30—less? more?—feet into his desperate dash, Scott falls to his knees, and then onto his belly, and sprawls facedown beneath a tree.
Only then does Slager move again, walking toward Scott.
“Put your hands behind your back now!” he orders. Scott doesn’t comply. When the officer gets to the body, he handcuffs Scott’s arms behind his back, then stands up, like he’s forgotten something. He first walks, then jogs back to the spot from where he shot, and picks an object off the ground. As a second officer approaches Scott, speaking into his walkie-talkie for a medical kit, Slager ambles back over, then drops the object on the ground next to the dead man.
"This just doesn't sound right," Scott's surviving brother, Anthony, would later say. "How do you lose your life at a traffic stop?"
On Tuesday, Slager was charged with murder after a cell-phone video of Scott's death was released. Thanks to technology and chance, we now know a lot about Scott's final seconds. He was executed. It's right here:
For as long as there have been white people and black people and brown people in America, white people have slaughtered black people and brown people. Over the years, the techniques have changed slightly, even as they've bled into each other. Slavery was slaughter, just as hanging and dragging and beating and hacking are slaughter, just as electrocuting and poisoning and shooting are slaughter. But whatever the method, whites have slaughtered minorities, and there is no reason to think they won't continue to do so.
The killings of minorities by police are instructive in this regard, not because all policemen are violent racists or murderers (the vast majority are neither) or because they are personally responsible for killing large numbers of black and brown people (they aren't), but because they are agents of the state, and so their actions, and the consequences they face, serve as a sort of index of the public will.
We know things about this sort of killing. Last year, ProPublica published a study concluding that black teenage boys are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers. (The findings have since been debated, but all agree that the disparity is enormous.) Mapping Police Violence reports that in March, 36 black people—one every 21 hours—were killed by cops. In big towns and small towns and cities across the nation, minorities are being killed by the very men and women sworn to protect and to serve them.