The murder of Walter Scott which most of you have viewed via video taken by one incredibly brave individual speaks to so many things but strikes at the heart of a long held societal belief that has framed not only the way that people view each other but also has shaped the American justice system.
It is a long held belief that a person who is defined as good is one who has a “good” job, has a family (is married), goes to church regularly, and gives back to his community via actual work or donations to charity.
To dial down deeper, a person who is a “professional” ie a lawyer, doctor, CEO, or anything on that level is considered by society at large and more relevant our justice system to be above reproach. This plays out in our courts every day. A person accused of a crime who falls into one of those categories is not treated the same way as a person who is unemployed, on public assistance, or even works at what society deems a menial job. Bail may be denied, probation may be withheld simply because an individual is not deemed a “productive member of society” via a construct that on its face does not take into consideration whether it is a viable definition for everyone to ascribe to or be measured by. In worse case scenarios, entire municipalities may feel justified in generating revenue by aggressively targeting their own residents by targeting them by law enforcement with punitive and discriminatory application of existing laws that result in fines that can never be fully paid off and or jail time that in and of itself impairs the ability of the individual to ascend into that “productive member of society” status.
The belief that somehow a person who has not followed a certain approved “path” in their life makes them somehow worth less than others who have managed to travel a different path for whatever reason is stock in trade and allows for the branding of an underclass of people much to the detriment of society as a whole. Introducing racism into this construct exacerbates the situation and brings us to the murder of Walter Scott and others like him. The stop and frisk, and racial profiling that is endemic in many municipalities in this country speak to the worst case scenario where an entire RACE of people are viewed as “less than” because of a long held social construct that by its very nature is not applicable across the board and does not allow for equal application of the law.
The belief that a person who has made mistakes or bad choices in their lives at some point in time – allows for them to be treated as anything other than a human being is what drives the actions of people like Michael Slager. Feeling justified in actions that result all too often with the death of an individual because they were “no good” to begin with. This drives the need to dredge up the background of a victim to somehow “justify” actions that would never even be condoned in any other situation. There is a long held belief and perception that good people don’t make mistakes that their lives are a reflection of that. The things that they are able to acquire, a home, new car, material things somehow make them BETTER, whereas those who have not been able to obtain outward signs of achievement, who have not risen to the level of a professional, who may be unemployed, or even who may have at one time in their lives been in carcerated, are automatically less than human, less deserving of compassion or understanding. In the case of Walter Scott and too many to name lately, were not deserving of living another day. These beliefs and the individuals that are allowed to act on them with impunity and the support of society at large will, if left unchecked be the undoing of this country and its so-called freedoms;
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator, certain unalienable rights, That among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the GOVERNED, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, It is the right of the People to Alter or Abolish it and to institute New Government.”