Further to my last post about Darren Wilson’s deceitful grand-jury testimony, in which he claimed that Mike Brown seized his gun, Michael Slager, the South Carolina police officer who executed Walter Scott, also claimed that his victim got control of his weapon–until a witness’s video showed no such thing.
According to initial news reports, Slager and the North Charleston police department claimed that Scott and Slager struggled over Slager’s Taser until Scott not only obtained the Taser but tried to use it on Slager, which forced Slager to retaliate:
Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him, police alleged.
The video of this purported struggle, of course, shows no struggle—just Scott running away and posing zero threat to Slager.
Similarly, Wilson too claimed there was a struggle between him and Brown—and note how the term “struggle” normalizes a profoundly asymmetric differential of power and violence—and that Brown also got control of the cop’s weapon. Unsurprisingly, this was a matter of protracted attention during Wilson’s testimony at the grand jury (pages 20/214 to 23/217):
He immediately grabs my gun and says ‘you are too much of a pussy to shoot me.’ The way he grabbed me, do you have a picture? …
My gun was basically pointed this way. I’m in my car, he’s here, it is pointed this way, but he grabs it with his right hand, not his left, he grabs it with his right one and he twists it and then he digs it down into my hip. [indicating]
Then, in the moments it takes to project several photos of Wilson’s gun, the questioning attorney goes back to Wilson’s claim that Brown was “striking you in the face through the car door,” and that Wilson “needed to pull out your weapon,” setting up Wilson to say his life was in danger (“why did you feel that way,” the attorney asks. “I don’t want to put words in your mouth.”):
I felt that another one of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse….I’ve already taken two to the face…the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.
In response, the attorney consolidates the possibility of fatality to an absolute: “You thought he could hit you and it would be a fatal injury?” (emphasis mine).
Reading these short passages, the degree of orchestration involved in Wilson’s testimony is clear: the assertion that Brown grabbed his gun, the re-enactment of Brown grabbing his gun, the visual documentation of the gun, the attorney’s corroboration of the fatal threat Brown posed. If this extravagant scene wouldn’t be out of place in a Law and Order episode, that’s because it’s just as fictional. And the fiction is only underscored by Slager’s—and his police department’s—similar, if abbreviated, account of his life threatened by Scott, when in fact it wasn’t.
Indeed, we should resist the naturalized fact that police officers “put their lives on the line” when in the “line of duty”—a dubious moral assertion that nonetheless seems to be the single greatest rationale for their never-justified violence. Slager’s plain lie demonstrates anew that police will say anything to save themselves from culpability—a safety their victims don’t have, from culpability or death.