If you go back and look at some of the arrests that were made, I can about say probably 70 percent of those had out-of-state IDs."
-- Todd Walther, spokesman for the North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police, describing those arrested during the protests in Charlotte last week.
Seventy percent were from out of state.
Seventy percent of those protesting in Charlotte are outside agitators.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, September 22, 2016, police spokesman Todd Walther said with confidence seventy percent of those arrested during the violence in Charlotte, North Carolina this week were “instigators that are coming in from the outside.”
The violence in Charlotte was instigated by agitators coming from outside the state.
Not by people who actually live there.
The implication being, as it was after Ferguson, the violence isn’t a legitimate expression of rage and frustration by a population fed up with the perception of police brutality and abuse of power. That statement automatically delegitimizes the protests themselves, as indeed it was designed to do. Walther’s statement delegitimizes not the violence – or rather not just the violence, which may or may not be a legitimate and necessary expression of protest depending on your point of view – but the entire idea of black people protesting altogether. The idea that the vast majority of those arrested are confirmed to be in reality outside actors, agents provocateur, immediately taints the entire protest itself and confirms for many whites that those black people rioting in the streets of Charlotte aren’t really yelling about civil rights at all – instead they’re smashing things and lighting shit on fire because, you know, that’s what black people do.
That’s why the police have to shoot them in the first place.
There’s just one problem with Walther’s statement: it’s completely and totally false.
Oh, right. You’re right, of course. There are many things wrong with Walther’s statement beyond its falseness. You’re right and we’ll get to that. Bear with me for a bit.
Walther made that statement on Thursday.
On Friday he was – in the vernacular of our times – forced to “walk it back.”
In more precise terms: he lied.
Walther acting as the official spokesman for the North Carolina police union was completely wrong, deliberately so. He lied. In reality, a full seventy-nine percent of those arrested since the violence began in Charlotte were in point of fact residents of Charlotte and all of the remainder were from surrounding areas in North Carolina. None of those arrested were from out of state. Not one.
The official spokesman for the North Carolina police union, a man you are supposed to be able to trust, lied.
During an interview with the Charlotte Observer on Friday, Walther was forced to admit his comments were “inaccurate and merely based on speculation.”
“I didn’t quote facts,” said Walther. “It’s speculation. That’s all it was.”
Speculation. Well, that part is the truth.
But then he lied again, because that’s not all it was and he knows it – or he wouldn’t have made the original statement in the first place.
Walther knew his statement was speculation when he made it, yet he made it anyway and deliberately didn’t caveat it with the part where it wasn’t based on factual information. That is a lie by omission.
Why make the statement, that particular statement, in the first place?
We hear this statement, this particular statement, in nearly every case where black people take to the street following a police shooting. It was outside instigators. Agents provocateur.
Why make that particular statement?
Walther’s comment as the official spokesman for the police of North Carolina is a clear indicator of institutional bias. It’s an indicator of the fear and contempt the police hold for the people they are supposed to protect. It’s a dog whistle directed at a specific population. Walther was, in point of fact, telling white people what they wanted to hear: this isn’t about racism or inequality or abuse of power, no, instead the protests were mostly caused by black thugs who just wanted to smash things and light shit on fire. Exactly what most of those white people believe in the first place.
It’s deliberate confirmation bias, otherwise there was no point whatsoever in saying it in the first place.
And the message is this: the police were completely justified in shooting Keith Lamont Scott because you just can’t trust black men not to resort to violence. Nothing to see here, move along.
And, by Walther’s own admission, that was a deliberate lie.
And so the question at this point is this: how do you know?
How can you trust the police? How can you trust the police when their own spokesman by his own admission is engaged in speculation and not facts? If he lied about the simple things, if he lied to reinforce stereotypes, to favor one part of the population and delegitimize another, then how can you believe him when he tells you his officers were justified in killing a citizen?
He might be right, those officers might have been justified, but how would you know?
After two days of protests and violence in Charlotte I wrote a number of Facebook posts.
One began with this headline:
North Carolina Governor Declares State of Emergency After Another Night of Violence.
The post ridiculed the idea that it took two days of violence to get North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s attention. It took two days of violence and then instead of actually addressing the cause of the violence, the old white men did what old white men always do when faced with angry people in the streets: they declared a state of emergency and called in the military.
I suggested that the entire state of emergency could have been avoided if only those supposed leaders like Governor McCrory had declared an emergency after Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson (or Trayvon Martin, or Dontre Hamilton, or Eric Garner, or John Crawford III, or Ezell Ford, or Dante Parker, or Tanisha Anderson, or Akai Gurley, or Tamir Rice, or Rumain Brisbon, or Jerame Reid, or Tony Robinson, or Phillip White, or Eric Harris, or Walter Scott, or Freddie Gray, or etcetera and there are many etceteras going all the way back to Selma, Alabama), if only McCrory and those like him had taken action at any of those pivotal moments, if only they’d declared a state of emergency then, and taken the steps necessary to rein in and retrain the forces under their command, taken steps to address the reason for the protests in the first place, then perhaps Charlotte might never have happened.
But then what would you expect of a governor who has worked deliberately and systematically with North Carolina’s legislature to pass laws disenfranchising and marginalizing those they dislike – in particular people of color?
I also mentioned that after two nights of violence, another black man, Justin Carr, lay dead in the street (he had been shot in the head and later died at a hospital).
I ended that post with this:
Sometimes your only reason for existence is to serve as a metaphor for larger things.
I asked my readers on Facebook to think on that carefully.
Now I rarely use words by accident.
I rarely write things that are only what they appear, one layer deep, and nothing more (yes, including the jokes and the humor pieces and even the bits about my cats). I rarely write things that are not part of some larger context.
Earlier in the week I wrote about choice.
I wrote a Facebook post that went viral where I talked about being forced to take sides. You can find the full text of that essay here on American News X, but the heart of that post leads off with
When you attack my friends for their sex or sexual orientation or their identity or their race or the color of their skin or who they love, then you force me to take a side. You or them.
and that’s the larger context I was working within when I asked my readers to think about Charlotte.
That’s the context I was working within, knowing that not everybody who read the later posts would be aware of that context or bother to go looking for it – and yet would respond with confidence anyway.
As I said, my post are rarely only as they seem.
And so I asked my Facebook audience to think about Charlotte as part of history with the implication being that the violence there is just the latest step in a march which stretches all the way back to 1965 and Bloody Sunday.
Naturally, I got mail.
[…] there's not a whole lot of credible information available right now. Family says Scott had a book, cops say he had a gun. […] The guy [Justin Carr]shot at the protests last night? People in the area say it was cops that did it […] cops say it was gang violence, or a personal beef, or whatever [..] it’s just as reasonable- to believe that the police shot and killed Mr. Scott because he was black as it is to think that he was killed because he pointed a gun at the officers on the scene. […]Now for all of us in Charlotte, you could also be forgiven for having not a clue that anything was going on last night.
Scott’s family says it was a book.
Cops say it was a gun.
People say it was cops who shot Carr.
Cops say it was gang violence or a personal dispute.
Maybe I believe the cops shot both men because they were black. Maybe I don’t.
Maybe I don’t have a clue as to what happened in Charlotte.
Perhaps this correspondent is right about everything, but how do you know?
How do you know?
Jim, it saddens me to see this post from you. I enjoy your banter most of the time, but you sir are now ranking yourself among other ignorant people. Did you not read your own news link? Or any others? The man [Keith Lamont Scott] was armed, a 2 time felon and the only witnesses to say otherwise were his family members, hmm. Video is being released to his family and other leaders of the community. Doesn't exactley [sic]sound like the moves of a coverup [sic]. ALSO, the man shot last night [Justin Carr], is not dead yet, but in critical condition, shot at an ATM by another civilian, please get your facts straight. Otherwise you are just being another part of the problem by misinforming people. Thanks, probably won't even read this of consider what I've said, but the truth is out there, promote that!
The truth is out there.
Scott’s family said he had a book.
The police say he had a gun.
Scott was a “second time” felon – but how would the cops have known that at the time, they hadn’t even identified him when he was shot. How would they know?
And again, maybe this correspondent is right.
But how do you know?
The burden of proof is on the police, isn’t it?
I mean shouldn’t the burden of proof, of trust, be on the people who killed a man?
So what would make you trust the police?
No, the more precise question is: Why should you trust the police?
Why should you trust the police? Given that the Thin Blue Line always closes ranks around situations like this, given that the police control all of the evidence, given the history of shootings like this one, given that list of dead black men above, why should you trust the police?
No. Stop. Don’t roll your eyes and dismiss the question.
Don’t resort to politics and don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. If you’re a conservative, the police are right. If you’re a liberal, the family of the dead black man are right. Don’t do that. Have the moral courage to put your politics aside for one goddamned minute and answer the question, coldly and logically: why should you trust the police? Why should any citizen trust the police?
In general, why should you trust the police?
In the specifics, why should people of color trust the police?
What untainted, uninvolved, unbiased mechanisms exist to provide us with factual data?
What leaders, what politicians, what legislatures, exist that we can all trust to police those who police us?
What history exists which demonstrate the police are trustworthy in cases such as this one? What history demonstrates to people of color that they can expect justice or even the same level of scrutiny normal in the death of a white citizen?
What power structure exists that we can turn to for consistent and unvarnished truth, for unbiased judgement, for an honest and just investigation of the events? One that we can all trust to be honest and just without question, every time.
What source of information can we find regarding this event, or the one before, a source without an agenda and free of manipulation, one that provides detailed facts without accidental or deliberate distortion, and one that is so consistent in its duty as the watchdog of the republic for all citizens equally that we all can believe it every time?
If this was your father, your brother, your son, dead at the hands of police, where do you go for the truth? Truth you can trust?
While the protests raged in Charlotte, out in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Officer Betty Shelby shot another unarmed black man, Terence Crutcher, to death during a routine traffic stop. Shelby claimed she was in fear of her life – in fact she said she’d never been so afraid. And yet, video of the shooting clearly shows Crutcher with his hands up and his back to Shelby when she shot him. Granted Crutcher was not complying with Officer Shelby’s orders, but he also clearly wasn’t menacing her – and even the authorities were forced to admit this.
Shelby was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
So again, why should you trust the police?
How can you trust the word of an officer who is so terrified of a black man that she shot him in the back?
Without that video it would be the officer’s word against a dead man’s. The Thin Blue Line closes around her, the investigation is conducted by the police, the forensic evidence is all gathered and processed by the police. And without that video, there would be nothing, nothing, to dispute the officer’s story.
And that is true in far, far too many such cases.
Conversely, or perhaps as an aside, far too often if there is video it’s not clear and provides no proof either way – or it’s subject to erasure or manipulation or “malfunction.”
So, how do you know?
How do you as a citizen know?
No. I said stop it. Don’t roll your eyes and dismiss the question. Have the courage to face it head on. How. Do. You. Know? As an American, as a citizen, how do you know?
What, specifically, gives you reason to trust the word of the police?
Spell it out. List the reasons, line by line, one after the other.
Answer the question without politics. Without race. Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts. Why should should Americans trust their police? Why? Name ten indisputable reasons based on fact. Go.
Can’t do it, can you?
And doesn’t that bother you?
Doesn’t that bother you as a citizen? Regardless of race, regardless of political party, doesn’t it concern you that you don’t have any real way to know?
Doesn’t that bother you as a cop? As a cop don’t you want to be trusted? Taken at your word? Held to a higher standard? Part of a trusted cadre, a brotherhood of justice and truth, just like in the comic books? Doesn’t it bother you that I can’t take you at your word? That I am forced to doubt you every single time I see a black man bleeding in the street? Well?
Doesn’t bother you as a politician? As a leader? As a governor? As a mayor? As a lawmaker? As the town council? Doesn’t it bother you that the citizens of your community – that people of color – can’t trust your police force?
Or don’t you care?
Are you comfortable with the “truth” being whatever your gut tells you based on skin color and political party?
Are you comfortable with the current state of affairs? Riot and violence? Protest? Another citizen of whatever color dead in the street? If you believe black lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter, then doesn’t this bother you?
Doesn’t the hypocrisy bother you?
I mean, let’s be honest here, shall we? Those who hate and fear the government most, those who tell us the government cannot be trusted, those who sneer and dismiss every single word the government says as a lie, are the ones right now telling me to believe the police without question.
Ironic, that, wouldn’t you say?
Especially ironic, given that many police officers themselves are conservatives who tell me that I can’t trust the government.
Why should I trust the police when I can’t even trust the spokesman for the police union not to lie, not to engage in fact free speculation and deliberate falsehoods? Why should I trust the authority of the police when they themselves don’t trust governmental authority? And, again, isn’t it ironic that those who hate unions most of all are the ones telling me to trust the police union? I digress.
Politics isn’t proof.
So what then?
The press? You believe in the accuracy of the press? What in recent years has given you reason to trust the press? Be specific. Show your work.
The politicians? The man on the street? The mob? Me?
How do you know?
The truth of the matter is that we don’t know.
We have no way of knowing.
And we should.
In that example above, I didn’t ask my readers to take a side. But they did anyway.
Because in the absence of proof, in the absence of trust, in the absence of justice, they have little option. They must take a side, we must all take a side. And even if you chose to ignore the situation, even if you go blithely on with your life pretending dead black men in the street don’t concern you, you’ve still made a choice.
And that choice is not based on fact or truth or rightness, but because we have been forced to take a side in a political war.
Those we should be able to trust, the police, the press, our leaders, are the least trustworthy, the least reliable.
Until we start holding these agencies to higher standards, until we hold our leaders and our guardians to account, until we demand proof, until we demand liberty and justice for all, until we hold ourselves to higher standards as citizens, until then, our cities will burn.
This is not a black and white issue.
This is not liberal or conservative issue.
This is not a black lives matter issue or a blue lives matter issue.
This is not a Republican or Democratic Party issue.
This is an issue of justice for each and every one of us.
It’s a matter of trust.
Up above I said something many of you walked right on past without a second glance.
But others of you caught it. Some of you saw a single word and it pulled you up short. That word made you raise an eyebrow and frown. That word made you open your mouth … and then close it on a hard straight line. That word has you even now reaching for your keyboard in protest.
That word is perception.
“…the perception of police brutality and abuse of power.”
Because we see the death of Keith Lamont Scott through the eyes of our particular politics instead of in the cold hard light of truth, many of you didn’t give that line a second glance.
But some of you are outraged.
Outraged that I might be insinuating the protests and the anger on the streets of Charlotte (and Ferguson, and Los Angeles, and New York, and Detroit, and Baltimore, and Tulsa, and Madison, and Brighton, and Cleveland, and Milwaukee, and all of those places back to Selma itself) might somehow be invalid, somehow nothing more than a perception of police abuse where none really exists.
And it may be so.
But how can you know?
I used that word on purpose.
Because that’s what this is about. Perception. Keith Lamont Scott, lying dead in the street is about perception. His death is a metaphor for larger things, for how we see each other and most especially how we see our protectors, our leaders, and our nation.
This is about trust. And trust is about perception.
The police – and the press and our politicians – must not only be worthy of trust, they themselves should want our trust as citizens above all. For our society to survive, for our cities to remain unburned, we must perceive them as trustworthy.
But trust, like respect, cannot be forced at the muzzle of a gun.
Trust must be earned. By every action, by every word.
To be trusted, you must be worthy of trust.
For trust, there must be justice.
And if you are not, if you are not worthy of trust as police, as leaders, as the press, then you must be held to account by those whose confidence you have betrayed.
And thus it falls to us, you and me.
If we want a better nation, we have to be better citizens.