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OpEd: Are We All Just One Bullet Away From Becoming a Hashtag?

After what should have been a routine traffic stop, another black body lay lifeless in the street.
Walter Scott runs from North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager before he was shot in a video taken by an anonymous bystander.
Walter Scott runs from North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager before he was shot in a video taken by an anonymous bystander.
/ Source: NBC News

After what should have been a routine traffic stop, another black body lay lifeless in the street.

Last Saturday, an unarmed black man named Walter Scott was shot 8 times in the back by a white police officer. Cause of death: driving while black with a broken taillight. Officer Michael Slager unloaded his weapon 8 times until Scott fell to the ground. He reported the incident stating, “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser.”

Haven’t we heard this story before—scary black bodies and crippling white fear?

John Crawford was holding a pellet gun in an Ohio Wal-Mart, an open carry state, in a store that sells guns. KILLED. Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. KILLED. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun in a park. KILLED. Oscar Grant was riding the subway. KILLED. Trayvon Martin wanted a snack from the store. KILLED. Renisha McBride was asking for help. KILLED. Michael Brown held his hands up and said, “don’t shoot.” KILLED. Sean Bell was celebrating his upcoming wedding. KILLED. Jonathan Ferrell was in a car crash and went looking for help. KILLED. Amadou Diallo was standing outside of his apartment armed with a wallet. KILLED. The list goes on and on.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the leading cause of death for black males is heart disease. I’m not so sure their assessment accounts for environment—namely the hostile environment that black people (men in particular) have to exist under. There is an expectation to remain docile in the face of blatant discrimination, racism, and police harassment—for fear of being killed for simply daring to exist.

In light of recent events it seems that daring to be black and unapologetic about your blackness (read: walk, breathe, exist) could now be named as the number one cause of death for black males, women and children. How dare Walter Scott have a broken taillight? How dare Tamir Rice play in a park like a child? How dare Trayvon Martin protect his head with a hood in the rain?

What’s most troubling however, was a post I saw on Twitter during a protest over Walter Scott’s killing. A young black woman held up a sign that read: “We’re All One Bullet Away From Becoming a #.” It occurred to me in that moment after reading the sign that if we live long enough to actually die of heart disease, which doesn’t come on suddenly— we should consider ourselves lucky.

How many more names of loved ones stolen by police bigotry and a falsified sense of “fear” will be trending on Twitter? How many more black victims of police violence will become unwilling martyrs in a war we’re literally not armed to fight?

Several black celebrities have offered “advice” on dealing with racism and state sanctioned police violence—they say we should adapt. They recommend that we embrace our “colorlessness” and celebrate the fact we have a black President.

The only thing all of the victims listed above have in common is their skin color and their innocence.

I would argue that the election of President Obama lulled us all into believing that we really were “post-racial.” His win set off sirens of celebration that “we had evolved”—except you can’t evolve from what you don’t address. To be “post- something” assumes that we have moved beyond.

Public opinion polls after the Zimmerman verdict asked which person people believed -- either Trayvon Martin (a dead child) or George Zimmerman (a self-appointed vigilante) -- and the numbers were split down racial lines.

Black Americans do not experience this country the same way as white Americans -- the system was simply not designed for us to. Looking at systemic issues through an historical lens from slavery to Jim Crow, from discriminatory housing regulations and school segregation to drug enforcement policies — it’s this hardened reality that makes us far from “post-racial.” It’s this nuanced reality that leaves Walter Scott dead for a broken taillight and the critical need for video documentation to arrest his killer.

One death of an unarmed black man, woman or child by a police officer is a tragedy—a laundry list full is genocide masquerading as a “police brutality” epidemic.

We don’t need to be armed to form an army. It’s time we protect and serve each other.

Yes, #BlackLivesMatter, but Walter Scott was more than a hashtag in a series of tragic losses. He was a veteran, father, son, and brother. He was a black man that deserved better than to be shot in the back as if his life didn't matter.