America's lethal Negrophobia: More than just the Charlotte police killed Keith Lamont Scott

We know the police can show restraint — they show it with armed white men but not with black and brown people


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Chauncey DeVega
September 26, 2016 6:00PM (UTC)

On Saturday, two events occurred simultaneously that together demonstrate America’s deep divides on the issues of race, crime, guns, and justice. 

In response to public pressure, the Charlotte police have finally released partial video of last Tuesday's shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by their officers. It plays like a type of Rorschach test or a digital version of “Rashomon.” 

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If the Charlotte police department’s account is to be believed, its plainclothes officers witnessed Scott smoking marijuana in his car. He supposedly warned them off by displaying his pistol in the car window. The officers returned with backup and announced that they were police.

As shown on video recorded from a body camera, the officers approach Keith Scott’s sport utility vehicle and attempt to break its windows. Scott exits the vehicle. The police yell and order him to put down his weapon. Keith Scott makes no threatening movements towards the police. Instead he walks backward toward them. Seconds later several gunshots are heard. The police swarm Scott. He is heard sobbing as his life bleeds out of him.

Neither of the two videos released by the Charlotte police show Scott's pistol. The city’s chief of police admitted this fact, when during Saturday’s press conference he said, “There is no definitive visual evidence that he had a gun in his hand.” 

Meanwhile in San Francisco, local police have been patiently negotiating for many hours with a man who is brandishing a gun near the San Francisco Civic Center. He is suicidal and has threatened to shoot any police that approach him. The police are in contact with his family and have not yet used force against him.

What is the difference between the two men? Scott is black. The man in San Francisco is white. This is part of a larger pattern in America, in which the country’s police appear much more likely to use force against black and brown people (regardless of if they have a weapon) while showing great restraint and self-control when dealing with armed whites.

There are many recent examples of this lethal double standard along the color line.

A white man, Gregory Rose, was wanted by police for murder and arson in Michigan. He led police on a chase and rammed them with his stolen car. He was arrested and not shot.

A white man, Brian Fitch, shot and killed a St. Paul, Minnesota, police officer. He also shot at other police. Fitch was wounded by police and taken into custody alive.

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A white man and Donald Trump supporter, Austin Harrouff, killed two of his neighbors in Florida. He then attacked a third person and began eating his face. Still. the police did everything they could to avoid shooting him. Harrouff was eventually taken into custody alive.

A white man, Joseph Houseman, had a rifle and threatened to shoot police and their families in Michigan. The police negotiated with him for at least 40 minutes. He was not arrested. The police determined that he was intoxicated and confiscated his weapon. Houseman was allowed to claim his rifle the next day at the police station.

A white man, Lance Tamayo, exited his car while driving in San Diego and then proceeded to threaten children and police with a pistol. Lance Tamayo even ran toward police while pointing his weapon at them. The police negotiated with the man. They eventually shot him in the stomach. The police then continued to negotiate with Tamayo before he surrendered.

A white man, Jed Frazier, was drunk and drove his car into a ditch alongside a road in Pennsylvania. The police approached him. Frazier aimed his gun at them. The police did not kill Jed Frazier. Instead they broke his car windows and arrested him.

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A white man, Leighton Marchetta, drove to a Georgia state police post and shot at two officers using a hunting rifle. He then charged at them. The troopers wounded Marchetta in the shoulder. After a manhunt, Marchetta was taken into custody. He was not killed.

A white man, Bill Jones, ambushed two Arkansas police. Jones killed one of the officers. He then barracked himself in his home. The police allowed him to surrender alive.

A white man, Derrick Thomas, went on a crime spree in New Orleans, where he robbed a home, shot at local construction workers and led police on a chase. When cornered by the police, he reportedly demanded that they drop their weapons. The police arrested Thomas without shooting him.

A white man, James Holmes, killed 12 people and wounded 70 others at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. He was armed with multiple guns and explosives. The police took Holmes into custody unharmed.

These are but a few of the many knives that have been thrust into the black body politic, then twisted as reminders that the American criminal justice system and its police treat people of color and whites quite differently.

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There is a public script that will be followed in response to the video of Keith Lamont Scott's being killed by the Charlotte police.

Conservatives, police fetishists, overt racists and other authoritarians will howl with glee that the Charlotte police video “proves” that Scott was a “threat” and how black people are “hysterical,” “irrational” and do not care about the “evidence.”

More sensible voices will respond that the police video of the killing raises many more questions than it does answers.

The tired talking points and crippled logic that suggest that “black people commit the most crime in America” and thus the notion “it makes sense that the police shoot them more often” will also be dusted off. Of course, such claims omit the fact that America’s police are more likely to use force against black men in both low and high crime areas and are faster to shoot black people and kill black men at a rate three times that of whites — which is greater than any racial disparity in violent crime between the two groups.

And the flimflam artists and other purveyors of what is known as “reasonable” or “statistical” racism will ignore how even if the statistics about “black crime” are correct that one cannot accurately deduce the probability of a given individual's committing a crime from such aggregate data.

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Keith Lamont Scott did not need to die. He like so many other black men, women, boys and girls was a victim of “Negrophobia.” America is sick with this disease, which has afflicted America since before the founding and lingers on in the age of Obama. It has infected the country’s police and citizens. Unfortunately, there are few signs that Negrophobia will be cured any time soon.


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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