On Tuesday the Stop Mass Incarceration Network organized a protest in New York City (one that turned violent on the Brooklyn Bridge), as well as several more across the nation calling for an end to police violence. Carl Dix, co-founder of the organization along with Cornel West, said that “what it came down to is that the declaration for the movement that’s calling for an end to police being given a green light to murder people, especially black and Latino people, is back.”
The coordinated demonstration followed the shooting death of Walter Scott in South Carolina by a police officer named Michael Slager. The violent incident, which occurred during a traffic stop on April 4th, was caught on video by a 23-year-old bystander, Feidin Santana, who released the recording to authorities only Slager had officially described his side of the story which falsely recounted Scott taking the cop’s taser. According to the New Yorker, Santana “has said that he feared possible retaliation and wanted to see if Slager would tell the truth.” The officer was stripped of his badge and fired “with no hesitation” and the Mayor of North Charleston quickly sided with the victim’s family as did the Chief of Police who said he was “sickened by what I saw.”
Though Slager’s case is still pending (he’s been charged with murder) all signs point to this case of the killing of an unarmed black man by a cop ending very differently than either Ferguson or the Eric Garner case. Yet despite the seemingly more appropriate reaction of the authorities at a mostly white police department, serving in a mostly white government in a city that is nearly half black, the fact remains that another unarmed black man was killed by a police officer’s use of force.
Dix did not agree that the North Charleston police department’s actions were influenced by the protest movement. “In South Carolina there was a justifiable homicide in progress, and that’s what was going to happen until a video came out,” he argued. “We can’t really talk about ‘appropriate responses’ in the case where the lies were revealed to the eyes of the world and then the police department takes those steps. We have to say OK, you’ve charged this officer, now let’s see if you convict him and let’s see if this represents a change in behavior.”
Dix added that he didn’t think it was enough to charge the officer with murder. “You have to convict him and then you have to go after the cops who backed him up because that’s aiding and abetting,” he argued.
And the video in the case of Walter Scott is indisputably chilling—watch as Scott takes off running and Slager runs after him, then stops to calmly aims and shoots several times. At one point he steps back to pick something up off the ground, approaches a dying Scott and plants the object next to him. In light of Slager’s allegations that Scott grabbed the officer’s taser, it’s likely the object is that taser. Throughout the video you can hear Santana, the camera man mumbling, “Oh shit,” and as an audience we are right there with him.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see the Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protest movements ignite once again. And while it’s been several months since the mostly peaceful protests turned violent (in December, two cops were allegedly assaulted on the Brooklyn Bridge), clearly tensions remained high between police and protesters.
Gothamist reported that cops arrested 42 protestors. Things started to get ugly after “a plainclothes NYPD officer was allegedly assaulted before he drew his firearm and pointed it into a crowd of protesters.”
Dix recalled that “the NYPD brutalized a number of people, including sending two arrestees to the hospital and one young woman who wasn’t arrested, but the police broke her ribs during the protest and an undercover police officer pulled out a gun and pulled it on protestors.” He added that the NYPD’s actions on Tuesday “essentially underscored why this protest movement is necessary.”
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Mayor called out the trouble makers amongst the peaceful protesters—a departure from his previous statements in support of peaceful demonstrations:
“And any other person who might use the right to peaceful protest as cover to initiate violence, cause mayhem or incite disorder—whether against the police, the people or property of our great city—should consider themselves on notice that New York City will not stand for it.”
In response to the police actions on Tuesday, the Stop Mass Incarceration Network is carrying out another protest at City Hall which began late this afternoon to condemn the NYPD’s actions.
“The demands are that the charges be dropped against everyone that the police arrested during the April 14th protests,” Dix explained. “We also demand that the mayor repudiate and retract his threats to thoroughly investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the protestors.”
Dix added, echoing the Mayor’s statement: “There should be a thorough investigation, but it should be of the cops who carried out this brutality.”