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The Cover-up is Worse Than the Crime: The Walter Scott Shooting

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Police Shootings", please click here.)

Almost a year ago, I knew that police shootings would be our “Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2015”. Why?

Because of the shooting of Walter Scott.

Walter Scott’s shooting definitely wasn’t the first (and probably wasn’t the worst) police shooting of an unarmed man, but it was the only one I followed in real time, right when the video leaked, following new information as it came out. Unlike other police shootings, there was no grey area. This video was a perfectly clear example of police misconduct, unequivocal in its ugliness, of a man literally getting shot in the back. For the first time, I (Eric C) spent two days researching, writing and collecting my thoughts on police shootings. This one was the turning point for me personally. Why?

Because I was so, so angry.

The lies infuriated me the most. Michael Slager, both during and immediately after shooting Walter Scott, lied about what actually happened, claiming that Scott went for his taser. The North Charleston Police then released similar statements, which were then repeated by the media. At the time, this was just one of many police shootings that I, and the rest of the country, ignored.

Then the cell phone video showing what actually happened was released, proving Slager’s account was false. For me, and the rest of the country, the release of this video changed everything.

This isn't the only example. Police officers misled investigators and the public (or lied) about Freddie Gray. And Aubrey Williams. And Nijza Lamar Hagans. Or Laquan McDonald. Or Derrick Price, in which the police also fabricated video evidence so they could beat a suspect. Or all the examples in our post here. I’m sure we could find more.

After all these tragedies, the simple takeaway is this: the public should no longer trust the police narrative in civilian shootings. At least, they shouldn’t take the officer’s word over that of the civilian’s. We’ve seen too many instances proving that, in a violent altercation, each side has their own reasons to lie. But I think I have a solution to make officers more wary about lying in the future:

Civilians need to keep the videos of police misconduct hidden from police for much longer.

If you film a police shooting, don’t release the video immediately. Or even a few days later. Wait, for a few weeks or months. Wait until the officer has lied, publicly. Wait until he has lied under oath. Wait until the media has repeated those lies. Wait until the department “finishes” their investigation. Then release the video. The public tends to believe what police officers have to say about shooting incidents. This happened in the Walter Scott shooting. At first, the public believed Slager, but within four days a video revealed his lies (and consequently the department’s lies).

Imagine if it had been held longer.

Right now, the video merely debunked Slager. But the entire process--from police investigating the crimes to district attorneys prosecuting the offenders--is culpable in defending police misconduct. If the video is held longer, more people can say and do things obstructing justice, and then get called out for it. Or worse.

Also, holding the videos will let the fear dangle longer. It would make district attorneys and police chiefs afraid that a video might be out there, and might drop at any time. It might make them actually investigate shootings with a critical eye, like they would for civilians. Or one could specifically leak the video to activists and lawyers so they can get officers to lie under oath. Tie them up in multiple knots. This would make police officers and police chiefs more wary about lying in the future.

I don’t want to keep writing about this topic. It is dark, ugly and divisive. But watching videos like the one of Walter Scott’s shooting, I know we have to.