A video supplied to The New York Times, showing the shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott at the hands of a South Carolina police officer, appears on first viewing to be the latest example of an unarmed black person killed unnecessarily by a white cop.
But it’s so much more than that. Because three days elapsed between the shooting and the publication of the video of the shooting, the Scott incident became an illuminating case study in the routinized process through which police officers, departments and attorneys frame the use of deadly force by American cops in the most sympathetic possible terms, often claiming fear of the very people they killed. In the days after the shooting, the police version of events — an utterly typical example of the form — was trotted out, only to be sharply contradicted when the video surfaced. In most cases like this, there is no video, no definitive, undisputed record of much of what happened, and thus no way to rebut inaccurate statements by the police.