Rudnik > A Murder in Living Color

| April 15, 2015

When Watching a Murder Unfold before Our Eyes, We Can Help but Contemplate the Same Question We’ve Pondered for Millennia.

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Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

I’ve previously written that violence has been inherent to man since Cain slew his brother Abel. The prior reference was a poetic prelude used in the context of the death penalty. It’s likely that my attraction to the parable of the sons of Adam stems from having my own brother—an identical twin, in fact. As a child, when my mother read the Bible to my brother, resting one on arm, and I, on the other, the plot left my more juvenile self deeply mystified. I thought, “How can one possibly murder his own brother? How can this be?”

Cain, the first human born, slew his brother over an unremitting sense of jealousy for Abel’s position. Cain said to his brother, “Let’s go out to the field.” Once there, Cain killed him. Later, God furiously questioned Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” To which Cain gave the famous retort, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

On April 7, the New York Times reported that Michael T. Slager, a police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, was captured on a cellphone video firing eight shots at Walter Scott, a black man with a number of arrests and run-ins with the police, as he fled from Slager.

That’s right, Slager drew his service pistol and shot a fleeing suspect in the back. In the next few minutes, Slager was met at the scene by another officer. Slager didn’t appear make any attempt to give life-saving aid for Mr. Scott but instead retrieved his Taser weapon from the ground and dropped it beside Scott.
Walter Scott died on that barren, infertile field behind a North Charleston pawn shop.

Scott was 50-years-old. Slager has been charged with his murder and subsequently dismissed from the North Charleston police department.

Yes, the pundits will remind us that Scott had a troubled past with police. He failed to pay child support. He was stopped for a broken tail light on the Mercedes-Benz he was driving. And he attempted to flee; Slager then pursued him to that field behind the pawn shop. In the field, Slager claimed a scuffle ensued. The video shows what appears to be Taser electrodes being torn from Scott as he ran away.

Despite the ongoing conversation on race, policing, and police shootings, what’s clear is that the laws generally seem to give the “benefit of the doubt” to police officers discharging their duties—oftentimes regardless of what a cellphone video clearly captures (i.e., Eric Garner).

Mr. Scott is no saint. That much is certain. But neither is Mr. Slager.

And what’s more, when a killing is attributable to a police officer, an agent of the court, the implications are even greater since the officer acts in the name of the law. In a democratic society civil constabularies police the streets and arrest defendants to appear in court in our name—the people. So, when an officer uses lethal force against one of us, for us, this becomes increasingly problematic.

There has been a nationwide movement to highlight police shootings. Arguably, none has been as clear as this. Indeed police must keep both themselves and the public safe from harm. But in doing so, they should strive to do the least harm possible. They should be trained in smarter policing and decision-making. And, they should be counseled on the very real implications of drawing their firearms, versus their Tasers, their batons, their pepper spray, or any other less lethal method to subdue an assailant.

Whenever blood is needlessly spilled, I ponder the same question as Cain when the world was so very young: are we acting as our brother’s keeper? Are we acting as God commanded Cain, and all men thereafter, to be our brother’s defender and protector?

Even if we view this killing in the specific pretext of Scott’s troubled past, does this somehow negate our shared responsibility in upholding the sanctity of human life? Or for that matter, did Mr. Scott’s race, being a black man, make him less worthy of our compassion?

What makes the Walter Scott murder so abhorrent is not only the actions of the officer before, during, and after the fatal shooting. It is the starkness of it all. By watching the cellphone video, we all witness a killing, the spilling of another’s blood, before our eyes in living color. This is not Hollywood fantasy violence produced in some studio but dramatically played out in a parched and desolate South Carolina field with no musical interlude, no mercy.

How can this be? How can a sworn officer of the court act with such a callous disregard for a life, a brother, he is sworn to protect? And, how can we say we are truly our brother’s keeper while yet another man lays dead—shot five times in the back—by the hands of yet another police officer?

The answer to these illusive questions is at center of this ongoing national debate. But my answer rests with Cain. As he stood admonished before God in a field many millennia ago over the slain body of his brother, with deep red blood smeared on his hands, Cain replied, “I don’t know.”

And today, neither do I.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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3 Comments on "Rudnik > A Murder in Living Color"

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  1. Ty says:

    DEAR NICKY: There aint no god. Another Dirtbag Cop just killed Another person even if he was a Thug. And the cops a murderer. He deserves all the punishment meated out.

  2. True patriot says:

    No local media wrote anything about this until now ( please let me know if I missed it). Now, where are the poeple who talk about liberty? I know you guys are silent because you support this, and think it was his fault that he ran from the cop. If I missed it, can someone please point it out if any local radio, newspaper talked about this horrific senseless murder?

    • phil singletary says:

      No only nick and valdosta today has the courage. Valdosta daily times is a mouthpiece for local politicians. Valdosta today has some decent writers with different perspectives and issues. That’s why I stopped subscribing to the daily times and just read this site.