|Solidarity, not skepticism: Patrolman Slager's supervisor comforts the killer as the victim's life ebbs away.
As many have said, were it not for the video, Michael Thomas Slager would have been quickly exonerated – and, most likely, received a commendation – for the killing of Walter Scott. The most remarkable aspect of that video, however, is not the unbearable spectacle of the shooting itself, but rather the composed, almost clinical way that Slager executes the victim, and the ease with which he makes the transition from the killing to the cover-up.
Slager’s body language while drawing and firing his gun suggested annoyance, rather than urgency. He never bothered to render aid to Scott, choosing instead to handcuff the dying man – fortifying the pretense that the unarmed man who had fled in terror had been a threat to him. Although Slager had sauntered over to examine and truss his victim, he sprinted – well, waddled vigorously – back to the scene of the previous altercation. He retrieved his Taser and then deposited it next to Scott’s bullet-ridden body.
In doing so, Slager tampered with evidence in a crime scene. The patrolman did this casually, in full view of a second police officer, acting in the serene confidence that he would not be required to explain or justify his actions beyond recitation of the familiar formula: “He resisted arrest, he made an aggressive move for my Taser, I feared for my safety and had no choice but to use lethal force.”
A variation on this approach had worked for Slager following an excessive force complaint for using his Taser on an unarmed, unresisting man who was arrested in his own home without cause or explanation. That incident, significantly, was not video-recorded, and no other witnesses were available to contradict the typically mendacious account inscribed by Slager in his official report. Following a review process designed to vindicate the actions of its officers, the North Charleston PD ruled that Slager’s aggravated assault was “justified.”
The same result would have been achieved in the murder of Walter Scott were it not for the presence of a young man equipped with a cellphone and armed with exceptional courage and presence of mind. That complication is the only reason why this incident deviated from the long-established script.
If not for the video, this shooting -- like all other officer-involved shootings – would never have been investigated as a potential criminal homicide, but rather as an “assault on law enforcement.” From that perspective, Scott was identified as the suspect, and Slager as the victim.
The immediate priority for the first “investigator” on the scene was to see to the welfare of the assailant, and to reassure him that he had done the right thing. This explains why the “investigating” officer, rather than confronting the shooter, placed a comforting, collegial hand on his shoulder. The supervisor remained in that posture as Slager recited the first draft of what would have been codified as official “truth” – if Feidin Santana hadn’t happened upon the scene while he was on his way to his job in the productive sector.
Addressing the media after Slager was charged with murder, North Charleston PD Chief Eddie Driggers described himself as “sickened by what he saw” in the Santana’s video. Driggers was appointed to the post three years ago after serving as a law enforcement chaplain. His appointment was made by Mayor Keith Summey without a vetting process of any kind. According to the mayor, Diggers was the obvious choice because of his “experience in law enforcement” and the fact that “a lot of my officers know him, like him and respect him.”
His ministry as senior deputy chaplain with the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy was “to provide pastoral care and counseling for employees and families of first responders” and assisting “the Mobile Crisis Unit and SWAT teams” in various circumstances.
The group’s “Chaplaincy Log” is replete with mentions of ministerial visits and counseling sessions with “first responders,” local police, FBI agents, the Coast Guard, and other members of the State’s enforcement caste. There is the occasional mention of a pastoral visit to a “civilian” in need of comfort, but they are very much the exception. The ministry is overwhelmingly devoted to the needs of the State’s emissaries of official violence, rather than addressing the concerns of the public supposedly served by them.
Driggers spent 35 years as a police officer – including a SWAT operator -- before becoming a chaplain in 2008. When he left that ministry to become North Charleston Police Chief, his place was filled by Harry Sewell, who had just retired as police chief in Charleston.
Given Driggers’ background, and that of the ministry in which he was involved, it’s a reasonable surmise that he was devoted to the Gospel of Authority, so memorably expounded by the Rev. Franklin Graham in a recent Facebook post:
“Listen up, blacks, whites, Latinos, and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air…. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong – YOU OBEY. Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority.”
Instant, unqualified obedience to police is necessary, Franklin insists, because “The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority `because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.’”
Franklin has elsewhere declaimed against Islamic law as if he were an expert. The deficiency he displays in expounding Romans 13 should govern assessments of his competence in interpreting scriptures from other religious traditions.
While there’s no way to know if Slager – who, like his victim, had served in the Coast Guard -- had been catechized in that view of Romans 13, he clearly acted on the same assumptions regarding authority and the propriety of summary execution as punishment for Mundanes who do not render the required tribute of immediate submission. The same assumptions were evinced by the studied lack of curiosity on the part of Slager’s comrades at the crime scene, and the readiness with which his supervisors retailed the killer’s fiction to the public.
The killing of Walter Scott “is not reflective of this entire police department,” Driggers maintains. “One does not throw a blanket across the many.”
This was an oddly appropriate choice of metaphor, given that a blanket is used to cover something up. Feiden Santana – who, unlike Slagle, did legitimately fear for his life – saw the blanket being pulled over the incident and at considerable personal risk made the evidence available to the victim’s family. Once again: This is the only reason why Slager was fired and charged with murder, rather than being exonerated and most likely given a promotion.
Michael Slager’s appearance is that of the clean-cut, all-American family man. His professional behavior was that of a privileged sociopath, which is to be expected: Police officers are vocational sociopaths.
A sociopath, as the term was defined upon its introduction in 1930, is someone who displays a “disposition to violate social norms of behavior” through “deceitfulness … impulsivity … irritability and aggressiveness … [a] reckless disregard for safety of self or others,” and a “lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.”
Law enforcers – as opposed to peace officers, especially private security operatives – have official permission to employ aggressive violence and escalate it to lethal levels if they meet resistance. They are clothed in “qualified immunity” that protects them from accountability and liability for committing acts that would otherwise result in prosecution. As noted above, when they kill someone, police officers are immediately designated the victim, and the decedent is assumed to be the perpetrator.
Owing to the nature of the job – at least as it’s presently defined – law enforcement selects for sociopathic personalities, and it is an occupation perfectly calibrated to create “secondary sociopaths” – that is, “those who become antisocial because of environmental factors.”
In their significant study “The Sociopathic Police Personality: Is It a Product of the `Rotten Apple’ or the `Rotten Barrel?’” (Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, Vol. 14 Number 1), Catherine Griffin and Jim Ruiz of Westfield State College observe: “The environment in which police officers work offers unlimited opportunities for corruption and deceit, and these environmental factors may lead to sociopathic behavior.”
“The extent to which police officers may abuse their authority seems limitless as does the extent fellow officers will go to protect each other,” they continue. “The loyalty and `brotherhood’ of the police that appeals to so many has caused many officers to neglect their primary duty: to protect and serve.”
Dangling at the end of that sentence is an unspecified direct object: To protect and serve what, or whom? The “primary duty” of police is to their “brotherhood,” not the public at large, Griffin and Ruiz explain, because “as time goes by, police begin to view the public as their enemies and this causes their antisocial behavior to increase.”
Police “work” acts as a reverse alembic, refining the worst personality elements of those who engage in it. In his 1988 study “Personality Characteristics of Supercops and Habitual Criminals” (Journal of Police Science and Administration, Vol. 16, pp. 163-167), G.C. Reming found that the behavioral characteristics of police officers who “distinguish themselves by their sustained high productivity” – as measured in self-initiated felony arrests – were indistinguishable from those found among habitual criminals.
This should surprise nobody: Both of those groups consist of people who consider themselves licensed to use aggressive violence and selectively exempt from the laws governing lesser people.
Slager wasn’t a “supercop”; he was a perfectly ordinary patrol officer behaving in accordance with the professional standards of the department that employed him. His was the routine, everyday sociopathy of contemporary law enforcement.
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