Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 9, 2015

Telling Moments From the Video of the White S. Carolina Police Officer Murdering a Black Man

The significance of the footage from South Carolina cannot be underestimated. Not only have Slager and Scott become the latest and immediate political identifiers in the annals of racial justice and state violence, but the video, so blatant in its presentation, is even more significant for the fact the events were well on their way to being publicly recognized — by the police and the media — as the opposite of what’s plain to see.

The video is profound not just for documenting the murder but for Slager seeming to tamper with evidence, as well. If the footage varies in steadiness and clarity, there are screenshots — from Scott being shot at distance to Slager handcuffing the prone body to Slager apparently relocating his taser/alibi near the body  — that are emblematic in themselves. Then there’s the sense of the African-American officer, who will forever share that infamy, evoking three other racial tropes: appearing unwittingly complicit; seeming to have to the dirty work (of attending to the body); and seeming to “tend to his own.”

Even if the presence and race of the unidentified officer is completely random — if informed by the fact that the population in North Charleston, according to the NYT, is 47% black and the police force is 80% white — the “dirty work” inference is certain well understood. Most famously, it has laced countless asides about “the prize” of winning the US presidency in 2008 with the country in a shambles, Obama “earning the opportunity” to clean up Bush’s mess.

What most stands out for me, however, is the scene of Slager checking Scott for a pulse right after the second officer, who steps away for a moment, just checked for one. With nobody in any rush, what’s galling about the gesture when you watch the video is the sense of Slager — apart from any concern over Scott’s vitals or the victim’s circumstances on this earth — seeming to seek the data as a measure of his own.

(screenshots via video acquired by the NYT)

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