On the same day prosecutors released surveillance video of John Crawford III being shot dead for allegedly failing to “obey police commands,” authorities in South Carolina released dash-cam video of a 35 year-old black man being shot by a cop for obeying police commands to the letter. In Crawford’s case, police say he failed to obey their commands to put down an air rifle that they thought was a real gun, and while the video appears to show that he was trying to do that when he was shot, there was apparently enough wiggle room in the minds of grand jurors to let the officers off scot-free.
In the case of Levar Jones, there was no pre-existing threat, and the only actions Jones took were those the officer demanded of him, and he still got shot. Here’s the incredible dash-cam video, in which Jones can actually be heard apologizing to the officer who shot him for doing what he was told:
This wasn’t even a case of a cop pulling someone over on a dark, mysterious highway. On September 4, Jones was already parked at a gas station and convenience store when Lance Corporal Sean Groubert noticed Jones wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, and pulled up behind him. He told Jones, who was already out of his car, to produce his license. When Jones reached into the open door of his car to get his license, Groubert screamed at him to get out of the car, and as Jones immediately obeyed, Groubert fired five times. Fortunately, Jones was only hit once, in the hip, and is making a full recovery.
Unlike so many of the recent high-profile cases like John Crawford’s, Groubert was fired and arrested even before the video came out, and faces up to 20 years in prison on a charge of Assault and Battery of a High and Aggravated Nature. If there hadn’t been dash-cam video, or if it hadn’t been so clear-cut, who knows? According to South Carolina blogger Will Folks, even after seeing the video, South Carolina Solicitor Dan Johnson described the shooting as “clean.”
If you need a lesson in just what the white law enforcement establishment, and its overwhelmingly white supporters, finds reasonable, look no further than the press conference announcing the results of the grand jury hearing on John Crawford’s killing. Special Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier spent 36 minutes defending the state of mind of the two officers who responded to that Walmart, even as the video evidence he was reviewing showed that Crawford was holding a product that was for sale in the store he was shopping in, that he never pointed it at anyone, especially the cops, that even if it had been a real gun, he was in a state where it’s legal to carry one in that manner, and that he even appeared to be laying the gun down as he was shot.
Given the nature of the report the police were responding to, of course they had every right to feel threatened, as anyone in a job where every interaction can have deadly potential. Even a routine traffic stop can turn, on a dime, into a lethal encounter. We get it, being a cop is a risky job. But that risk includes not mowing down citizens because you feel jumpy. Every citizen should look at these cases, particularly the Crawford shooting, with personal alarm.
White people will often wonder why it’s always necessary to “bring race” into everything, and on a certain level, they’ve got a point. White people can be victims of police brutality too. But if we can all agree, and it seems we do, that black people are over-policed, then race matters simply on a statistical basis. Levar Jones was stopped for a seat belt violation, which, for white people, is mainly a way for the cops to let you off with a less serious ticket. The more contacts you have with police, the more the odds of a bad encounter increase. Even if you refuse to believe that race is a factor in the perception of a threat, it matters simply because it affects how often you’re going to be on the wrong end of one of these videos.
Unfortunately, that’s also why the Crawford grand jury result is possible, and why Sean Groubert would still be polishing his service weapon today if there hadn’t been a video of his actions. The majority of white people in this country see themselves as the ones being served and protected, and someone else as the ones they’re being protected from. They’ll never be John Crawford or Levar Jones, or Eric Garner, et cetera, et cetera. They will be depending on Sean Groubert to protect them from the same people that make Sean Groubert crap his pants.