Seeing Is believing

On the night of April 20th, I went to bed believing that around the time the guilty verdicts in the Derrick Chauvin trial were announced, cops in Columbus, Ohio, had murdered another Black person for no apparent reason, this time a teenaged girl. The story, widely shared on Twitter, went like this: Ma’Khia Bryant, 16, called 911 for help because there was a fight at her home and she was afraid. A police officer arriving at the scene saw a knife on the ground and shot Ma’Khia four times, killing her.

Well, that’s what everyone, including journalists tweeting on their personal accounts, was saying. I’m glad I didn’t share or retweet any of that, because by morning, police bodycam footage* was being aired by media outlets, video which contradicted an important part of the previous night’s story. Although the central truth remained … cops killed a Black girl who called for their help … the knife wasn’t on the ground. It was in Ma’Khia’s hand, and she was trying to stab another girl with it when the cop shot her.

I’m not saying what happened in Columbus wasn’t wrong, but rather that we should be skeptical of getting our news from social media, where everyone has an agenda and few have scruples about twisting things to make a point. At the very least, we should wait for bodycam and witness videos.

We live in an age where violence, as often as not, is captured on video. So much so that when cops claim their bodycams were off or malfunctioning, we automatically assume they’re covering up extrajudicial executions. Given cops’ history of lying, manufacturing evidence, looking out for themselves, and protecting bad actors in the ranks, rightly so. We can’t believe what they say. But we can believe our eyes.

Look at the Minneapolis Police Department’s press release on the death of George Floyd:

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.

No officers were injured in the incident. Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.

Honestly, does that bear any resemblance to what we all saw on Darnella Frazier’s cell phone video of George Floyd’s murder? Don’t believe what they say. Believe what you see (even when the bodycam and witness videos back up the police version of events). And don’t get sucked in by initial reports and rumors on social media, a lesson I seem to learn … and forget … at least once a week.

There are plenty of police bodycam and witness videos showing cops murdering Black men (and boys, and women, and girls) for no reason, including Darnella Frazier’s nine-plus minute video, the one that earned Derrick Chauvin righteous convictions on second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Everyone who saw it knows the truth of what happened to George Floyd. This time the clear truth convinced a jury.

You’d have thought equally-clear videos of police beating Rodney King nearly to death and the murder-by-cop of Eric Garland would also have resulted in convictions, but alas, the truth wasn’t enough to overcome white juries’ racism. Maybe that’s changing. We’ll see.

Anyway, I guess my rambling point is that while everyone on social media was busy convicting the cop who killed Ma’Khia Bryant two days ago, the truth about what happened turned out to be rather different, and should that cop be tried for shooting her, the truth, in the form of bodycam video, may well set him free.

*I’m intentionally not linking to the videos of the killings of Ma’Khia Bryant and George Floyd. You know where to find them.

© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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