A complicated issue behind a simple inflammatory statement

Dot Scott knew exactly what she was doing.

This week, the president of the NAACP’s Charleston branch accused local law enforcement of gunning down black men like dogs. Yes, dogs.

This came after Charleston County deputies shot Derryl Drayton on James Island last Saturday. Drayton is the fourth black man killed by local police agencies in the past two years.

That is a wildly incendiary statement on its own, but Scott took it about 100 steps further.

“That’s the mind set of some of these officers,” Scott said. “It’s a badge of honor to kill a n-----.”

It’s a wonder that quote hasn’t gone national yet because it is an extraordinary charge that some people find offensive. And that’s the point.

Scott was mad, no question, but she realized it would take an inflammatory remark to get her message out. And that message is: racial profiling is very common, and very deadly for black men.

Well, mission accomplished. Everyone in Charleston is talking about this.

They are either saying “amen” — or that Scott is way out of line.

Who’s at risk?

There are serious questions about the actions that led to Drayton’s death.

He resisted arrest, threw a knife at deputies and fled, and was shot. Some witnesses say he was surrendering, but officials say it may have looked like Drayton had turned to confront the deputies.

Scott is right to call for an investigation because we need answers.

Sheriff Al Cannon is not running from the hard questions, and the SLED investigation has his blessing. He says for all the talk of training — and law enforcement officers get a lot of training — they are humans, not robots, and sometimes have to make life-or-death decisions in a split second.

Sometimes those decisions are good, other times not.

It’s easy to judge after an analysis of all the facts, but that’s a luxury police officers trying to protect themselves and the public simply don’t have in the heat of the moment.

For that reason, Cannon was offended by Scott’s “badge of honor” remark. This, he says, is not a game to his people.

“Those officers are suffering — they took someone’s life,” Cannon says.

They have to live with that.

Fact is, Cannon says suspects are in the driver’s seat in such situations. Their actions prompt the reaction of the police.

Basically, he’s saying it is supremely stupid to resist arrest, run from the police — or attack them. Scott isn’t dumb; she understands this.

“I don’t expect any officer to put themselves at risk,” she says.

Profiling or statistics?

Scott may have hurt her point slightly by lumping the Drayton case in with some other police shootings.

In two of those cases, the men who were killed either pointed or fired a gun at officers. That’s a sure-fire way to get killed, no matter what color you are.

Last year, a white guy in Mount Pleasant pointed a gun at a SWAT team. It was the last thing he ever did.

Scott says the problem is not police defending themselves; it is their role in prompting such confrontations.

“There’s no doubt some of these people are being profiled,” Scott says. “If you are making up reasons to stop them, and it escalates, how fair is that?”

In the Drayton case, his own family called the Sheriff’s Office for help. It is true, however, that police shootings more often involve black suspects. And Scott says black motorists are pulled over far more frequently than whites.

Police say they don’t profile anyone, they can’t choose the emergency calls they get, or who their suspects are.

One police official says he’d be perfectly happy to arrest a bunch of white lawyers selling dope on the corner at South Battery. Unfortunately, crime disproportionately occurs in lower-income neighborhoods, which are often black neighborhoods.

Scott wants a U.S. Justice Department investigation, and that may be what it takes to settle this long-standing issue.

Scott is not trying to win a popularity contest; she is doing her job, trying to speak for people who feel like they have no voice.

She is trying to get some action. And that, ultimately, is why Dot Scott said what she said this week.

But if or when she gets an answer from the Justice Department, it still may not put this issue to rest.

Because these cases are sometimes not as simple as black and white.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com

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