An Oct. 17 Post and Courier editorial on the recent killing of Derryl Drayton by Charleston County Sheriff’s Deputies — “Jumping The Gun On A Tragedy” — condemned the words of Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott: “some of these officers” consider it “a badge of honor to kill a n-----.”
Although President Scott is more than capable of defending herself, I was sufficiently offended by the editorial to do so instead and to make three simple points.
The first point is that since those who write editorials share building space with those who write news stories, it helps to check out press releases before jumping the gun with insufficiently informed opinions.
The statement released to the media by the Charleston Branch NAACP on Wednesday, October 16 said in part, “We fully support those efficient and professional law enforcement officers who protect and serve the community in a fair and even handed manner.”
President Scott, in context, did not castigate or paint with a broad brush the entire law enforcement community.
She did, however, put into words what many citizens think when officers shoot fleeing African-American suspects to “protect” themselves — not only in the Drayton case but in two other cases in recent months.
The second point is that “rushing to judgment” is in the eye of the beholder. In almost every case where lethal force has been used against African-American men, law enforcement leadership immediately stated that the killings were justified and followed proper procedure without waiting for the results of an investigation.
Sheriff Al Cannon said on Monday that the officers did everything they could to peacefully end the situation, but Mr. Drayton was intent on harming someone so two deputies took the ultimate measure.
His words were more measured in a subsequent interview, when it was noted that Mr. Drayton had left the scene of the domestic confrontation, was confronted by officers on a nearby street, threw the knife in his possession when told by deputies to throw it down and, according to some eyewitnesses, had his hands raised in a position of surrender before he was shot.
Why was there no editorial criticism of Sheriff Cannon “jumping the gun” in his initial statement?
The audio recording of the incident — in which the apparent commanding deputy on site said, “good job,” after the gunfire stopped, also raises the question of what “good job” means when a black man is killed.
The third point is that the media often craft their stories — especially when crimes are allegedly committed by African-American men — in ways that suggest guilt before those cases are heard in a court of law. That’s also “jumping the gun.”
In today’s world, it’s an insulting sign of judgmental prejudice.
In the early 20th century, that kind of journalistic rush to judgment fueled lynch mobs.
Ms. Scott did what many people hesitate to do today and expressed what many African-Americans see as the truth in a plain and unvarnished way that makes those who try to ignore the problem of racial prejudice in America uncomfortable.
I’m glad that she did so. I’ll wait to see if justice is done in the most recent police killing, and I hope her words spark a broader and badly needed discussion on race in our community.
I’d also give the editors of The Post and Courier and their colleagues in the newsroom the same challenge issued by NAACP leader Reverend Dr. Nelson B. Rivers at the NAACP press conference on the Drayton killing.
Check your archives and list the cases in which law enforcement officers in South Carolina have ever been found in the wrong in the killing of African-American men.
If very few or no cases can be found, then that affirms President Scott’s opinion.
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the AME Church and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.
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