I am a Christian pastor who is often disturbed by the claim that the bible is not only inspired by God (I can live with that) but also without error and unquestionable. To believe that the bible is without error is understandable. I believe that bible says what it intends to say. On the other hand, when dealing with absolute and eternal truth, flawlessness lies beyond the human paygrade. Do not be deceived. Nothing human beings have aided in publishing is perfect.
Governmental documents are no exception. Just like sacred literature, over the centuries, governmental documents have been redacted, edited, and vetted by authority figures before they are ever presented for public consumption. Ultimately, any public document amounts to a source of information. That source and the information it bears is helpful but never infallible.
Just as we must be reminded of the necessity to critically engage religious literature we must also be instructed to engage our sacred civil documents with similar rigor. Not only are these documents imperfect but the characters featured within the documents, as well as those who produce the materials, are equally prone to error. However, the documents and the individuals involved in the production process can help provide us with pertinent information.
Many Memphians awaited the release of the TBI Report of the shooting of Darrius Stewart by Officer Conner Schilling. I stood on tip-toe anticipation. Yet, I was quite aware of the fact that the report would not be a magic wand. It simply could not answer every question concerned citizens had regarding the incident or the broader issues of police brutality, civilian unrest, and political manipulation. The report is informative but not foolproof. Therefore, the report demands our careful reading and critical analysis.
We have to consider what the report says in light of what history has taught us. We also have to consider how the current climate has afforded us the opportunity to have access to such a document. The people who produced the document and the people represented therein are human beings. What they say and how it is said deserves to be interrogated. Yet, those in positions of authority are usually not given the same scrutiny as the people who are subject to and in some instances oppressed by those in authority. This inconsistency was exemplified by Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams who requested for eye witnesses who proclaim Darrius was running away from Schilling be prosecuted. Williams did not critique Schilling’s own contradictory statements about the details of the shooting. In spite of a history of misconduct, Schilling is presumed to be providing an honest account. Meanwhile, there are those who want to dismiss those civilians who courageously offered their recollection of the events. This dismissal is deeply disturbing.
Furthermore, throughout all I’ve read in the report the only account of Stewart using handcuffs to beat Schilling comes from Schilling. However, not a single eye witness affirms Schilling’s story. The officer clearly has vested interest in justifying his use of deadly force. So, why has Schilling’s version become the one most people affirm? Malcolm X once said that the media “will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
In the era of corruption and concealment every public document needs to be approached and interpreted through the lens of curiosity and suspicion. Those who develop the documents ought to be viewed with equal concern. And whenever anything or anyone seeks to uphold an unjust system of laws that are founded upon the principle of white supremacy and anxiety public skepticism is not only justifiable it is necessary.
Although the TBI report did not provide us with conclusive video footage (and we are still awaiting the release of raw radio dispatch audio files), how many videos have discredited the assumed truth of police reports and officer narratives? LaQuan McDonald was not moving towards Officer Van Dyke. Walter Scott did not fight with Officer Michael Thomas Slager over his taser. Samuel Dubose did not drag Officer Ray Tensing with his car. Steven Askew never fired a weapon at Officers Matthew Dyess and Ned Aufdenkamp. In spite of those facts, in each of these cases (and more) officers knowingly provided inaccurate information in order to justify their actions. The brutal truth is this — police officers lie and police reports are not infallible. The TBI report does not explicitly express this truth.
There are other truths that remain concealed even though the TBI report has been made public. For instance, there have been 24 times officers have killed civilians during DA Amy Weirich’s tenure. Twenty-two (22) times Weirich deemed the shooting justified and the grand jury agreed with her. Astoundingly, the only time the DA recommends an indictment of an officer the grand jury felt inclined to disagree. Could the fact that the DA did not present the case to the grand jury herself have something to do with the outcome?
In light of what the report has provided the public any objective observer would have to conclude at least two things – the officer should have been indicted and the grand jury must have received special instructions in order to reach such an abrupt and mischievous verdict.
The report is indeed helpful. It also shows how repulsive the statute is the keeps these kinds of reports concealed. Indeed, the wheels of justice grind slow because human documents and decisions are fallible. Those same wheels grind exceedingly fine because those who love justice do not rest until it is accomplished.
Rev. Earle J. Fisher is Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church (Whitehaven) and Co-Spokesperson for the Memphis Grassroots Organizations Coalition. He is also a R3 contributor.
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