Zachary Hammond Is Still Dead
Aug. 19, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — When word broke of 19-year-old Zachary Hammond’s killing by a cop, there was widespread outrage among about six or seven people, outside of his family. It was a deeply troubling shooting, one fraught with deep issues of a needless killing. But it didn’t touch a nerve.
The New York Times picked up on this silence.
To Zachary Hammond’s supporters, the shooting death of the 19-year-old man was yet another example of questionable police behavior that has shaken communities around the country.
Yet the case has not received as much attention as the officer-involved shooting deaths of Walter L. Scott in North Charleston, S.C., or Samuel DuBose, a motorist who was killed in Cincinnati. Like both of those men, Mr. Hammond was apparently unarmed.
Well, there are a few distinctions between this dead young man and other dead men. For one thing, skin color.
Unlike them, he was white. And his family’s attorney, Eric Bland, contends that is why most people have never heard of Mr. Hammond.
“If Zachary were black, the outpouring of protest and disappointment from the public and the press would be amazing,” Mr. Bland said. “You wouldn’t be able to get a hotel room in upstate South Carolina.”
The reverse race card. Well played, Bland, but no one forced one million white people from marching in support of their fallen son. If you’re trying to blame black people for not rallying around this crime, then you’re ignoring that they have some more pressing issues of their own to deal with. It’s not that they don’t care because he’s white, but because blacks are being killed in grossly disproportionate numbers.
We all focus on the issue that touches us personally. Blacks are a little worried lately about making it home for dinner alive. They’re allowed to worry about survival. And, not to put to fine a point on it, you’re kinda worried about the family of Zachary Hammond, because, well, they’re your client. If you represented some other dead kid, your focus would be on him, as well it should be.
There are major differences aside from race — most notably, investigators have refused to release a police dashboard camera video that may show Mr. Hammond’s death, while graphic videos of the killing of Mr. Scott, Mr. DuBose and other African-Americans quickly went viral, galvanizing outrage.
Or, if you really want to get into the weeds, try James Boyd, a homeless guy of less than sterling character, too old to be cute and carry too much baggage to warrant tears from people who didn’t know him, with neither family nor lawyer to push his case forward. Yet the video of his execution went viral.
Not your type of victim? Then what about Kelly Thomas, also homeless, as he was beaten to death for being him? Video of his being beaten to death went viral too.
Wait. A theme is developing. No, not that they’re homeless, which is a strike against them, but that there was video. There was video.
To say we’ve become a visual society is beyond question. We have been for a very long time, which may both explain why we watch television shows that viciously murder our brain cells as well as expect news stories to align well with the opening segment of Law & Order.
The media gets this. Much as they may be able to fill space with the B-roll, they still need the video showing the blood to make the story work. We can wrap our heads around what we see, and these days there is more than enough high quality video of guys getting whacked by cops to fill the open space between commercials.
But does that means that we aren’t interested in stories where there is no video to be seen? Is it not enough to catch our attention that the cops just killed some 19-year-old kid in a botched low-level pot buy, by someone else no less, and made up a totally nonsensical excuse to cover it up? Does that not do it for us anymore?
Well, no. Not really. As long as our outrage quotient is being filled with good, nasty, ugly, cool video, we have enough on our screen to keep us happy. Yes, happy, as outrage, even legitimate and sincerely felt, has morphed into something that validates our worldview. Who doesn’t feel warm and fuzzy when their worldview is validated?
But there is a more insidious, more disgraceful explanation for this phenomenon of not giving a damn about a police murder of a young man. Without video, we still default to the same old, “well, maybe the cop is telling the truth. Maybe he really was in fear of his life. Maybe this wasn’t a cold-blooded murder and instead a righteous shoot.”
Without video, we default to the deep-seated desire to believe the cops, to refuse to believe that the cops might needlessly murder an unarmed man, because we can’t see it for ourselves.
So all the cops have to do is keep the dash cam video under wraps for a while and nobody will march in memory of Zachary Hammond. They’ve figured it out, as we allow our attention to be so easily diverted to the next really cool video.