The Clarence Habersham Problem
Apr. 11, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Skin color has never been a viable proxy when dealing with the issue of police conduct. Even when they’re black, cops are still blue. Yet, seeing Clarence Habersham stand over the fatally wounded Walter Scott, as North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager casually drops the throwaway Taser by the body, demands an answer.
How could he stand there and do nothing?
Most of the time, the focus is on the baddest dude, the cop who pulled the trigger, or kicked the teeth, or swung the baton until the head erupted like a ripe melon. And without question, any cop who breaks the law and harms a person deserves all the attention that can be rammed down his throat.
That said, it doesn’t happen without the complicity of those other cops standing around. Clarence Habersham is such a cop.
Did he stop Michael Slager from killing Walter Scott?
Did he immediately provide aid to try and save Scott’s life?
Did he act when he saw Slager drop the throwaway Taser?
Did he tell the truth when time came to address what happened in front of him?
No, Clarence Habersham did none of those things. He was blue, and that meant he would not breach the blue wall of silence, the loyalty of one cop to another to keep his secrets, even at the expense of a human being’s life. No, Clarence Habersham did nothing to save a life or preserve the truth.
For that, he must be held accountable.
So often, we decry the police officer who engages in brutality, in unwarranted violence, with little expectation that it will produce more than a promise of an investigation, with a conclusion that would defy reason. By then, we’re usually past it, on to the next beating, the next death. The outcome rarely hits our radar.
Then there are times, as here, where an arrest is made, a murderer accused. Michael Slager sits in a cell for the killing of Walter Scott. This frees us to focus on the cop who stood there, who watched, who did nothing to stop or save Walter Scott from death.
Habersham isn’t a virgin to excessive force complaints. He’s being sued, along with four other cops, by Sheldon Williams for breaking his face. Whether it’s true or not will be the subject of trial, and not speculation here. But the suit might at minimum have sensitized Habersham to a responsibility to at least lift a finger, to provide some small amount of care to the man gunned down by Slager.
Indeed, his chief, before revelation of the video, believed that Habersham rendered aid to Scott, as he stated at the post-killing press conference. Sadly, this turned out to be wrong:
But a syncing of the video footage with police radio transmissions indicates Habersham was in fact locating the gunshot wounds.
No, Clarence Habersham wasn’t the shooter. No, it was not his decision to take the life of Walter Scott. But he also failed to prevent the crime, to render aid to the victim, to do anything to help a fellow human being. And then he failed to tell the truth about what happened before his eyes.
He should not be a cop. He cannot be trusted to be a cop, any more than any of the many other officers who have skulked silently into the darkness as we spent our time and energy trying to root out the cop with the gun or the bloody boot.
It’s foolish to expect that the blue wall will go away easily or any time soon. But perhaps sending a message will help a little. This is far too ingrained in police culture for one instance, or a hundred instances, to make a dent.
It remains critical that this complicity not be ignored or covered up. Clarence Habersham must go. Clarence Habersham must be prosecuted for his role in this tragedy. Just because he didn’t pull the trigger does not absolve him from his complicity in this horrific crime.