RICKY BOYD was an unarmed African-American who was shot by Savannah Police on January 23, 2018. We know that body camera footage of the shooting exists.
The City Attorney, Brooks Stillwell, has argued that release of the footage would hinder an ongoing investigation. He is treating the body camera footage as evidence, whereas Jameillah Smiley, Ricky’s mother, has sought and requested that the body camera footage be made public.
Ms. Smiley says she has already been shown body camera footage in which she saw no BB gun in Ricky’s possession as police allegedly report.
The argument has been made that evidence should be withheld pending an ongoing investigation. The reasoning goes that the integrity of this investigation needs to take its course, and if we take one piece out of context, then the public may misunderstand.
I respect this reasoning. However, this argument only holds if there isn’t reason to be suspicious of the virtue of those doing the investigating.
In this case, there’s some prima facie evidence to be suspicious, and Smiley’s skepticism is warranted. There are discrepancies reported by media outlets.
For example, the WTOC special investigation details how police narratives keep changing. Jameillah’s attorney, Will Claiborne, and his firm have made videos of all the discrepancies.
Institutions exist to facilitate a desired end. In this case, law enforcement and the courts exist to realize justice in concrete spaces. Such realization requires predispositions and habits that are already just.
Police must adopt certain procedures, adhere to rules, and this entire activity should be open, public, and accessible to the scrutiny such power invites.
While I admit that human beings can err in this realization of justice, there are reasons Southern institutions should want more transparency in how they do things.
Specifically, the South is the site of many public lynchings that William James, the celebrated Harvard philosopher, once remarked are “not a transient contagion destined to exhaust it’s virulence,” but instead, it is “a profound social disease, spreading now like forest fire, and certain to become permanently endemic in every corner of our country, North and South, unless heroic remedies are swiftly adopted to check it.”
James authored these words in 1903, and now we must call for a new culture of policing that abides by these warnings.
One central thesis of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow is that white supremacy reconfigures itself with each new effort at social and political progress. In this way, the tradition of violence against Black bodies equally reconfigures itself in much the same way that Jim Crow and the school-to-prison pipeline have reasserted control and domination over African Americans.
This might explain why white fear is reason enough in some circles for some Whites to accept an uncritical attitude regarding police accounts and justifications for lethal use of force. This acceptance may be implicit here in Savannah at the local level.
However, white fear is never a reason that can justify shooting an unarmed human being—no matter their identity. Only the most serious threat to one’s life can morally justify ending another’s life.
White fear has long been entrenched in the very fabric of our social reality, and with each passing choice to avert our eyes from discussions regarding race relations, we continue to sink ever more into an uncomfortable silence that only perpetuates white fear as a justification for murdering unarmed black men by law enforcement officers.
Someone has to say enough is enough, and we all must try and renew the promise of being a community, “a garment of destiny” as Martin Luther King described his “beloved community.”
In Savannah, that courageous person is Jameillah Smiley. Her request to release the body cam footage is going against this uncomfortable silence, and a possible avenue to explore in restoring the promise of community for all Savannahians.
Part of this uncomfortable silence tacitly assumes how we-as-a-society regard access to Black bodies and how Black persons are represented in the culture of law enforcement, which alongside the inconsistencies and allegations of the Claiborne law firm only press the point further that releasing the footage would go along way to arresting unwanted speculations about the dearth of virtue in the investigation and prosecutorial efforts here in Savannah.
This uncomfortable silence produces in all of us a polite form of retreat and hesitancy that may facilitate reactions like the police officers in this scenario and provides a de facto perpetuation of the implicit ways white supremacy organizes itself socially. Many unwarranted murders of several brothers of our human family have been committed by police officers, and these names are now known to us because the democratization of surveillance technologies through smart phone without which we would not know about them.
Walter Scott got justice, but in the long list of unarmed black men shot by police officers, Scott is the exception, not the rule.
I call on others to aid Ms. Smiley in releasing the body camera footage. I call all of Georgia to urge Savannah City Council to push the issue in her favor, and I call on City Attorney Stillwell to reconsider.
If there was no wrongdoing and as reports have confirmed GBI police already showed the body camera footage to Ms. Smiley, then there should be no reason not to share it with the public.
Let the angels of our better nature take hold. To restore confidence in city government, the powers that be should release the footage and all police incident reports.
With that release, we can have open and honest discussions about how to heal and move forward. This healing, however, requires that we ultimately question police officers, the culture of law enforcement, and the role race plays in our society, including the untimely death of Ricky Boyd and the circumstances surrounding it.