On the weekend that marked the one year anniversary of the police killing of Michael Brown, there was another disturbingly similar case making the social media rounds: another unarmed young black man shot dead, another police officer on administrative leave holding the smoking gun, another rush to convict the dead. But there was one difference.
This time the human being who the Arlington Police Department reduced to a hashtag is 19-year-old Christian Taylor. This time the story was also immediately circulated through the sports pages, as Christian Taylor was a college football defensive back at Division II Angelo State. This time the story was picked up by ESPN, Yahoo Sports, and of all places, the NFL’s website, NFL.com. This time his killing was noted by Serena Williams, the greatest athlete of our time, on Twitter, who wrote: “Really??????!!!!!!!!!!? are we all sleeping and this is one gigantic bad nightmare? #ChristianTaylor how many hashtags now?”
All of this demonstrates just what an imprint the #BlackLivesMatter movement has had on the sports world. The idea that the NFL’s official website would have noted the police killing of a Division II college football player without the movement that has exploded in the last year would be laughable if the implications weren’t so tragic, and there is no shortage of visible, public tragedy around this latest killing.
The Twitter feed of the Angelo State football team is a stream of retweeted sadness with the official account saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Christian Taylor. Your presence will be missed, but not forgotten. #ramfam”
The Rams coach, Will Wagner, sent out the three word message: “Heart is hurting.”
Yet, despite the messages of solidarity that rang across social media, there is so much more about the case that forces one to wonder just how much some have learned since Michael Brown’s body had to lie on that Ferguson street for over four hours one year ago.
This part of the script is depressingly familiar: slander the dead, with the assurance that the media will fall in line. The basic message from the Arlington Police Department has been that Christian Taylor deserved to die. They have supported this by sending out a video of Christian Taylor allegedly driving through the fence of a dealership and then Christian Taylor allegedly driving through the front window. (The video is from the dealership security system, not the police.)
Note I write “allegedly” because you do not see Christian Taylor’s face behind the wheel when driving through the fence or window. I also write “allegedly” because if we have learned nothing else from a year of cases where planted evidence, edited video tape, and character assassinations of the dead have marked case after case, it is that we should never believe that first rush of information, which spills out from police department press information departments. The released video also fails to show the alleged “confrontation” that led to Taylor’s death.
Yet journalists are already describing the case as one where Christian Taylor was killed while “engaged in criminal activity.” No qualifiers, just taking what has been released from the Arlington Police Department as fact.
Again, if we have learned nothing else in the last year it is that when you have a police force that apparently can kill with little fear of legal recourse, the burden of proof upon them should not only be high. It should be stratospheric. Imagine if we gave even a modicum of consideration to Taylor’s great uncle, Clyde Fuller, who called his nephew a “a good kid” and said to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “They say he’s burglarizing the place by running up in there? Something doesn’t sound right.”
Lastly, we should only deal with facts that are incontrovertible. We know that the officer who killed Taylor is a 48-year-old rookie by the name of Brad Miller, who had only been on the force since March. Forty-eight is an age by which a lot of police officers have already put in their twenty years and retired. Miller was also allegedly under a mentor’s supervision, yet there he was, first on the scene, gun drawn.
The other salient fact—and this is confirmed by the Arlington Police Department and familiar to so many cases that define the last year—is that Christian Taylor was not armed. The idea that any confrontation between an armed representative of your local justice department and an unarmed person ends with shots fired and a dead body should be seen as utterly incompatible with a democratic society.
I knew teenagers in New York City a generation ago who went joyriding in stolen cars, who pushed parked cars down hills, and who acted in ways utterly similar to how legions of 19-year-olds have acted as long as there have been teenagers. Sometimes they were arrested. Sometimes they were smacked around by police. Sometimes they were maced. Most of the time they just got away. Christian Taylor, however, had to confront an armed 48-year-old rookie cop and a climate where racialized killings by police are met with impunity. Whatever video they choose or don’t choose to release, the only thing that matters is that Christian Taylor was given a death sentence by the Arlington Police Department. Maybe his athleticism will get this story amplified, but that is only worth a damn if, as Serena said, it helps us finally wake up from what she so correctly describes as a “gigantic nightmare.”