Believing in Human Dignity in Every Circumstance
October 25, 2016
The recent killing of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old Black man in Charlotte, North Carolina, spurred uproar across the nation. News sources released information claiming that Mr. Scott had a violent past, suggesting his killing is somehow defensible. Nearly a year before Mr. Scott was shot to death by police, his wife applied for a protective order against him saying he threatened to kill family members with his gun. As a feminist, these allegations are deeply troublesome, but despite how egregious Mr. Scott’s behavior was, his life mattered. To suggest the contrary is a direct contradiction of Catholic Social Teaching.
Jesus’s teaching reminds us that human dignity cannot be taken away. If we really hold this doctrine to be true, then we are challenged to not succumb to our impulses that propel us to demonize rather than empathize. If we really hold this doctrine to be true, we must ask ourselves ‘why’ rather than make assumptions. As a nation, we have a strong tendency to attribute the negative actions of others to character flaws rather than the system and circumstances in which these individuals are acting.
Rather than use Keith Lamont Scott’s behavior to demonize him, our faith calls us to humanize. There may be a multitude of factors that influenced his propensity towards violence: factors we seldom discuss or aim to eradicate yet use to justify unwarranted shootings. By the same token, I believe the officers pulling the trigger, both White and people of color, are trained within systems that have propagated and reinforced the myth of the “predatory Black man.” We are inundated with messages that encourage the notion of White as default and White as safe. These messages become internalized and result in implicit (and explicit) biases that can have lethal consequences.
This does not absolve blame from either party. However, it is time that we step back and start asking more critical questions. This is not just about the individual officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott. I am angry at the systems that continuously allow the killing of Black men under the guise of self-defense. Let us not be lured by narratives that suggest certain human beings are beneath human dignity. Let us, instead, be lured to the work of dismantling oppressive systems. We owe it to our faith.