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Wrongful Death Should Cost More
Published:
3/30/2016 11:10:02 AM

By Barney Blakeney
 

A federal judge’s award of nearly $1 million to the family of Darryl Drayton in their wrongful death civil lawsuit against Charleston County Sheriff Department left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Two sheriff’s deputies shot the mentally ill man in late 2013 during an incident that should have ended with Drayton in handcuffs on his way to a psych ward. There’s so much wrong with Drayton’s story, it’s hard to say how his death could have been prevented.

My first thoughts upon reading the initial lines in the report of the award settlement was outrage. It’s only been a few months since the City of North Charleston’s police department settled a similar case in the wrongful death of Walter Scott to the tune of some $6.5 million. I said to myself, these fools think throwing money at the survivors will make the problem of cops taking indiscriminate shots at Black people go away.

But as I continued to read the Drayton story, I felt a little better. Federal District Court Judge Richard Gergel put some things in perspective with his remarks that he ordered the settlement to send a message to law enforcement and the community that reaction without thoughtful consideration will cost. He hopes the settlement is a signal that will prevent a similar incident in the future.

I’m not so optimistic. You see, awarding unprecedented amounts of money to the survivors of wrongful death victims only cost the victims and taxpayers. The people who perpetrate those incidents, which in many cases are criminal, don’t have to pay anything. Especially if they are unconscionable!

I’ve been writing about police shootings a lot of years. Some of those stories I’ve forgotten. On the other hand some victims like Greatly Rouse and Edward Snowden stand out. And there were stories I thought the cops had some justification for their actions. Roscoe Little’s shooting death by Charleston police comes to mind in that respect. Little was drunk and waving a starter pistol or ‘blank’ pistol as we used to call them. The things are harmless, but the cops couldn’t tell. I think three or four cops shot him 14 times.

Edward Snowden’s death irks me almost as much as Walter Scott’s murder. The brother was protecting himself from a group of white thugs when North Charleston cops came in blazing and killed him. If I remember correctly Snowden’s parents and young daughter got $50,000 out of the deal.

This new money, the millions that ‘the man’ is willing to shell out for the lives of Black men killed wrongfully may seem like big bucks, but as Drayton’s sister was quoted saying in the news report, no amount of money can bring back a loved one. And in my mind there’s no way to place a dollar amount on the potential of an unfulfilled life. As a cop reporter, I know there are some really great people wearing badges. I also know there are some real butt holes wearing badges as well. The great cops, and thank God that’s most of them, you don’t have to send messages about taking a life. They know its value. The butt holes, they’re harder to convince. Agency payouts mean nothing to them.

Remember, they don’t have consciences.

I looked up some stats for this piece and learned that in South Carolina from 2009-2014 the number of police shootings rose 55 percent. I’ve heard some folks say cops are more afraid today than in the past. Why else would a state trooper shoot a Columbia man obeying orders trying to retrieve his wallet from his car. The state paid Levar Jones $285,000 for the bullet he took in the hip.

What I thought when I read about the settlement to Drayton’s family was those folks are treating these incidents just like business as usual. Folks, this ain’t business as usual. We’re talking about people’s loved ones. I’ve got one brother and I’d rather have him, scruffy beard and all, than $1 million. Hey, don’t be stupid Barney, I really could put a million bucks to good use. Hey Lil Bro, keep your nose clean, your big brother can use a pair of Stacey Adams. But seriously, I don’t know if awarding huge sums of money will make a difference in whether some cops choose to shoot first and face the music later.

Start ending some careers, not just firing here and hiring there. Get the bad apples out of law enforcement. And take some of that money out of their pockets. Maybe hotshots won’t be so quick at the draw if they know they may lose their homes in the deal.

People tend to make better choices when they have something personal at stake. I bet Michael Slager would have made a different choice had he thought he’d be facing real jail time. Until errant police officers realize they too will lose, monetary awards won’t prevent another Darryl Drayton homicide.
 

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