Bearing Witness in the 21st Century: When Video Evidence Is Not Enough

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A Small Group Reflection and Exercise

A truthful witness saves lives, but a deceiver proclaims lies. PROVERBS 14:25
As for us, we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard. ACTS 4:20

Bearing Witness:

  • Testify (literally or figuratively);
  • Charge;
  • Give evidence;
  • Offer record;
  • Have/obtain honest report;
  • Give testimony;
  • To not keep back testimony;
  • Utter honorable testimony[1]

In biblical times, bearing witness relied upon oral testimonies, written scrolls, and a physical transport of materials and information to other people and places. In the 21st century, technology has made it possible for us to document and share every life moment, from celebrations to historical movements, with the click of a button. Technology has been the portal through which our private moments become global and injustices meant to be hidden can come to light. With the advent of cell phone cameras and social media videos, all of us can bear witness to the truths justice demands that we see.

When North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shot and killed unarmed motorist Walter Scott in 2015, the public was made aware of two very different accounts. Mr. Slager claimed Mr. Scott was reaching for the former officer’s weapon – video evidence showed Mr. Slager placing a Taser next to Mr. Scott’s body. Mr. Slager claimed he shot Mr. Scott because he feared for his life – video evidence showed Mr. Slager shooting Mr. Scott in the back multiple times as Mr. Scott ran away. When, in December 2016, Mr. Slager’s murder trial ended in a mistrial, many people’s reactions ranged from stunned to outrage. Though we bore witness to Mr. Scott’s death, either in person or via video, it was not counted sufficient enough to warrant a guilty conviction.

This learning exercise asks us to interrogate our evaluation of evidence and how our pre-judgments influence the ways in which we value some evidence and devalue others. 

LEARNING ENGAGEMENT:

  1. Brainstorm the following: How do you define evidence? What makes something worthy to be counted as evidence? When faced with two different pieces of evidence, how do you determine which piece of evidence should be valued/weighted more heavily?
  2. How does race & racial realities create lenses through which we interpret evidence?
  3. FACILITATOR READS: “TRIGGER WARNING: The following video shows the actual shooting death of Mr. Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C. This video contains raw language and explicit, graphic, and fatal violence.” Watch Video.
  4. Discuss what you saw in the video and how it made you feel. [Use the “feeling wheel” for help.] Give people enough time to process – this might include silence, open grieving, sharing in two’s, or other methods discerned best for your group.
  5. Reflect on the following statement: “Once you see, you cannot, not see.” (Dr. Greg Ellison, II) Even though people saw the same video, some people did not find it sufficient evidence for a conviction in Mr. Slager’s trial. What reasons (do you think) were offered? How did race function in how people interpreted what they saw – even though they saw the very same thing?

CLOSING REMARKS:

To bear witness to something positions us as bearers of truth. Though we may desire to turn our heads from injustices we see, we must be willing to testify to the truth. As human beings we have a social and civic duty to stand up for justice. As Christians, it is our spiritual mandate. Yet, even our ability to bear witness can be corrupted by sin in the form of ism’s like racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, or ageism. To truly bear witness, we must be willing to see through the eyes of those who suffer under these injustices most directly. Until we can do that, we will never see clearly enough to bear witness to the truth.

PRAY:

  • for God to comfort the family of Mr. Walter Scott,
  • for God to help us to see our blind spots to injustice,
  • for God to convict us of our complicity in “isms,”
  • for God to create in us the ability to become faithful bearers of the truth.

FEELING WHEEL:

feeling wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 


FURTHER READING
:

Walter Scott shooting: Michael Slager testifies he felt ‘total fear’
The Walter Scott Video Shows Exactly Why We Can’t Just Take the Police’s Word For It
[1] https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3140&t=KJV

 

This resources is written by Rev. Alisha Gordon

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