By using his cellphone to record video of the shooting of Walter Scott by now-former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager and then making it public, the 23-year-old Dominican immigrant did two vital things. Santana ensured that Slager would face justice for his crime. And he forced the nation to come to grips with a grim reality African Americans have always known to be true even though they were rarely, if ever, believed. Cops can be their judge, jury and executioner with little repercussions for their excessive use of force for the smallest of infractions. Scott was stopped by Slager because of a broken tail light.
Santana’s gripping interviews with Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News, with Craig Melvin of MSNBC and on “Morning Joe” on Wednesday and Thursday revealed his bravery. He talked about how he shot the video. How fear for his safety almost led him to delete the incriminating recording and flee town. How he tried to give it to the North Charleston police in attempt to correct their false narrative of what happened. And how fear of what the police might do then moved him to get the video out.
I had a chance to talk briefly with Santana on Thursday after his “Morning Joe” interview. He gave me the impression of a young man who not only doesn’t see his actions as extraordinary, but who also hasn’t quite absorbed the impact his selfless act has had on the nation. After his “Morning Joe” interview, I asked Santana how it felt to be called a hero.
“Well, it is something that I’m getting used to,” Santana told me during a commercial break. “ I think everybody can be a hero. You just have to try to do the right thing.” Would he do it all over again? “Definitely. Definitely. I don’t regret this,” he replied. “[T]his is justice for Mr. Scott family….[P]eople needed to know the truth.” And where did he find the courage to shoot the video and continue recording so close to the scene in view of Slager and police? He told me that when he watched the video himself, “I asked the same question every single time.” he said.
Santana urged others who see “something bad…happening” to pull out their phones and record it. “You’re a witness,” he said. “You just have to cooperate, you know, to make justice.” And then he said something so very true. “There’s a lot of heroes and all out here,” he said, “but they don’t want to step up and do the right thing.” That’s why heroes of conscience are so rare. Without question, Santana is one of them.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj