Black Lives are resilient.
Werts details police encounter during Clinton’s Unity walk, rally.
Former Newberry High School All-State quarterback Shai Werts said he felt “it was all being taken away from me” during 18 hours he spent in the Saluda jail in 2019.
He was accused of having dried cocaine on the hood of he car as officers stopped him on a lonely stretch of road. They were upset that he had not immediately stopped; Werts said he called 911 dispatch to tell law enforcement, “I do not feel comfortable stopping here.”
It was July 31, 2019, and Werts was headed back to Georgia Southern University. The traffic stop that turned into an arrest caused him to be suspended from athletics, but he got his position back after charges were dropped by the solicitor.
There were concerns after body-cam and dash-cam video of the arrest were viewed by authorities.
“The police got behind me and I knew there was no way I can pull over here, I called 911 and told them I was not running. The dispatcher said she would tell the officers what I was doing, but to go ahead and pull over because it was the the smart thing to do. It was another 4-5 miles until another cop pulled in front of me.
“My hands were on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 so he knew I didn’t have a weapon. I could tell how this traffic stop was going to go by the tone of his voice.”
Sometimes, these kinds of encounters result in violence.
Police killed 1,004 people in 2019. Black people were 24% of those killed despite being just 13% of the population (source: killedbypolice website). A June 27 update said 498 people have been killed by police in 2020.
The latest names are becoming familiar: George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner. They are not always shot to death - Floyd and McClain died by alleged choking; and it’s not always police - Arbery allegedly was killed during a “citizens arrest.” Three Caucasian men are charged in connection with his shooting death.
And the questions aren’t always surrounding Black deaths. Authorities are examining the Dallas, Texas, death of a Caucasian man, Tony Timpa, who allegedly said 30 times “you’re killing me” to officers who were holding him down; that was 4 years ago.
South Carolina is not immune. In 2015, Walter Scott was shot in the back as he ran in North Charleston. An officer, Michael Slager, is in prison in connection with the death. An African-American man, Scott ran because he owed child support. And 5 years ago last month, 9 Blacks were shot to death in the Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston; an alleged white supremacist, Dylann Roof, is in prison in connection with the deaths. Roof was arrested later in North Carolina without incident.
More recently, many Facebook posters wondered why a Caucasian woman, Melissa Miller of Fountain Inn, was allowed to run away from a traffic stop. She allegedly fired over her shoulder at 4 officers of the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office. She was arrested later without incident (June 25) after law enforcement said it called off a search for her; allegedly, she is a habitual traffic offender.
In light of the more recent Floyd-Brooks-Taylor-McClain police-related deaths, Tim Scott, R-SC, introduced a police reform legislative package in the United States Senate. It was blocked on the procedural vote by Democrats, who said it does not go far enough in guiding police in how to avoid in-custody deaths.
Scott is the only African-American Republican member of the Senate.
In the wake of Floyd’s death, there was protesting and rioting to urge police to police themselves. Several officers and security guards died in these incidents; frustration also boiled over in 2016 as 5 Dallas officers were shot to death in what was alleged to have been an ambush.
In the Werts case, there was no violence.
Just the humiliation of an arrest.
The officer found a white substance on the hood of his car, and said it field-tested positive for cocaine. Werts explained it was “bird poop” - the more he tried to clean it, the worse it got.
“Like a white paste,” he said.
The officer didn’t believe it. The officer’s supervisor didn’t believe it. But Werts did not waiver. When he was released on bond, the emotions started to flow. He just knew football was over - a dream of helping his family get a house, maybe even a shot at the NFL was gone, he was convinced.
“It felt like the longest 18 hours of my life. All I had worked for was being taken away from me. When i walked out of that jail and saw the look on my people’s face, I broke down. My life was changed.”
When got back to college and sat out his suspension, and the charges were dismissed (except for speeding), his coach and athletic director emphasized that the Shai Werts they know, is no cocaine trafficker. Later, lab tests showed the substance was not cocaine.
Later in the fall, 2019, Werts was injured in the opener against LSU. Now, near fall, 2020, the global Coronavirus pandemic has all sports in limbo.
Shai told the Unity Rally June 27 in uptown Clinton, called for awareness of Black deaths nationwide, “I’m here to use my platform to help bring change. I challenge everybody to use your voice -- every voice matters. Black Lives are resilient. Black Live have strength. Black Lives are beautiful.”