On the evening of July 26, Zachary Hammond pulled into the parking lot of a Hardee’s in Seneca, South Carolina. Seated next to him was a young woman who had arranged to meet someone there to sell a bag of weed. It’s unclear what Hammond knew about the transaction, but neither the 19-year-old nor his passenger had any idea that the buyer was actually an undercover police officer. Moments later, another officer fatally shot Hammond.
What we know about how Hammond ended up dead in a minor marijuana sting depends on whom you believe.
Police say a uniformed officer, on hand to support the undercover cop, was approaching Hammond’s vehicle. There’s disagreement about what happened next. Seneca Police Chief John Covington says Hammond drove the car at the officer, who, fearing for his life, fired twice into the vehicle, shooting a fatal round into Hammond’s upper torso. Eric Bland, a lawyer for Hammond’s family, says that the officer shot Hammond twice from behind and that an autopsy supports this claim. More than a week after the shooting, Oconee County coroner Karl Addis–one of the few people who should know for sure–has still not said publicly which direction the bullets came from.
Wherever the bullets struck Hammond, police say they were fired from near point-blank range through the open driver’s side window. This detail has raised particular concern amid a string of police killings in which the official law enforcement narrative has not always held up.
While aspects of Hammond’s case evoke memories of other police shootings over the past year, one element does not: Hammond was white, as is the still-unidentified officer who shot him.
When so much national focus has recently been on the police killings of black Americans, Hammond’s race is one reason–though not the only reason–you may not have heard his story until now.
Hammond’s whiteness has certainly factored into the response to his death. No public outcry has questioned the media’s use of family photos that appear to show a younger boy, still wearing braces. No wave of Internet denizens has scoured the victim’s social media profiles in search of ways to somehow blame him for his own death. Nobody appears to have called for a discussion of white-on-white crime. No stories have been written about whether Hammond’s parents had criminal records or asked if he was ever in trouble at school. At least not yet.
These points are no consolation to a dead 19-year-old. But they differ from the reality of what black people routinely face in similar situations.
Hammond’s death also highlights a truth many white Americans seem reluctant to face: that police violence can affect anyone–their white friends, cousins, brothers, sisters, even themselves. Though bad policing may take a disproportionate toll on communities of color, the calls for reform now being voiced loudest by people of color would benefit all of us.
Many people in the Black Lives Matter movement have been saying this since the beginning, which is why, in the absence of much mainstream media coverage, black Twitter has taken the most active role in making sure Hammond’s name and story are heard.
There are hundreds of tweets like this. Some simply speak to the tragedy of Hammond’s death. Others find irony in the fact that the only significant response is coming from those who have been accused–largely by white people–of divisiveness in their efforts to call attention to the value of black lives. Their words now stand in stark contrast to what many of their white peers are doing: absolutely nothing.
If the snide retort to #BlackLivesMatter is that #AllLivesMatter–a shallow rejoinder that misses the point entirely–the resounding silence around Hammond’s death exposes these complaints for what they often are: narrow-minded attempts to squelch honest discussions about the black experience. If these people truly believe that all lives matter, they should speak out about Hammond’s death, just as they should have spoken out about the questionable deaths of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna or Ryan Bolinger, a white man killed by Iowa police in June.