This time there is no doubt. No witnesses telling conflicting stories. No smear campaign against the victim (at least not yet). Just a videotape taken by a man who has no skin in the game. What the video shows is heartbreaking. We are essentially watching the last seconds of a man’s life. A man who mattered to his family and friends.
Officer Michael Slager told Walter Scott he pulled him over for a broken tail light. It was 9:30 on the morning of April 4 in North Charleston, S.C. A police dash cam video released Thursday shows Slager walk up to Scott’s vehicle and politely ask him for his license and registration. Scott gives some round about answers but the encounter remains civil. Slager walks back to his police cruiser to run a routine check.
After a few seconds, Scott gets out of his car and Slager tells him to get back inside. Scott returns to his car briefly, then — for reasons we will never know — he gets out of his car and runs from the officer. It is a slow run because Scott is 50 years old.
Off camera, Slager can be heard shouting “Taser!Taser!” It’s something his police training calls for. It’s unclear what happens when the men are out of camera range. But resisting arrest should not be a death sentence.
Black men are viewed by many in society as criminals. Some law enforcement personnel and prosecutors see them as disposable. They have no qualms about locking them up and throwing away the key, reasoning that a disproportionate number of black men commit crimes.
Of course this does not apply to all officers. The vast majority do their jobs in a professional manner and deserve the respect that comes with their badge. Police officers take an oath to protect and serve. But where was the protection and service for Eric Garner, Michael Brown and now Walter Scott?
There can be no mistake: when stopped by the police, do everything they say. Resisting in any way can be deadly. When we encounter an officer, we don’t know what kind of person they are or what kind of day they are having. Ignoring their commands is a very bad idea. Our boys must be taught this fact about life in America.
A report this week in The State Newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina revealed that S.C. police officers have fired their weapons at suspects more than 200 times in the last five years. The federal investigation of officials in Ferguson, Mo. showed racist attitudes in emails exchanged by city employees and a distinct pattern of police harassment of African-American citizens. Similar emails were released this week in San Francisco, showing authorities there joking about Hispanics and African-Americans.
This is a serious problem that must addressed by hiring more officers of color and electing more politicians, judges and prosecutors who better represent the communities they serve. Officers should be trained and retrained every year.
Why did Michael Slager feel the need to shoot a man in the back eight times? Can we blame it on poor training or a disdain for a man who decided to run. Scott didn’t appear to be a threat to the officer or anyone else. Yet Slager placed handcuffs on Scott after he fell to the ground. Then Slager dropped an object by the man’s lifeless body. What kind of person shoots another human being in the back and immediately goes into cover-thine-behind mode? Why did it take several minutes for officers responding to the shooting to administer CPR?
Slager might well have gotten away with murder had it not been for Feidin Santana, who saw the situation unfold and captured it on his cell phone. In the face of irrefutable evidence, authorities in North Charleston had no choice but to charge Slager with murder and fire him from the force.
Officials there seem to have learned from their counterparts in Ferguson, Mo. An outside agency has been brought in to investigate and the police chief quickly condemned Slager’s actions. It will be interesting to see what happens as the case unfolds. A murder arrest doesn’t mean there will be a conviction. According to CNN, South Carolina law requires premeditation for a murder conviction.
Michael Slager was dead wrong. Walter Scott is just dead. What will it take to make this stop?