Wednesday, April 08, 2015

One Broken Tail Light, One Life Ended; Too Many Questions

US Navy veteran Walter L. Scott
Now it's obviously quite disturbing to watch the cell phone video of 33 year-old North Charleston, South Carolina Patrolman 1st Class Michael Slager shooting an unarmed 50 year-old African-American man named Walter Lamar Scott in the back multiple times. 

Regardless I think it's important to watch it for what it reveals about ingrained bias within American law enforcement.

But perhaps even more disturbing than watching a police officer casually fire shots at a man who is running away from him, is how Slager reacts once Scott is on the ground.

Last Saturday morning April 4th (the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination) while some of us were contemplating our Easter Sunday plans, Slager spotted a broken brake light on the back of Walter Scott's black Mercedes and pulled him over on a Charleston street not far from a muffler shop.

According to excerpts of an interview in Charleston's The Post and Courier  with his older brother Anthony, Walter Scott was not some kind of crazed violent criminal.

He was a gainfully employed African-American father and US Navy veteran who was simply scared of being arrested because he had missed several appearances in court for failure to pay back child support and he didn't want to be jailed and jeopardize his job.

So he made the worst mistake of his life, he ran; and Patrolman Slager took off in pursuit. At some point in a grassy field the two tussled briefly and officer Slager shot Scott with a taser gun; but Scott managed to break free and took off running again.

Officer Michael Slager
Slager (pictured left) took out his handgun and fired eight shots at Scott, four of which struck him in the back according to the Scott family's lawyer, killing him.

In the wake of the fatal shooting, Slager released a statement through his lawyer David Aylor claiming that he fired because he was in fear for his life after Scott wrestled his taser gun from him.

He said he "felt threatened". Sound familiar?

Based on a number of recent high profile cases of police officers facing no charges after shooting (or choking) and killing unarmed men of color (and boys too, lest we forget 12 year-old Tamir Rice) in cities around the nation, Slager's statement probably would have been taken as gospel and the North Charleston police likely would have pointed to a 28 year-old assault and battery charge against Scott reaching back to 1987 as evidence of his being "dangerous."

But recently released cell phone video of the incident taken by a young bystander standing outside the fence of the field behind the muffler ship where the incident took place totally contradicts officer Slager's statement and his account of the incident.

There's nothing ambiguous about what happens in the video. Watch the unedited version for yourself.

Slager not only shoots Scott, he gets on his police radio, reports the shooting then says the victim (Scott) took his taser.

With sirens approaching, Scott then hurries back over to the area where they'd just tussled, picks up the taser gun, brings it back over to where Scott is laying on the ground dying; and drops it near him.

Perhaps most chilling, for at least two and a half minutes after shooting Scott, Slager just stands there. He makes no effort at all to tend to Scott or administer CPR.

Remarkably you can see Slager yelling at Scott (who's motionless on the ground) not to move after he's shot him five times; he cuffs the dying man, like the poor guy wasn't just trying to run away from him a few minutes earlier.

Another officer arrives and starts to inspect Scott's body for gunshot wounds, but no CPR is administered. The video reveals not only a totally unjustified shooting, it shows a police officer casually trying to stage the scene so he can concoct a story to save his own ass.

Attorney David Aylor quickly announced that he would no longer be representing Slager.

The bystander who took the cell phone video took it to the Scott family, who passed it along to state investigators; if you watch clips of the North Charleston police Chief Eddie Driggers and Mayor Keith Summey discussing the incident, you can see the disgust on their faces and hear the emotion in their voices.

Chief Driggers was hired to help address charges of rampant biased policing and excessive police violence against poor minority communities in Charleston; to say that Walter Scott's death is a setback to his efforts to restore trust between police and the communities they serve would probably be putting it lightly.

The release of the video and subsequent murder charges filed against officer Slager will propel this tragic case of excessive police force into the national spotlight pretty quickly and the trial will obviously be closely watched.

But Mayor Keith Summey probably summed it up best though in his press conference when he said:
"When you're wrong, you're wrong. If you make a bad decision, don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision."

Wrong is right. 

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