Father speaks out following police shooting of unarmed man

Family of South Carolina victim suggest charges only brought because of video evidence

A white South Carolina police officer was charged with murder on Tuesday (April 7) after a video showed him shooting eight times at the back of a 50-year-old black man who was running away. VIdeo: Reuters

 

One day after a South Carolina police officer was arrested in the shooting death of an unarmed black man, the victim’s family said Wednesday that no charges would have been filed if not for a video of the encounter – which showed the officer firing eight shots at the man as he ran away.

“It would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others,” Walter Scott snr, the father of the victim, said Wednesday on NBC’s Today programme.

The officer, Michael Slager, (33), was being held at the Charleston County Jail. During a court appearance conducted by videoconference, Slager, dressed in a jail uniform, appeared nervous and said little beyond disclosing that he was a married father of two stepchildren. He said he was expecting another child and that he lived near the North Charleston neighborhood where the shooting took place.

North Charleston mayor Keith Summey told reporters that Mr Slager had been fired. Mr Summey said the remainder of the police force in North Charleston will soon be equipped with body cameras.

Makeshift memorial

A makeshift memorial was taking shape Wednesday in the empty lot behind Mega Pawn on Rivers Avenue, where Walter Scott (50), was shot Saturday morning. Two small Styrofoam-backed flower wreaths, one with an orange bow and one with white flowers in the shape of a cross, could be seen along with 11 white candles, some lit.

Scott’s family spoke in a series of nationally televised interviews Wednesday morning, saying they were glad the truth had come out. They said they were pleased the video had been made public, despite how painful it was to watch.

“When I saw it, I fell to my feet and my heart was broken,” Scott’s father said. “The way he was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer,” Scott said. “I don’t know whether it was racial, or it was something wrong with his head.”

The death of Scott is the latest among several police shootings of black men over the past year in cities including New York; Ferguson, Missouri; and Cleveland, Ohio. The incidents have stirred debate across the United States about police use of lethal force and race relations.

Unlike in many prominent cases involving the use of deadly force by the police, there appeared to be little ambiguity in what took place here.

The video showed that Scott was shot as he ran away from Slager. The swift action taken by local prosecutors after the video surfaced and the nearly uniform public comments by local politicians condemning the actions of the police officer seem to have helped keep the community calm, even as the incident underscored the tension between the police and minority neighborhoods around the country.

Slogans and signs

A few dozen people gathered outside City Hall in North Charleston on Wednesday morning to protest police practices in the city.

Clutching signs with slogans like “the whole world is watching” and “back turned, don’t shoot,” protesters talked about Scott’s death and a broader distrust of authorities here.

“This has been a reality that has been in the North Charleston Police Department for many, many years,” a man said over a loudspeaker. “It just so happens we got a video.”

Demonstrator after demonstrator stepped to the microphones to share accounts of what they said was systemic racism. Some spoke of groundless searches, while others complained about arrests for nonviolent offenses. The protest was vocal, but peaceful.

A few law enforcement officials, dressed in plain clothes, stood nearby, and Sheriff Al Cannon of Charleston County walked through the crowd.

Recent fatal confrontations between police officers and black men have set off widespread protests and outrage. President Barack Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder to cities around the country in an effort to improve police relations with minority neighborhoods.

But the death of two police officers in New York City, shot and killed by a mentally disturbed young man who said he was targeting the police to avenge the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, raised concerns that the national discussion had turned into something much darker.

As the video of the shooting in North Charleston played over and over on screens across the nation, there was little debate about whether the use of force was justified. Instead, the question was what would have happened if not for the video. – New York Times