Shooting of black man by white US police officer sparks protest

Video shows police officer in North Charleston shooting apparently unarmed man

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

 

The South Carolina police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of a black man who was running away from him has been fired and the remainder of the police force in North Charleston will soon be equipped with body cameras, the city’s mayor said on Wednesday.

Police officer Michael Slager, a white man, was arrested after video emerged of the shooting on Saturday of Walter Scott (50).

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said at a news conference that not all of the video has been made public.

Activists were planning to protest in South Carolina on Wednesday after Officer Slager’s actions were caught on video.

Officer Slager has been charged with murder and the FBI and US Justice Department are investigating the shooting of Mr Scott - the latest in a series of incidents that have raised questions about US policing and race relations.

Civil rights leaders have called for calm, and many people praised the courage of the witness who filmed the killing and gave the video to Mr Scott’s family.

“When I saw it, I fell to my feet and my heart was broken,” Mr Scott’s father, Walter Scott snr, said on NBC’s Today show on Wednesday.

Without the video, he said, “It would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with so many others.”

Chris Stewart, an attorney for the victim’s family, said on Tuesday night that the incident is bigger than race.

“It goes to power itself. This was a cop who felt like he could just get away with shooting someone that many times in the back,” Mr Stewart said. “It speaks to the value of human life.”

The shooting took place on Saturday morning after Officer Slager (33), who joined the department in 2009, stopped Mr Scott for a broken brake light, police said.

The video shows a brief scuffle between the pair before Mr Scott begins to run away. Officer Slager is then seen taking aim with a handgun before shooting eight times at Mr Scott’s back. Mr Scott then slumps facedown onto the grass.

According to a police report, Officer Slager told other officers Mr Scott had taken his stun gun from him.

At no point in the video, which does not show the initial contact between the men, does Mr Scott appear to be armed.

Officer Slager is seen placing the victim in handcuffs as he lies on the ground, and then the officer walks back to a spot near where he opened fire.

The video then shows him appearing to pick something up, return to Mr Scott, and then drop it next to him on the ground.

Officer Slager is being held without bond on a murder charge that could carry the death penalty, online court records show.

The victim’s family plans to file a lawsuit against Officer Slager, the department and the city alleging his civil rights were violated, Mr Stewart said.

Meanwhile, the person who filmed the video is speaking to investigators and will come forward publicly “at some point”, the lawyer said.

The shooting took place in North Charleston, which is home to about 100,000 people, nearly half of whom are black, 2010 US Census data shows.

By contrast, only about 18 per cent of its police department’s roughly 340 officers are black, the local Post and Courier newspaper reported last year.

Mr Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott, said his late sibling, a father of four, served two years in the US Coast Guard and loved the Dallas Cowboys.

According to the Post and Courier, Walter Scott had a warrant out for his arrest from family court at the time of his death.

His arrest history, mostly for contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support, included one accusation of a violation stemming from an assault and battery charge in 1987, the newspaper reported.

Officer Slager, also formerly a member of the Coast Guard, had not previously been disciplined by the department, the Post and Courier said. He has two stepchildren and a pregnant wife.

The paper reported that in 2013 a man accused him of shooting him with a stun gun without cause, but that Officer Slager was cleared of wrongdoing by an internal police investigation.

The shooting in North Charleston comes on the heels of high-profile incidents of police officers using lethal force in New York, Cleveland, Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere around the country.

The deaths have sparked a national debate over whether police are too quick to use force, particularly in cases involving black men.

A White House task force has recommended a host of changes to the police policies, and President Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric H Holder jnr to cities around the country to try to improve police relations with minority neighbourhoods.

Reuters/New York Times