This time there would be no mistake, no second-guessing: a white officer is seen on video shooting a black man, killing him as the man ran away. At first the officer, 33 years old, claimed that he feared for his life because the man took away his stun gun during a traffic stop Saturday.
The video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as 50-year-old Walter Scott fled.
In a news conference on Tuesday evening, the state charges were announced. The shooting becomes the latest in a series of high-profile incidents in which police officers used lethal force. These shootings have continued a national debate over police tactics and whether the police are too quick to use force, particularly in cases involving black men.
According to the New York Times, which received a copy of the video, “North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white.”
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Mayor Keith Summey said during the news conference. “And 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.”
Watch the video below – warning graphic:
The video was shot by a bystander. According to the NY Times, “The shooting unfolded after Officer Slager stopped the driver of a Mercedes-Benz with a broken taillight, according to police reports. Mr. Scott ran away, and Officer Slager chased him into a grassy lot that abuts a muffler shop. He fired his Taser, an electronic stun gun, but it did not stop Mr. Scott, according to police reports.”
Moments after the struggle, Officer Michael Slager reported on his radio: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” according to police reports.
According to the Times:
“The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.
“Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.
“The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”
Mr. Scott does have a record. He has been arrested about ten times, but mostly that is for failing to pay child support or to show up for court hearings. He does have more serious charges, but they date back over 20 years. He was arrested in 1987 on an assault and battery charge and convicted in 1991 of possession of a bludgeon, according to the Charleston newspaper.
“He has four children; he doesn’t have some type of big violent past or arrest record,” said Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Mr. Scott’s family. “He had a job; he was engaged. He had back child support and didn’t want to go to jail for back child support.”
According to Mr. Stewart, Mr. Scott was struck five times, including three times in the back.
The Post and Courier reports that the Department of Justice will work with prosecutors on the investigation.
They note, “The Police Department, which has 343 sworn officers, has fought accusations in the past that aggressive patrolling tactics had unfairly targeted poor, predominately black communities. The newspaper reported in September that 18 percent of the officers were black while the city’s population is 45 percent black.”
Meanwhile, in Ferguson where this debate started, the election results figure to change the face of the city council.
Voters showed up in record numbers on Tuesday, with the results increasing the number of blacks on the council from one to three. Three incumbents decided not to run, which left half of the council’s six seats up for grabs.
However, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports, “Tuesday’s election was less than a clear victory for the throngs of volunteers who poured into the city in a last-minute push to sway voters.”
The turnout, while record numbers, was still only 30 percent, although that is double the typical turnout.
Two candidates supported by the protesters, in fact, lost.
However, Ella Jones garnered about 50 percent of the vote. The chair of the Human Rights Commission ran even before Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson. She accordingly ran “partly because of the way she witnessed young black men being treated by police.”
How much this changes things in Ferguson remains to be seen.
—David M. Greenwald reporting