On Saturday, April 4, Walter Scott was pulled over by North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager. The reason was a broken taillight on his car. According to the New York Times, Scott ran away. His brother told the paper he believes it was because Scott owed back child support. Slager gave chase and at some point used his Taser on Scott. The video picks up what happened next in a grassy area. As Scott runs away with his back to Slager, the officer fires his gun at him eight times. “Shots fired! Subject is down!” Slager tells dispatch. “He grabbed my Taser.”
The horrific video, which emerged Tuesday and contains graphic language, shows something different.
There are three key moments in the video. At 0:56, Slager walks, then jogs, back to where once stood. At 1:06, he picks something up, presumably the Taser, from the ground. At 1:23, he appears to drop something next to Scott’s body, which he handcuffed immediately after the shooting. The Post reports that police confirmed that Scott “was hit with the Taser at least once, because part of it was still attached to him when other officers arrived on the scene.” Slager’s story fell apart because “city officials said that Scott was clearly too far away to use a Taser if he did have it.” The officer was fired and charged with murder on Tuesday.
Slager’s story also fell apart because of the emergence of a passerby’s cellphone video. Thank goodness for it. We saw with our own eyes an abuse of power that is every African American’s worst nightmare. Not only does the enraging incident argue for body cameras, but it also should encourage people to continue to use their cellphones to hold police accountable. As my editor said in our meeting this morning, without video in situations such as this, the tie goes to the cop.
That’s what almost happened seven months earlier in Columbia, S.C., on Sept. 4, 2014, when Levar Jones was pulled over by now-former South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert for a seat-belt violation. A request to see a driver’s license followed by an attempt to comply led to Jones being shot by Groubert. “He kept coming towards me,” Groubert said in his defense. His own dashcam video showed the truth.
Groubert: Get on the ground! Get on the ground!Jones: I just got my license! You said get my license! I grabbed my license. Right there! That’s my license.Groubert: Put your hands behind your back! Put your hands behind your back!Jones: What did I do? What did I do, sir?Groubert: Are you hit?Jones: I think so. I can’t feel my leg. I don’t know what happened. I just grabbed my license. Why did you, why did you shoot me?
Jones survived the point-blank shooting suffering a hit in the hip. Groubert was fired, arrested and charged with “assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.” The swiftness of action against Groubert and Slager is heartening. But we have to find ways to keep such confrontations from happening.
A routine traffic stop is never routine when you’re black. One minute you’re going about your life. The next you could be pleading for it. For African Americans, this is the stuff of dark comedy. In 2000, comedian Chris Rock did a memorable skit for his eponymous television called “How not to get your ass kicked by the police.” Today, Rock posts his multiple traffic stops on Instagram. As we have seen in the cases of Jones and Scott, documentation of encounters with police is vital in breaking a tie in a confrontation with a cop, especially if the civilian dies because of it.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj