Officials announced Tuesday that Officer Michael Thomas Slager will face murder charges for the shooting of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old who was killed Saturday after a traffic stop. Initially, the officer claimed that Scott had wrested away his Taser and he feared for his life. Video of the incident, released Tuesday, shows that Scott was fleeing when the fatal shots were fired.
The shooting has renewed outrage among civil rights groups and criminal justice activists, who have spent months calling for policing reform following the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford last year.
“It’s another indication that there is something wrong with the police culture in too many jurisdictions,” said Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League. “Another in the endless string of incidents that overwhelmingly involve African American men as victims, and overwhelmingly involve white male officers.”
The shooting, captured by a bystander’s video, comes as national civil rights groups are convening this week in New York, in part to discuss how to best continue to propel the national push for policing and criminal justice reform.
And, Morial and other civil rights leaders have noted, the Scott shooting shows what some consider the most damning possible evidence: a black man, without a weapon, being shot multiple times in the back as he runs away by a white officer.
“This is yet another example, like with Eric Garner, where a picture, or a video, is worth a thousand words,” Morial said. “But for this video, this would have been another coverup, another fabrication, another lie told by a police officer when the police officer was clearly in the wrong.”
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, the Scott family said Tuesday night that they are still trying to cope with the death of the father and brother, whom they described as a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan.
An attorney for Scott’s family told the Post that the father of four had just gotten a new job at a trucking supply company and had recently proposed to his girlfriend, and that the car he was driving – a Mercedes-Benz – was recently purchased.
According to James Johnson, president of the local branch of the National Action Network, Scott bought the vehicle just three days before the shooting.
After buying it, he also purchased a set of silver rims that he placed on the wheels, which has led the Scott family to believe that racial profiling was the reason for the traffic stop.
“His brother told him that he would be a target for putting those rims on that car,” Johnson said. “He bought the car, the next day he bought the rims. Then, two days later, he was pulled over and he was killed.”
And the video’s release prompted outrage not only by national civil rights groups and activists, but also among many locally, with plans for a protest outside of North Charleston City Hall on Wednesday morning quickly announced.
Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott, both Republicans, quickly condemned the shooting, and some local elected officials said Tuesday night that Scott’s death may reinvigorate debate in the state about body cameras for police officers.
“The horrific video that came to light yesterday is deeply troubling. It is clear the killing of Walter Scott was unnecessary and avoidable,” Tim Scott said in a statement. “The swift action taken by SLED [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division] and the relevant authorities upon receiving the video shows the severity of this terrible event.”
The Rev. Joseph Darby said that racial profiling is common in local policing, echoing the questions raised by the Scott family and others about why he was stopped in the first place.
“There have been lingering concerns for years about racial profiling, things like broken tail lamps or license plates or mirrors not there. People have been intercepted because they happen to be driving nice cars,” Darby said.
He added: “The bigger context is just as American as apple pie. The Justice Department recently came out with a scathing indictment of what’s happening in Ferguson. But if they looked at any number of police departments across the nation they could come out with the same kind of indictment.”
There are currently two body camera bills being considered by state legislators, who are on recess until Tuesday. The first would commission a 60-day study of the cost and potential impact of placing body cameras on all state troopers in South Carolina. The second, more sweeping measure would require body cameras for all police officers in the state.
“I just got off of the phone with the speaker of the house,” State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D), the author of both pending body camera bills, said when reached late Tuesday night. “We’re going to have to pull one of those bills out of subcommittee. The speaker was very cooperative, he understood and he’s willing to work with me 100 percent like he always has.”
The bills are both currently being considered by committee, and Gilliard said he warned some fellow lawmakers before they left for recess that they needed to act with urgency.
“I just had a premonition that South Carolina was going to be put in a bad light, that we were just stalling on these issues as it pertains to body cameras.”
Now, with the nation’s attention turned to North Charleston, Gilliard said he is optimistic the body camera legislation will get a full vote.
“We need to put up or shut up in South Carolina,” Gilliard said. “We have too many people here who are talking too loud, and not enough people here who are doing the work we need done.”
Michael Miller contributed to this report.