Ex-police officer Michael Slager has been charged with murder for the shooting of an unarmed black man. Did South Carolina get it right on their own, or were they forced because a witness captured the entire shooting on video? This is not the first time an unarmed black man was killed by the hands of law enforcement, nor the first murder to be captured on camera.
On one hand this is a victory for the African-American community as a whole who has spent the last few months attempting to alert the world that, “Black Lives Matter.” On the other hand it is a tragedy because another life was taken without merit. So, while many will pause to celebrate justice, it can only be for a moment because a charge is not a conviction and without a conviction there is no justice.
Slager is behind bars after firing eight shots into the back of Walter Scott. The officer said he felt threatened, although Scott was seen running away. This, in lieu of the series of incidents which have raised questions about race relations and law enforcement, is definitely a positive development but not enough to ease the tension. As it stands, a 50-year-old African-American man is dead without merit and four children are left without a father.
Not only did the disturbing video show Scott running, but it appeared that an object fell to the ground as he was attempting his exit. To Slager’s disappointment, the camera caught him picking up the same object and dropping it on the ground next to his victim’s lifeless body. The video undoubtedly challenged Slager’s original claims.
To the ignorant eye, this case seems like an ace in the hole. However this shooting follows several high-profiled and racially charged crimes which were handled unjustly. The families of Michael Brown, Jr., Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Tanisha Anderson serve as a reminder that it is too soon to rejoice . These shootings have stirred debate worldwide concerning police conduct and race relations. Should black America rest assured that the video is enough to cause real change? Many would argue against that theory.
The U.S. Department of Justice along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation are also investigating the shooting. Public and political officials have criticized Slager’s actions and called the video “horrific.” Many people took to social media to praise the witness who captured the murder and had the courage to give it to Scott’s family while Civil rights leaders have asked people to remain calm and orderly.
The video went viral in a matter of minutes showing the five-year police officer murder his victim. Initially, David Aylor, Slager’s attorney, said his client followed the appropriate procedures and policies. However, after the video was seen, Aylor changed his story. He released the following statement:
Today, I withdrew my representation of Michael Slager. This is a terrible tragedy that has impacted our community.
Police Chief Eddie Driggers said he watched the video and was sickened by what he saw. The 33-year-old ex-cop has been charged with first-degree murder and terminated from the force. On Tuesday, Slager was denied bond by a magistrate judge; if convicted he is eligible for the death penalty. According to the mayor, the city will cover the ex-officer’s insurance for his family until his wife, who is eight-months pregnant, gives birth.
Chris Stewart, Scott family attorney, said “in today’s society people are too hasty to form a judgement.” They want to believe what the authoritative figure says without question and immediately combine it with stereotypes, biases and preconceived notions. Stewart said this is bigger than just race; it show what can happen when people come forward to do what is right by presenting evidence – even risking their own life because they know an injustice is going on. He added:
It is easy just to write this one off without the video tape as another African-American male doing something, attacking a cop, and you will see comments that he got what he deserved, but it was not the truth.
Reportedly, Slager pulled Scott over for a broken tail light after which a foot chase occurred. The officer said Scott refused to comply as commanded and ran from the vehicle. Anthony Scott, the victim’s brother, said his sibling may have run because he was behind on child support and had a warrant against him. Anthony maintained that his brother was not prone to violence but was trying to avoid being arrested.
An autopsy performed on Scott by Rae H. Wooten, Charleston County Coroner, revealed that he has sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the back of his body. The death was immediately ruled a homicide. Anthony said the autopsy confirmed excessive use, but the video solidified it. The question remains:
Would South Carolina have done the right thing for Walter Scott without the viral video or would they have taken ‘officer’ Michael Slager’s word, as in so many other cases?
While the answer may never be realized, what is known is too many unarmed black men have been killed by white officers. The pending outcome shows progress, but it is much too soon to celebrate. As was seen in the death of unarmed Trayvon Martin, a charge is not a conviction.
by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
Inside Image Courtesy of North Charleston – Creativecommons Flickr License
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