On Walter Scott

On The Surface

Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot to death while running away from a white police officer who was later revealed to have perjured himself about the danger of the situation. Though the officer was fired and charged with murder, Scott’s death has nonetheless prompted a national debate as to the police force’s effectiveness.

In-Depth

No doubt you’ve heard by now of the shooting of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Carolina earlier this week. Perhaps you reacted with shock and horror. Or perhaps, like me, you were indifferent; in today’s world, the shooting of an unarmed black man by police seems almost commonplace.

50 year-old Scott was pulled over by Charleston Police officer Michael Slager for a faulty brake light. Scott’s dash cam video shows the two talking; Scott later exited the vehicle and ran (Scott’s lawyer has since speculated that this was due to Scott’s failure to pay child support fees).

After the shooting, Slager alleged in his report that Scott had tried to take his gun, adding that he had “feared for [his] life” and that Scott had “tried to take [his] taser.” In addition, Slager’s lawyer claimed that he believed “…once the community hears all the facts of this shooting, they’ll have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding this investigation.” However, bystander video provided to the New York Times tells a different story. Feidin Santana started recording after he heard the sound of a taser; however, that purported altercation was not captured. In the video, Slager fired eight shots to execute the already fleeing Scott, five of which hit him. Police claimed to have tried to resuscitate Scott, but to no avail; the video shows no such attempt. In addition, more footage has surfaced showing Slager planting a taser next to Scott’s body.

Both the mayor and the police chief of Charleston publicly condemned the actions of Slager, who has since been fired and charged with murder (he faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted). Slager’s lawyer has since abandoned him. Today, hundreds of people turned out to Scott’s funeral, where the casket was accompanied by (ironically, perhaps) a police escort.

Though Scott’s death was a tragedy, perhaps the aftermath is a step forward; the swift reaction of the government of Charleston stands in sharp contrast to the failure to convict George Zimmerman for the killing of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin, or officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner (also caught on video).

Without Santana’s video, Slager would no doubt have gotten away with the killing. Moving forward, more accountability measures must be integrated into the police force, such  the mandatory use of body cameras. And, just as Scott’s family and community continues to heal, America’s police force at large must now heal its own reputation.

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