Outrage over shooting death of unarmed Black man

New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams.
Associated Press / Haraz N. Ghanbari, File

At least two City legislators have expressed outrage over the shooting death of an unarmed Black man in the back, as he ran away, by a white police officer in North Charleston, S.C.

On Tuesday, Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), deputy leader and co-chair of the City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, and Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson (D-Bronx), Chair of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety, said in a joint statement that they were “appalled” by the “horrific” shooting.

The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, was on Tuesday charged with murder after a video surfaced showing him shooting Walter Scott, firing eight times as Scott, 50, fled.

“First and foremost, our prayers for peace and comfort go out to Walter Scott’’ family, friends and the entire North Charleston community,” said Williams and Gibson. “Words cannot describe how appalled we are that another unarmed person of color has died at the hands of those charged to serve and protect.

“This horrific scene exemplifies the very worst of our public safety system: the still-fractured relationship between the police and communities of color and an overly zealous ethos for excessive use of force,” they added.

“Without a bystander filming Officer Slager’s actions, Walter Scott’s family would have never known the truth behind his death,” Williams and Gibson continued.

“Justice cannot rely on cellphone cameras and good Samaritans; this incident has once again reminded us of the necessity of body cameras for police, as strongly recommended by a White House task force on community-police relations and supported by members of this Council,” they said.

Slager said he had feared for his life because Scott had allegedly taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday, according to the New York Times. But a video shows Slager firing eight times as Scott fled.

The shooting came on the heels of high-profile instances of police officers’ using lethal force in New York, Cleveland, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere, the Times noted.

A White House task force has recommended a serioes of changes to the nation’s police policies. President Obama has sent Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to cities around the country to try to improve police relations with minority neighborhoods.

“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey during a news conference on Tuesday. “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.”

According to police reports, the shooting unfolded after Slager stopped the driver, Scott, of a Mercedes-Benz with a broken taillight.

Slager chased Scott into a grassy lot, firing his Taser, an electronic stun gun, but it did not stop Scott, the police reports said.

Moments after the struggle, Officer Slager reported on his radio: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” according to police reports.

But the video, which was taken by a bystander and provided to The New York Times by the Scott family’s lawyer, presents a different account.

The Times said 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 Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Scott turns to run, the paper said.

“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,” the Times said. “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,” it added.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state’s criminal investigative body, has begun an inquiry into the shooting, according to the Times.

It said the FBI and the Justice Department, which has opened a string of civil rights investigations into police departments under Holder, is also investigating.

“We are glad to see Officer Slager will be brought to court thanks to this footage,” Williams and Gibson said. “He must be held fully accountable for his actions in the same manner as anyone who committed a criminal homicide.

“Sadly, simply being indicted is a step towards balancing the scales of justice,” they added. “But the real justice will only come when someone is held criminally responsible for these actions; and it’s our hope that this incident is the catalyst for real dialogue and concerted change.”

Williams and Gibson said they applaud the Justice Department for launching an immediate investigation into the tragedy.

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