It seems like every other week there is some high-profile case of American police killing civilians, in particular, African American males. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this week is no different. A white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina has been charged with murder after shooting and killing an African American male.
It started off as nothing more than a simple traffic stop Saturday afternoon. Walter Scott was pulled over by officer Michael T. Slager over a broken taillight on his Mercedes Benz. But the situation soon took a quick turn for the worst when Scott allegedly reached for the officers taser, causing an altercation between the two men.
The occurrence was captured on video by a nearby bystander, beginning shortly after Scott had been apparently tased by Slager. In the video, one can see something (presumably the taser) drop from the officer’s body as Scott takes off running. The video shows Scott’s body jerk as the bullets hit him in the back, causing him to drop face-first into the ground. Officer Slager radioed in “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,” after the altercation. He approaches Scott’s body with his gun still drawn, demanding that he put his hands behind his back. When he reaches the body, he places Scott’s hands in handcuffs. As police sirens wail in the background, Slager goes back and picks up the taser he dropped earlier and places it next to Scott’s body, refuting previous police claims that Scott had taken Slager’s taser. Another officer appears on scene, puts blue medical gloves on, and attends to the body but does not give Scott CPR. This is also contrary to police statements that the officers followed protocol and gave him first aid and CPR.
After viewing the video, state investigators decided to charge Slager with murder. “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. If you make a bad decision, I don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the FBI, and the Justice Department have opened up probes to investigate the shooting in full.
Anthony Scott, Walter’s brother, was informed by their mother that Walter had been shot at a traffic stop and to check out what had happened. When Anthony arrived on scene, he was told by police officers that his brother was dead but provided no reason for his death. “This just doesn’t sound right,” he said in an interview. “How do you lose your life at a traffic stop?”
The question that Anthony Scott asked is a very important one. How does one lose their life at a traffic stop? Office Slager said that he shot Scott because he feared for his life, yet the video shows that Scott was fifteen to twenty feet away from him when Slager opened fire. So what caused Slager to gun down a running, unarmed man? Is it perhaps because police officers in America essentially have the ability to kill unarmed civilians with impunity, justifying these killings by saying that the suspects either reached for the officers’ weapons or that the officers feared for their lives? We’ve seen this a countless number of times in America. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, the list goes on and on. The majority of officers involved in civilian deaths more often than not get acquitted of any charges or receive a slap on the wrist at most. At what point do we as a society say enough is enough? When do we stop justifying acts of police brutality and abuse of power? Or do we keep accepting the excuses that police officers make, such as that they feared for their lives, or that the suspects reached for their weapon, or their waistband, or that the suspects should have not been resisting arrest?
I respect police officers and realize that they play a pretty integral part of maintaining a peaceful and just society, but there is clearly an institutional problem that needs to be addressed. The Islamic State kills a few American hostages and suddenly all of America is fearful that they are next. Our police officers kill over 1,000 people in 2014 and there is minimal to no outrage expressed by the majority of the public. How many of those deaths were justifiable, we will never know. But with such an alarming number of people dying at the hands of police officer, who are meant to serve and protect civilians, there is clearly a problem. I just hope the American public is able to realize it and do something about it before it’s too late.