Yet another unarmed black man has been killed by police… What’s next?

I would have thought, given the rapid proliferation of video recording devices throughout society, and the intense media scrutiny that came in the wake of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown killings, that police officers might be a little more inclined to show restraint when dealing with members of the public. Apparently, though, old habits die hard… especially when officers involved in excessive force cases, like the ones cited above, keep not only getting off without jail time, but end up wealthy as a result of their actions.

So, I don’t think it came as much of a shock to anyone that yet another unarmed black man was shot to death this past weekend by a police officer in South Carolina.

This past Saturday morning, just minutes after being pulled over for driving a vehicle with a broken tail light, Walter L. Scott, 50, was dead. According to officer Michael T. Slager, 33, he had no choice but to shoot Scott.

According to the local paper, The Post And Courier, it was all relatively straightforward. Scott had attempted to flee, officer Slager tased him, and a fight over the weapon ensued. “The dead man fought with an officer over his taser before deadly force was employed,” the article said. Officer Slager, in the words of his attorney, “felt threatened and reached for his department-issued firearm, and fired his weapon.” But, as we’d learn yesterday, the truth was a little more complicated than that. Scott hadn’t been killed in a struggle over the taser. He’d been shot eight times in the back, at a distance of approximately 20 feet… And his family had video to prove it.

This is how far apart the two men were when the fatal shots were fired.

scshooting1

And, as if that weren’t enough, the video also appears to show officer Slager, after killing Scott, pick up the taser from the area where they first struggled, cary it over to where Scott lay dead, and toss it on the ground beside him, in hopes, one would assume, of giving the impression that the dead man had possession of the weapon at the time of his death… a fabrication that officer Slager would reinforce moments later, when he radioed in the following: “Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my taser.”

The video also makes it clear that, contrary to early reports, the police did not attempt to perform CPR on Scott. The following is from the New York Times:

…Police reports say that officers performed CPR and delivered first aid to Mr. Scott. The video shows that for several minutes after the shooting, Mr. Scott remained face down with his hands cuffed behind his back. A second officer arrives, puts on blue medical gloves and attends to Mr. Scott, but is not shown performing CPR. As sirens wail in the background, a third officer later arrives, apparently with a medical kit, but is also not seen performing CPR…

Thankfully, now that the video has surfaced, all of Slager’s support has evaporated. Not only that, but he’s been charged with murder.

I know the “state’s rights” folks and the police unions would do everything in their power to keep it from happening, but I think our friend Bob Sloan may be onto something with his suggestion this evening that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division should, from this point forward, investigate all police shootings.

sloanidea1

Admittedly, I don’t know much about how such things work, but, as I understand it, the local police force in this instance was not even compelled to hand the case up to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. [From CNN: “The North Charleston Police department was not legally obligated to but chose to hand the case over to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, according to a news release from Scarlett A. Wilson, the Ninth Judicial Circuit solicitor.”] So, at the very least, it would seem to me that laws could be changed to give more oversight both at the state and federal level, and not just leave investigations in the hands of individual departments that very well could be biased in favor of the officers being looked at.

With that said, I know that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the South Carolina office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office are all involved in this case some extent. So I know there’s already some pressure being exerted from federal entities, regardless of who might technically “own” the case. Still, however, I don’t believe that happens in the case of every police shooting, and, regardless, one has to think that there are things that could be done to increase federal oversight.

And, if we can’t do that, could we at least mandate the use of body cameras across the country, and change the reporting requirements so that police departments are compelled to tell us about instances where force is used?

The following, by way of background, comes from the same New York Times article linked to above.

…Because police departments are not required to release data on how often officers use force, it was not immediately clear how often police shootings occurred in North Charleston, a working-class community adjacent to the tourist destination of Charleston…

Regardless of what we do, my hope is that we’re all in agreement that federal action of some type needs to be taken, and taken soon… I mean, leaving this to the states apparently isn’t working, right?

Here, getting a bit at the root causes for what we’re facing today, is a clip from Think Progress.

The city of Ferguson will have its own local reforms to consider, as the council has already passed several bills to establish a police review board, and set limits on excessive court fines and fees exposed after Brown’s death. If past experience is any indication, reforming the police department is possible over the course many years and many battles.

But nationally, problems persist. “This is a very systemic problem in just about every community throughout the United States,” Brickner said.

And even in communities that have seen dramatic change, there are as many holes left to be filled as there have been reforms. One is the intransigent, incredible challenge of holding police accountable. Police unions exercise strong influence over many local boards that decide whether cops get to keep their jobs. Juries tend to side with police. And the law overwhelming favors the police. UC Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerensky, who has long followed this issue, wrote after Brown’s death that “the officer who shot Michael Brown and the City of Ferguson will most likely never be held accountable in court” due to doctrines from the Supreme Court down that weigh against holding officers accountable.

Another is a culture that embraces guns. Police are given a lot of leeway to use deadly force, in many instances when the public perception is that other lesser measures might do. As CNN’s Mark O’Mara noted after Brown’s death, “Cops are doing the job we told them to do.”

Riots in Ferguson have also exposed to America the extreme militarization of police forces that has only grown since the past waves of police shootings. And the racism in the criminal justice system persists, both overtly, and implicitly, even as more whites than ever believe the criminal justice system is no longer biased.

But there are reasons to be hopeful. For one thing, criminal justice reform is increasingly becoming a bipartisan issue. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) became one of a growing number of congressional Republicans who have called for criminal justice reform. Domanick said he was also encouraged that there was outrage at Ferguson’s police militarization across the political spectrum. For another, reform options exist that didn’t before, such as body cameras for police. In fact, it is the emergence of mobile recording devices that has exposed some of the recent violent incidents — and debunked any attempts by police to skew the facts.

In the case of Ferguson, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced he will initiate an investigation of the city’s “patterns and practices” in addition to the separate criminal investigation of the Brown case. In fact, Holder has taken on a new tone for the country’s top law enforcer that acknowledges the United States epidemic of discriminatory and overly punitive criminal punishment.

But underlying all of this is the segregation and oppression that was unveiled in Ferguson. A Washington Post investigation last week revealed that these underlying problems still persist in Cincinnati, meaning that while police were indeed reformed, fixing the racial tensions that existed in 2001 Cincinnati is “a job unfinished.” Even Cincinnati’s black police chief says he fears his own son’s encounters with the police.

“The cultural disconnect is very real; you have the weight of generations of abuse on African Americans,” Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell told the Washington Post after Brown’s death.

“[T]he mentality is that these lives in the ghetto are not to be valued,” added Domanick. “Policing and violence are only symptoms of this larger problem. We’re gonna have problems. But at least we’re starting to know now what works in terms of reducing crime short term and long term and what works in terms of community policing and good community relations.”

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39 Comments

  1. D'Real
    Posted April 8, 2015 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    every 28 hours :(

  2. EOS
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    This is a horrible tragedy. The officer who shot the man has been arrested and will be held accountable for his murder. This incident is wholy different than the other shootings that have had so much media attention. Do not let this isolated incident be used by Obama to federalize community police. This type of injustice is far less likely to occur when the police in our communities are our friends and neighbors and is far more likely to occur when our first responders are militarized authorities brought in from outside. The Obama administration has had the “solution” to this problem ready to implement for some time. Refuse to be an easily led pawn in this scenario.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    When tempers heat up and people have guns bad things are likely to happen. We should empower communities to try new things to get guns off their streets and off the hips of their cops.

  4. Meta
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Racist texts discovered between police in SF.

    “All niggers must fucking hang,” said one.

    Another said: “Cross burning lowers blood pressure! I did the test myself!”

    San Francisco’s chief of police has moved to dismiss eight officers who allegedly sent and received racially charged and homophobic text messages that included references to lynchings, white power and burning crosses.

    Chief Greg Suhr called the text messages “reprehensible” and “hateful” at a press conference on Friday, during which he sought to distinguish the misconduct of a few officers from the rest of his force.

    “There were eight standing officers who engaged in such repulsive conversations via text messages,” Suhr said. “I have suspended them and they have been referred to the police commission with a recommendation of only termination – as it should be. Their conduct is incompatible with that of a police officer.”

    Suhr’s recommendations come at a time of heightened scrutiny on the relationship between police officers and minority communities, snapped into focus by high-profile police killings in New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, where a US Department of Justice investigation revealed racist emails sent by police officers in the department there.

    Fourteen San Francisco officers and department employees are alleged to have sent or received the text messages in 2011 and 2012. The messages included slurs against black people, Mexicans, Filipinos and gay people, police said. The phrase “white power” was used repeatedly.

    One read: “All niggers must fucking hang.” Another said: “Cross burning lowers blood pressure! I did the test myself!”

    The scandal reached the highest echelons of the force, with Suhr recommending the removal of a captain, a sergeant and six officers. The longest-serving officer had been on the force for 23 years. Suhr called it “particularly disheartening” that such individuals were involved.

    Read more:
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/04/san-francisco-police-officers-firing-racist-homophobic-text-messages

  5. Wrong is wrong
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Weird. This is almost identical to what happened in front of my house on Huron Street a few years ago except the cop was undercover. The chief at the time immediately pulled Ypsi cop from undercover operations.

  6. site admin
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    The man referred to by Wrong is Wrong is David Ware, who what shot in the back and killed by a police officer in Ypsilanti in 2007. You can read more about the incident here.

    http://markmaynard.com/2007/02/who-was-david-ware/

  7. Maria Huffman
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    EOS, people don’t generally think like you do on the subject.

  8. jcp2
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    EOS is partially correct. “This type of injustice is far less likely to occur when the police in our communities are our friends and neighbors and is far more likely to occur when our first responders are militarized authorities brought in from outside.” The error is in the assumption that current police forces in these affected communities are friends and neighbors of the community. They are not. They are militarized authorities brought in from the outside. Just look at who the officers are, where they live, and the tactics that they are trained to use.

  9. Lynne
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The problem here is that this is NOT an isolated incident. Also, had it not been for a citizen video taping things, the police officer may have gotten off scott free. I know that I have been guilty of overlooking police violence against black people. That has to end though. We all need to do whatever we need to do to ensure that ALL people in our community feel safe.

  10. EOS
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    So work with local police to ensure the force represents our community and is racially diverse. Contact City Council representatives and ask that residency requirements be added during the next contract negotiation. Make sure that our local force receives adequate training to de-esculate situations so that lethal force is rarely even considered. Put body cameras on every officer and dash cams in every vehicle. Our police have a difficult job and put their lives on the line to protect our community. Give them our support rather than treat them all with the suspicion that they are racists who hope to kill minorities for sport. And swiftly eliminate the bad eggs the moment they surface to maintain an excellent relationship with the community they serve.

  11. EOS
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Maria,

    People don’t generally think like I do on any subject, but that doesn’t prove that I am wrong.

  12. jcp2
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    EOS, that is exactly what federal oversight of these troubled departments is supposed to accomplish, as apparently the existing structure of the local governance bodies precludes them from doing those things themselves for whatever reason, whether it be an unresponsive local city council, an oversealous local prosecutor, or intransient police unions.

  13. Lynne
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I am always a little flabbergasted whenever I agree with an EOS post but the suggestions in that last comment are good ideas.

  14. EOS
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Federal oversight eliminates all possibility for a responsive local force. An administrator in Washington makes the call on all local matters. It is significantly easier to hold local officials accountable.

  15. jcp2
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    EOS, I think we share the same goals. I don’t think federal oversight means a police chief in Washington recruiting a bunch of Pinkerton candidates to serve as an occupying force for a troubled community. It just means setting a set of ground rules and parameters for better policing as compared to what was there before. And what was there before was the result of holding local officials accountable. It sometimes is useful to have an outside third party with true disciplinary powers to be part of a reform process, as there may be multiple conflicts of interest between the existing local authorities. I mean all these troubled police forces started out under local oversight only at some point, and here is where they ended up under local oversight. Why would it be any different otherwise?

  16. EOS
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think an Eric Holder or Janet Reno is the optimal individual to determine our community standards. I don’t believe we have a troubled police force in our county. I think Federal oversight is just one step shy of martial law.

  17. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    If Slager does not receive a hefty jail sentence then I will join the protest, but comparing this shooting to the death of Garner and the death of Brown is silly, unless we continue to look at those two cases in the most superficial ways.

  18. Maria Huffman
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    So, I have been wondering, do you all know each other in real life, jcp2,Lynne, Frosted Flakes and EOS?

  19. Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    I agree with EOS on the idea of these things happening less frequently when police are our neighbors/community members/friends. AND it gives me the opportunity I always look for, which is to mention The Wire! When they set up Hamsterdam (zone that basically legalized drugs), the cops could go back to walking a beat and get to know the folks in the neighborhoods. I’d really like to see that, especially since we live on a fairly busy street near downtown Ann Arbor. It would be comforting to know my local officer.

  20. Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Interesting question, Maria! I don’t think most of us know each other. I know Mary D (not sure what she posts under), I’ve met Demetrious (sp?), Christine and of course Mark.

  21. Jcp2
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Patti doesn’t know I know her.

  22. Maria Huffman
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Idk, EOS, there are times federal intervention is appropriate, or could be appropriate and effective. I wonder if Officer Slager knew Mr. Scott well personally before the shooting, myself.

  23. Maria Huffman
    Posted April 9, 2015 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    That is kind of funny and kind of creepy at the same time, Jcp2.

  24. Lynne
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I know those folks in real life but Ypsi is a small town so who knows?

  25. Robert Sloan
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Currently a family member or their representatives have to request federal investigation by DOJ for rights violations. That puts onus on victim or family to seek redress…and the DOJ can decline involvement.

    I think all can agree that some form of federal oversight is needed with all the police shootings and choking … and that oversight should involve prosecutions in cases where unnecessary force results in death.

  26. Meta
    Posted April 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The victim wasn’t black, but video has made public of police in San Bernardino, California repeatedly kicking a man in the head and groin after he lays down in front of them, facing the ground, with his hands behind his back.

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/10/us/california-san-bernardino-police-beating/

  27. Meta
    Posted April 11, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    A new app is in the works that will allow people to more easily report cases of police brutality and share video of cops in action.

    Reporting police brutality could just be a swipe away.

    That’s the motivation behind SWAT, a new app designed by college students Joe Gruenbaum and Brandon Anderson to counter excessive uses of force by police officers.

    The app, which its creators would like to release by spring, will give witnesses of a police incident the ability to live-stream video from their smartphones to SWAT’s secure servers. Once a video is on the servers, the team at SWAT can forward a copy to authorities, protecting witness recordings from possible destruction or seizure during the incident.

    This might sound illegal, but it isn’t. While some states have implemented restrictions on public audio recordings (most notably Illinois), no state in the U.S. prohibits recording video of the police in a public place.

    Read more:
    http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/politics/swat-app-seeks-to-reduce-police-violence/index.html

  28. Maria Huffman
    Posted April 11, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    I have been thinking…did anyone know Aura Rosser personally either?

  29. Posted April 12, 2015 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    The police who are our friends and neighbors know everyone.

    Come to think of it, at no time has a police officer been a friend or a neighbor. Whether local or not, I always perceive them as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, particularly when they have pulled guns on me despite having committed no crime (Memphis, TN, Jackson, MS, New Orleans, LA).

  30. EOS
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    The point is not that everyone would have a warm and fuzzy relationship with a police officer who lived in the community they serve, but that they would be known by some. That they would interact with other individuals in the community on a daily basis: kids in school, grocery stores, gas stations, walking the dog, drinking at a bar, etc.

  31. Posted April 12, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    The point is that it doesn’t matter or matters much less than you seem to believe. Southern police are mostly as local as one can get, but historically notorious for police violence particularly against the poor and against minorities. Southern police were happy to pull guns or commit violence whenever it felt good to them almost always with impunity.

    I realize you wish to live in a fantasy land where localization solves everything, but the real world is quite different, particularly in places where the police do not represent the community, but rather a privileged subset thereof or simply themselves (in the absolute worst case).

  32. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 12, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Purely anecdotal, but I have had guns pulled out on me, by officers, two times. One time, I was alone, in the wrong place at the wrong time–in retrospect–it made sense that the officers were suspicious and felt threatened by my behavior. The situation de-escalated quickly when I cooperated and they explained their reasons…They apologized, but given the officers interpretation of the situation it seemed reasonable to bring a gun out…although I was not breaking the law…Just wrong place at the wrong time….

    The second time an officer pulled a gun out I was a passenger in a car that was speeding. The driver was argumentative and resistant to the officers requests. Here is the punchline: The officer was the cousin of the driver!

    In my experience it is best to cooperate with officers. Some people seem to have the idea that resisting an officers requests is your right if they are not breaking the law. Some people have the idea that they are being bullied by officers simply because they do not belong to the same social group as the officer. In my experience neither of these ideas are necessarily true and I certainly advise not letting these ideas creep into ones attitude and responses to officers and their requests. It is best to cooperate. Officers have a difficult job.

  33. Posted April 12, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Regardless, there is no evidence to suggest that localized police forces are less violent than state or a federal supported police force.

  34. Posted April 12, 2015 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    An interesting article. How many of these police officers were “friends and neighbors” with their victims?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/04/11/thousands-dead-few-prosecuted/

  35. anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    “Cop Who Shot and Killed Walter Scott Laughed About Adrenaline Rush”

    http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/listen-cop-who-shot-and-killed-walter-scott-laughed-about-adrenaline-rush

  36. Posted April 13, 2015 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    The “local friend and neighbor” got a kick out of shooting black people.

  37. Posted April 17, 2015 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Black Lives Matter

  38. Meta
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    NPR: “Former S.C. Police Officer Pleads Guilty In Shooting Of Walter Scott”

    A former police officer in North Charleston, S.C., accused in the shooting death of an unarmed black man in 2015 has pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge, according to his lawyer.

    Michael Slager, who shot Walter Scott in the back following a traffic stop, pleaded guilty Tuesday to violating Scott’s civil rights by using excessive force during an attempted arrest. A bystander captured cellphone video of the killing, spurring widespread outrage.

    “We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss,” said Andrew Savage, Slager’s defense attorney.

    As part of the plea deal, the state of South Carolina will drop a murder charge against Slager, according to Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio.

    State prosecutors had been set to re-try Slager, 35, in August after his murder trial ended in a hung jury in December. “It’s not over,” Scott’s mother, Judy, said outside the courthouse at the time. “Y’all hear me? It’s not over till God says it’s over.”

    Read more:
    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/02/526580300/former-s-c-police-officer-pleads-guilty-in-shooting-of-walter-scott

  39. Facts?
    Posted May 2, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Now this…. it never ends.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/01/us/dallas-police-teen-shooting.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

3 Trackbacks

  1. […] trust in the wake of recent events like those involving Eric Garner in New York and Walter L. Scott in South Carolina, to the recent backlash he encountered when he advocated for leniency in the case of a young man […]

  2. […] to have been a lot of these isolated events as of late. Just a few months ago, as you may recall, a white police officer shot an unarmed black man to death. He, of course, said it was in self-defense, but the video that came out later of him shooting the […]

  3. […] are above reproach. Do we want to live in a world where our police are above reproach, allowed to shoot people in the back and choke them to death without the threat of recourse? That’s the very definition of a […]

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