On Tuesday April 7, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager was charged with the murder of Walter Scott.
Scott, a 50-year-old black man with four children, was stopped for having a broken taillight. A broken taillight! It is the kind of stereotypical thing racist cops in movies pull black people over for. Yet this incident was very real and ended in Scott being shot eight times in the back as he fled from the officer.
Slager then claimed that Scott had taken his taser in a violent struggle and that he feared for his life, so he shot him (eight times no less).
Then video footage from a mobile phone emerged….
Let’s be fair to Slager for one moment. We can’t see the initial scuffle taking place.
But from what we can see it is impossible to see what caused an armed police officer to “fear for his life” as he shot an unarmed, fleeing man in the back. The video does not appear to show Scott in possession of the officer’s taser at any time.
What we also see is Slager planting an object next to Scott. Is this the taser?
If Slager is found guilty, then one hopes the full force of the law will come down on him. It’ll have to. African-Americans still angry from the fallout of the Ferguson shootings will demand justice. They quite rightly feel threatened by those sworn to protect and serve them.
According to Killed By Police, 312 people have been killed by police this year in the USA. That’s right, this year, 2015. 312 people in just over three months! Most deaths are shootings.
In the UK, there have been three police related-deaths so far this year. None of them were shootings.
With figures like this, the argument pedalled by powerful gun lobbyists in the States that guns aren’t to blame for the violence in the country seems ridiculous, but the gun control debate is a whole other issue.
The issue here is the seemingly institutional racism at play in the American police force that has caused an entire ethnic group to have no trust in their police force. ProPublica found that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white peers.
And what if the video had never come to light?
Without the brave footage of a bystander, Michael Slager would very probably have gotten away with murder, becoming another of the 200 South Carolina officers who have been cleared in shootings over the last five years. Some or even most of these exonerated officers may have been ‘justified’ in their killings but how is the public meant to have trust in the cops when footage like the one above comes out?
Answer: They can’t.
Radical reform of the American police force and the nation’s gun laws must happen before trust can be won back. Slager shot Scott and then calmly planted something by his dead body. This is what happens when human life is devalued, and this is why something is rotten in the American justice system.
Walter Scott died on the 4 April, 47 years to the day since Martin Luther King Jr was shot, a poignant reminder that the USA has yet to heal the wounds of history.