A white police officer in South Carolina has been arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man that was caught on video.
The shooting of 50-year-old Walter Scott last Saturday in the city of North Charleston occurred after he was pulled over by Officer Michael Slager for driving with a broken brake light. The video, taken by a bystander with a cellphone camera, shows Slager firing several times at Scott, who was running away from Slager. After Scott fell to the ground after the final shot, Slager walked over to Scott and handcuffed him, then returned to the spot where he opened fire. The officer picked up something from the ground, walked back to Scott’s body, and dropped the object next to him.
Slager initially said he opened fire after Scott had taken his electronic stun gun during a scuffle.
The unidentified witness who took the video turned it over to Scott’s family. A lawyer for the family turned the video over to The New York Times, which posted it on its website Tuesday.
“What if there was no video?,” Chris Stewart, the attorney for Scott’s family, asked reporters late Tuesday night. “What if there was no witness or hero as I call him to come forward? Then this wouldn’t have happened, because as you can see the initial reports stated something totally different, the officer said that Mr. Scott attacked him and pulled his taser and tried to use it on him, but somebody was watching.”
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the state’s criminal investigative body, has begun an investigation into the shooting. The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI have each opened their own separate investigations.
This is the latest in a series of fatal encounters of unarmed black males at the hands of police, including the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City. The incidents led to massive protests across the nation over aggressive police tactics in minority communities.
“When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said during a news conference announcing the charges against Slager. “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.”
U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, an African American, said on Twitter that he had seen the video of the shooting. Scott said it was “senseless” and “absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.”