By Barney Blakeney
Special to the NNPA from The Charleston Chronicle
CHARLESTON, S.C. – North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said Thursday the April 4 shooting death of 50-year-old Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer is indicative of the culture of abuse that exists in the department when it comes to Blacks.
“What we’re seeing is a culture of abuse,” Bryant said at a news conference. “The video of Mr. Scott’s murder shows the officer slowly walk up to the man he’s just shot in the back numerous times. He doesn’t administer aid or even call for EMS.”
A witness captured the disturbing video account of officer Michael Slager firing eight times at Scott as he ran away. Slager had allegedly stopped Scott for a broken brake light. Initially Slager reported that Scott had fought him and wrestled his taser from him, an account that was proven untrue by the video.
Slager said Scott tried use the taser against him when, in fear, he shot Scott. But the video, which doesn’t show any struggle between the two men, only shows Scott running away from Slager who draws his service weapon and fires repeatedly as Scott runs away, eventually falling after the final round struck him.
Although they expressed concern that Scott was unarmed and running away from the officer, leaders of local civil rights organizations had taken a wait-and-see approach to the shooting before the video of the incident was made public Tuesday. But the video that has drawn national attention to the incident gives incontestable evidence Slager fabricated details. On Tuesday, Slager was formerly charged with murder and was forced to trade his police uniform for prison stripes.
In recent years, complaints against North Charleston police officers averaged about 20 per year in the department of approximately 340 sworn officers. About 25 percent are sustained, an equal number are exonerated and most are determined unfounded. But Bryant says the statistics don’t reflect the reality of the abuse perpetrated against minority citizens.
Racial profiling is blatant, Bryant said. Only 64 of the department’s approximate 340 sworn officers are African American. Blacks are subjected to traffic stops at a rate twice that of Whites in the city.
In 2004 after North Charleston police officers had completed a three-day diversity training workshop, several officers who entered a local law firm didn’t reflect that training. Lisa Cotton was one of two Black female attorneys in the office intimidated by officers attempting to arrest a suspect who had come there as a potential client.
More alarming, the abuse has had deadly results, Bryant contends. In 2000, North Charleston police shot to death Edward Snowden, an African American who had been assaulted by three White men outside a video store. Snowden was returning videos to the store when, without provocation, he was attacked by the men who were leaving a bar in the same strip mall.
In 2003, Asberry Wylder was killed by a North Charleston police officer ‡responding to a call about a shoplifter. Police cornered Wylder in a lot across the street from the store then shot him to death after Wylder allegedly stabbed an officer.
Referring to the video of shooting captured by a bystander, NAACP branch president Bryant said, “He (Slager) commands Scott, who was lying there dying, to put his hands behind his back then handcuffs him although Scott was unresponsive. After that he walks back and apparently picks up the taser gun, and comes back to Scott’s body and drops it. Slager most obviously was more concerned about covering his own butt than that man’s life.”