Civil rights leaders called for a state law to make the police use of body cameras mandatory in the wake of a video showing that Walter Scott was shot in the back while fleeing from a white police officer who is now charged with murder.
During a morning news conference, top officials of the local chapter of the NAACP also called for an investigation into the three main local police agencies which leaders say have engaged in racial profiling and targeted the minority community for excessive traffic stops similar to the one that led to the death of Scott. They also asked for the creation of a civilian board to look at complaints against police conduct.
Officer Michael Thomas Slager is being held on a charge of murder after a cellphone video surfaced showing him firing eight times at Scott.
The official police dashcam video of the traffic stop could be released as soon as Thursday, Thom Berry, a spokesman for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said in an email message.
“This is not the first shooting in the back in North Charleston, it’s just the first one on video,” said Dot S. Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP. She called police excuses before the video surfaced “business as usual.”
The traffic stops are especially galling because they seem to target blacks, said the NAACP chapter first vice president, the Rev. Joseph A. Darby. “Nine out of 10 times, it would be an African American,” who is stopped, he said. “If that’s not racial profiling it means these traffic violations exist only in North Charleston.
“If you see 10 stops, nine would be African Americans,” Scott said of the North Charleston where blacks outnumber whites.
The shooting of Scott as he ran from Slager has reignited questions about race, the use of force by police, the speed of public response and the power of video to change the public agenda.
Municipal officials have moved quickly to contain the fallout, announcing the murder charge, firing the officer, and pledging to ensure that every officer has a body camera to record what happens in order to avoid any future problems in this Southern city where 47% of the population is black and more than 80% of the police force is white.
Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers have been praised by local and national civil rights leaders for their rapid response -- unlike what happened in Ferguson, Mo., where the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer last year led to weeks of sometimes violent protests.
There was no video in Ferguson, but there was last summer in Staten Island, where Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo was shown wrapping his arms around the neck of Eric Garner and wrestling the man to the ground. Garner can be heard repeatedly saying, “I can't breathe,” before he goes limp. A medical examiner later ruled that a chokehold, along with Garner's poor health, caused his death.
A grand jury decided not to charge Pantaleo. In Missouri, a grand jury decided not to charge Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot Brown, a black 18-year-old. That decision touched off a second round of demonstrations.
Walter Scott is not the first unarmed black man whose shooting at the hands of a white South Carolina police officer was captured on videotape.
On Sept. 4, a police dashboard camera was running when Levar Edward Jones, 35, was shot and wounded by State Trooper Sean M. Groubert after Jones was pulled over for removing his seat belt as he pulled into a convenience store in Columbia, S.C.
Fifteen days later, Groubert, 31, was fired and charged with felony assault and battery “of a high and aggravated nature.” He is awaiting trial and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
Like Scott, Jones was stopped for a minor traffic violation. He was treated at a hospital for a gunshot wound to the hip and released.
Both videos reveal a similar set of circumstances -- white officers firing multiple shots at unarmed black men who did not appear to pose an immediate threat to the officers. And in both cases, the officers’ first actions after the shootings were to order the wounded men to put their hands behind their backs.
The Columbia video showed Jones complying with the officer’s instructions to produce his driver’s license. But as Jones reached inside the driver’s door of his Dodge Durango, Groubert began screaming, "Get out of the car! Get out of the car!’’
The officer fired at least four shots at Jones, who raised his hands as he tumbled backward.
“I just got my license! You said get my license!’’ Jones said as he fell to the pavement, wounded.
“What did I do?'' Jones asked the trooper, who disappeared from the video frame as he repeated several times, "Put your hands behind your back!''
“What did I do, sir?'' Jones asked again.
“Are you hit?'' Groubert asked.
“I think so,'' Jones replied. “I can't feel my leg.''
Seconds later, Jones asked again, “Why did you shoot me?''
“Well,'' the trooper responded, “you dove head-first back into your car . . . then you jumped back out.''
“I'm sorry,'' Jones replied.
Groubert's attorney later said the shooting was justified, but he provided no details. Groubert is expected to face trial in July.
The State newspaper in Columbia reviewed South Carolina Law Enforcement Division records over the past five years, and found police officers have fired their weapons 209 times at suspects.
Three officers have been accused of misuse of force and none were convicted.
Four officers were killed while 79 suspects died.
The newspaper reported that it could not determine the race of the suspects in many cases. In those cases where the race of the victim was known, 101 African American suspects and 67 white suspects were shot at. Most of the suspects were armed, the survey found.
Over the past 15 years, the newspaper's survey found, police officers fired their weapons 550 times, an average of 36 shootings a year.
Zucchino reported from North Charleston and Muskal from Los Angeles.
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