South Carolina Police Officer Charged with Murder of Unarmed Black Man


A white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, was charged with murder yesterday after a video showed him shooting in the back and killing Walter Scott while he ran away.

On Saturday, Michael Slager, 33, stopped Walter Scott, 50, for driving a Mercedes-Benz with a broken taillight, according to police reports. Mr. Scott ran away, and the officer chased him into a grassy lot and fired his Taser at him. A video taken by a bystander begins moments later, apparently showing wires from the stun gun extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run. An object is tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men.

Officer Slager draws his gun, and Mr. Scott is 15 to 20 feet away and running away from the officer when Slager fires eight shots into his back. He falls, and Slager runs back toward the area of the scuffle and picks something up. Minutes later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body.

Officer Slager handcuffs Mr. Scott behind his back, leaving him face down where he fell. The New York Times reported that the coroner found Mr. Scott was struck three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks, and once in the ear, with at least one bullet entering his heart. It is not clear whether he died immediately. Police reports say the officers performed CPR and administered first aid. The video, however, shows a second officer arriving, putting on blue medical gloves, and attending to Mr. Scott, but neither he nor a third officer is seen performing CPR.

Officer Slager said he had feared for his life because Mr. Scott had taken his stun gun.

North Charleston has a population of about 100,000, of which about 47 percent are African Americans. The police department is 80 percent white. Mayor Keith Summey announced the murder charge Tuesday at a press conference.

The New York Times reported that data on the number of police shootings in North Charleston wasn’t immediately available. Police shootings nationwide are grossly underreported, and requiring police departments to report reliable data on the use of deadly force is one of the recommendations made by the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The FBI and the Justice Department are investigating the shooting, which comes in the wake of police killings, some also caught on video, in New York, Cleveland, Albuquerque, and Ferguson, Missouri.

Too many people in America are burdened with presumptions of guilt and dangerousness based on race. These presumptions have unfairly made people of color targets of police aggression and violence. Race is used as a basis for distrust or suspicion that marks a person as one to be feared, and targeted with force by police. The myths of racial inferiority used to justify slavery, lynching, and segregation persist and continue to influence our world. EJI believes that we need to talk about this history if we hope to create communities where Black and brown people are not menaced by violence, criminality, and lethal shootings by the police who are paid to protect them.