A war is raging against blacks in America by persons dressed in police uniforms who have taken an oath to protect and serve the community. And Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina is the latest casualty in the war. Walter Scott was stopped for a minor routine traffic stop for a broken tail light on Saturday morning on April 4. It ended with him being shot in the back eight times by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, all caught on a bystander’s video tape. The video shows the callous manner in which the officer disregarded the life of Scott. It shows an officer running after Scott with Scott’s back to the officer and then the officer pulling a gun and firing eight times. It doesn’t stop there. The officer then goes over to handcuff Scott, as if he were still alive. And then he discards the Taser gun in an attempt to perhaps support a false report of Scott taking the Taser from the officer.
The complete graphic video can be found here.
We are in the 21st century. The images seen in the Scott video conjures up images of runaway slaves during slavery times. In the 18th and 19th century, slave owners and bounty hunters would hunt down, capture and then kill slaves who ran away. Walter Scott was not a slave. And this is not the 19th century. Scott’s mother said seeing her son flee and being shot reminded her of the officer shooting an animal. Walter Scott was 50 years old; he had a loving family; he was engaged to be married. And even if he was none of the above, he did not deserve to die in the callous and cold blooded manner depicted in the video.
One person on Twitter tweeted to me that this is a form of genocide against blacks. I won’t go that far. I will say, as a former prosecutor that the callous manner in which Scott was killed does not justify use of deadly force by Slager. The officer was not in fear of serious bodily injury, harm or death from Scott. It amounts to a callous and total reckless disregard for human life. The war against blacks in the U.S. by police has been going on for a long time. With video images being taped, everyone is now able to see the war and the captured incidents on tape. The war did not start with Oscar Grant in Los Angeles, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland or Eric Garner in New York. Sadly, it will not end with Walter Scott in North Charleston.
In a society where police officers become the criminals in taking black lives, we have a serious problem in America. Recognizing the problem is the first step towards doing something about the problem. And I am pleasantly surprised and quite frankly astonished that South Carolina authorities wasted no time in charging the officer and setting no bail. That message must be sent more often in these cases, even without video.
In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, the Department of Justice found wide ranging civil rights violations of minorities. Since 1994, twenty-five cities have entered into settlements with the Justice Department and include Pittsburgh (1999), New Orleans (2012), Los Angeles, Detroit and Oakland to name a few. In 1994, the Department of Justice was empowered by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to investigate police departments for systemic violations of constitutional rights. In the case of the city of Los Angeles, a 12 year process ensued to make changes.
Beyond protests and a conversation on #BlackLivesMatter, we need an overhaul of law enforcement departments in the U.S. on hiring, training, re-training and retention practices. The incidents occurring in Los Angeles, Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, North Charleston, to name a few recent ones, are not an aberration but more systemic. And we should not wait for the next black person to be callously shot in the back or choked to death by the very persons who are called to protect and serve them. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey determined that police cameras will be ordered for his police officers. That is a start.
The Department of Justice should establish a task force to review the policies and practices of police killings in the U.S. and then make appropriate recommendations and take action when data shows violations of constitutional and civil rights. We can no longer sit idly by and wait for the next person to be killed by police without taking action now.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks.com. She has been featured on Al Jazeera America, BET, C-Span, Fox 5, RT America, TV One, among others. She is also a contributor to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.