We have video of Scott posing no threat when a cop killed him — yet a jury didn’t convict.
The video in the North Charleston, South Carolina, police shooting of Walter Scott couldn’t be any clearer: Scott posed no threat to police officer Michael Slager when Slager shot at least eight times at Scott’s back. Scott was fleeing, but the 50-year-old was barely running — he was moving so slowly that Slager could have caught up to him with a brisk walk. And the encounter began after Scott ran from a traffic stop over a broken brake light — hardly a matter of grave public concern.
On Monday, a jury concluded that it will not be able to reach a verdict in Slager’s murder trial, leading a judge to declare a mistrial. The police officer who shot and killed Scott now looks a little more likely to go free if the local prosecutor decides not to retry the case and if the federal civil rights charges also don’t stick.
There have been ambiguous police killing cases in the past. We didn’t have video for the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The video of the police shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland was a bit blurry, but it showed that Rice really did have a toy gun that officers could have mistaken for a real firearm. Other police killing cases had similar ambiguities.
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ON A grassy strip in South Carolina, a black man turns and runs from a police officer. The cop fires eight bullets at him, leaving him dead. Michael Slager said he shot Walter Scott in self-defence after Mr Scott took his taser. But after a video of the killing went viral—which showed that Mr Scott was perhaps 20 feet away when Mr Slager started shooting at him—the policeman was charged with murder on April 7th. Peaceful demonstrations erupted in the streets.
Mr Scott had been stopped for driving a car with a broken tail light. Relatives speculated that he might have run away from the policeman because he owed child support and did not wish to be jailed for failing to pay it. Many were astounded that he should have died over something so trivial. However, the fact that bystanders nearly always have cameras in their smartphones means that police are finding it harder than ever to commit abuses without consequence.
In response to growing tensions between the New York Police Department and the city, police unions encouraged officers last week to not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary,” resulting in a 66 percent drop from the same period last year. While the protests have drawn scrutiny for “squandering the department’s credibility” and leaving the city’s streets virtually unattended, they have also had the unintended effect of benefitting New York’s low income residents who are usually the target of the city’s tough-on-crime practices.
From right, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton smile in conversation during a New York Police Academy graduation ceremony, Monday Dec. 29, 2014. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO
The work stoppage is a result of outrage by police officers — led by union chief Patrick Lynch — over how Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man. The brutal murders of two New York city officers by a troubled man from Maryland in an apparent retaliation for the Garner killing has only inflamed tensions, leading Lynch to blame de Blasio for the killing and scores of police officers to engage in protest actions against the mayor.
The signs of tension first became apparent when some police officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he spoke in the hospital following the assassinations and then engaged in a mass back-turning when the mayor spoke at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos. Last week, the police went a step further and stopped arresting New Yorkers for small crimes or ticketing people for minor offenses like parking violations, carrying open containers of alcohol or public urination.
As a result of what the New York Post is calling a “virtual work stoppage,” tickets and summonses for minor offenses have plummeted by 94 percent and overall arrests have fallen 66 percent. Theoretically, the practice will strain police budgets, which rely on fines from tickets to make-up for funding shortfalls.