Hundreds gather as Walter Scott’s family lays him to rest

Updated

SUMMERVILLE, South Carolina — On Saturday morning, the hearse carrying Walter Scott’s body pulled up in front of the WORD Ministries Christian Center, led by two white cops on motorcycles splitting a sea of black faces gathered for the funeral. As the clock struck eleven, Scott’s coffin was carried into the church, preceded by his family and greeted by hundreds of mourners and dozens of journalists.

Scott’s mother and father, an elder and deacon at the church, sat in front as the funeral began, at times standing and raising their hands as the choir sang. A few rows behind them, Sen. Tim Scott sat in the pews, while Congressman Mark Sanford stood against a back wall.

“I’m so thankful for all of the lives that he touched far and wide,” said Rodney Scott, a brother, who said he’s worked for years in mortuary services and witnessed countless families in mourning, but couldn’t feel it until death hit home.

“I’m speechless to see my brother go the way he did,” he said.

RELATED: The Killing of Walter Scott

Scott, 50, was fatally wounded by North Charleston police officer Michael Slager one week ago. Slager has since been charged with murder. As Scott is buried underground, Slager will be locked behind the bars of the Charleston County Jail.

The 33-year-old officer shot Scott, an apparently unarmed black man, as Scott attempted to flee a confrontation with the officer that began just minutes earlier during a routine traffic stop for a broken brake light.

Slager said that Scott snatched his Taser from him and that he feared for his life. But a witnesses’ cell phone video of the incident reveals striking contradictions in the officer’s tale. A day after the release of the video to local and national media, Slager was arrested, charged with murder and fired from the force. State and federal law enforcement officials, including the Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating the killing.

RELATED: New details emerge in Walter Scott case

While there were some tears at the funeral, where many dabbed at wet eyes, the service, in the tradition of the black church, was as much a so-called homegoing celebration as it was a time to grieve.

During a few minutes of silence for mourners to read through Scott’s obituary, a video played on a screen high above the choir. In it, images of Scott and his family melted into each other. There was one of the Scott boys, of family portraits and gatherings with his parents, siblings and children.

About 20 minutes into the service, Pastor George D. Hamilton took to the pulpit and, after thanking those who had shown so much love to the Scotts, brought down fire on Scott’s killer.

“It’s one thing to have someone in your family die. It’s another to witness them die and witness how they die,” Hamilton said. The pastor didn’t mince words in elucidating on what he believed was Slager’s motivation for the killing.

“Walter’s death was motivated by racial prejudice. You’ve got to hate somebody to shoot them in the back. This was not because he knew Walter,” Hamilton said. “It had to be because he was African American. It had to have been an act of overt racism.”

“Walter’s death was motivated by racial prejudice. You’ve got to hate somebody to shoot them in the back.”
Pastor George D. Hamilton
Hamilton said there are great officers who serve with honor and distinction. Slager, he said, was not one of them.

“This particular officer was a racist and he took the life of someone who didn’t deserve it,” he said.

He said the family should take comfort in that God delivered justice in the form of a witness who filmed their son’s death to leave the facts surrounding it indisputable.

At the end of the service, ushers rolled back the American flag draped over Scott’s casket and opened it. The choir again rose and sang “If you want to know where I’m going, I’m going over yonder to be with my Lord,” as a stream of people slowly poured by Scott’s body.

Outside after the service, Democratic Rep. James Clyburn whose district includes North Charleston, where Scott was killed, said when he first saw the video of Scott’s shooting he thought it was some sort of sick joke.

“I said, this can’t be happening in my district,” Clyburn told msnbc. “I’ve been in Ferguson and saw what was going on there, but here it is happening in my backyard.”

“All of us knew that this is not the first time anything like this has happened,” he said. “But for the first time the whole world got to see what has been bothering a whole race of people.”

He said among the many tragic aspects of this case is that Scott may very well have been running from Slager out of fear of being taken back to jail because he was behind on his child support.

Clyburn said that he discovered that before a prior arrest for back child support, Scott had a $35,000 a year job but lost it after the arrest. That made catching up impossible.

“We need a lot of reform,” he said. 

“I said, this can’t be happening in my district … here it is happening in my backyard.”
Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC)
The night before, dozens of protesters had gathered outside of North Charleston City Hall, some hoisting signs and others wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts. One by one, people took to the center of a tight circle, telling stories of woe and pain and perseverance. One woman read the poem “I Too Sing America,” the black poet Langston Hughes’s retort to the Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” “I, too, sing America,” the woman read. “I am the darker brother.”

Around the same time, a steady stream of mourners gathered at a funeral home in downtown Charleston for Scott’s wake, including Charleston’s longtime Mayor Joseph Reilly Jr. Scott’s casket remained open, and many walked away from the wake shaken and in tears, according to reports.

“Tomorrow is another day. It’s another step,” Bakari Sellers, an attorney, said of Scott’s funeral. “I think most people will realize that tomorrow is just the beginning. It’s not the ending of anything.”

Black Lives Matter, Police Brutality, Racism, South Carolina and Walter Scott

Hundreds gather as Walter Scott's family lays him to rest

Updated