There have been several high-profile incidents in recent memory involving a white police officer killing an unarmed African-American civilian. And as debates have unfolded and the national conversation has progressed, there are skeptics, often on the right, who offer a “Yes, but” response to the tragedies.
Those concerned with possible police abuses point to the Eric Garner case, prompting skeptics to argue, “Yes, but he resisted arrest.” In the Michael Brown case, they argue, “Yes, but there was an altercation between the victim and the officer.” In the Tamir Rice case, they argue, “Yes, but the 911 call gave the officer the wrong impression.”
Late yesterday afternoon, the New York Times reported on a deadly shooting in South Carolina, and in light of the video captured by a witness, there is no “Yes, but” crowd.
A white police officer in North Charleston, S.C., was charged with murder on Tuesday after a video surfaced showing him shooting in the back and killing an apparently unarmed black man while the man ran away.The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, said he had feared for his life because the man had taken his stun gun in a scuffle after a traffic stop on Saturday. A video, however, shows the officer firing eight times as the man, Walter L. Scott, 50, fled. The North Charleston mayor announced the state charges at a news conference Tuesday evening.
According to the information currently available, Slager pulled Scott over on Saturday morning over a broken taillight. We can’t say with confidence exactly what happened after the cars pulled over, but the video shows Scott running away from the officer, who fired shots at the victim’s back.
Slager’s attorney told local media this week that the victim had tried to take the officer’s Taser. Slager, his attorney said, felt threatened and followed all proper procedures during the deadly incident.
The emergence of a video from a bystander, however, introduced the other side of the story.
Note, after the victim was shot in the back, the officer handcuffs him. The Times’ report highlights a specific element of this that’s worth remembering:
The video begins in the vacant lot, apparently moments after Officer Slager fired his Taser. Wires, which carry the electrical current from the stun gun, appear to be extending from Mr. Scott’s body as the two men tussle and Mr. Scott turns to run.Something – it is not clear whether it is the stun gun – is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.
The emergence of this video led to Slager’s arrest and murder charge. Many of the victim’s loved ones have wondered aloud about what would have happened in this case without this video.
If you missed Rachel’s segment last night, which included portions of the press conference with Scott’s family, it’s well worth your time.