A new police murder of an unarmed Black man in the United States has received global attention. It comes as the #BlackLivesMatter movement has swept the country since the police murder of an unarmed Black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri last August.
On April 4, officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, shot 50-year-old Walter Scott in the back as he was fleeing.
The police initially tried to whitewash the incident, with the all-too-familiar assertion that Slager was assaulted by Scott and feared for his life. So the killing was justified. Q.E.D.
On April 6, the Post and Courier ran the headline, “North Charleston police officer felt threatened before fatal shooting”. It reported: “Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the [cop’s] Taser and attempted to use it against the officer. The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him.”
But then a video of the shooting emerged. It showed Scott running away from Slager and was 15 feet in front of the cop when Slager opened fire, shooting eight times and hitting him five.
Slager then approaches Scott as he lies on the ground. Rather than help his victim in any way, Slager is seen planting a Taser next to him.
With the release of the video, the town authorities changed their tune. Slager was dismissed from the force and charged with murder.
That this charge was brought after no charges were laid in other infamous cases of police killing Black men can be chalked up as a victory for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. But whether a jury in South Carolina will convict Slager remains to be seen.
When the North Charleston mayor and police chief announced the charges, protesters were not appeased, but drowned them out with chants of “No Justice, No Peace!”
Subsequently, the police released a different video taken from Slager’s patrol car of the incident that preceded the killing. It shows Slager having pulled Scott’s car over because it had a broken brake light.
Many of the incidents in which police kill Black men have begun with minor infractions at best. Michael Brown, killed in Ferguson last August, was accosted for jay walking. Eric Garner, choked to death in New York last July was allegedly selling “loose cigarettes”.
Others murdered by police, including a 12-year-old boy in Cleveland, had toy guns.
The police video shows Slager walking back to his patrol car when Scott jumps out of his car and runs away. There was no physical interaction of any kind, let alone a grab for the cop’s Taser. Then Slager runs after Scott.
The police had this video right from the start, but still presented their initial fabricated story.
If it was not for the video of the actual shooting, the whole thing would have been swept under the rug as a justified police killing.
Feidin Santana, the bystander who filmed the shooting, said he was waling to his job and on a phone call when he saw Scott running and decided to record the incident.
Santana told MSNBC that he was so afraid of police retaliation after filming the incident that he considered deleting the footage and leaving town. But after he saw how the police and press were describing the incident, he turned the video over to the Scott family, who released it to the public.
Santana’s fear of retaliation reflects a widespread view in Black and Latino communities.
A case in point is how the cops have gone after Ramsey Orta and his family. Orta filmed the police choking Garner to death.
The coroner concluded Garner's death was a homicide on the basis of the video. The footage helped provoke a mass march of about 30,000 people in New York City last December, after a grand jury refused to indict the cops who murdered Garner.
Before Orta released the video, the cops tried to take it from him by force. They stopped and searched him every time they saw him in the street.
Orta was arrested two weeks after he released the video. His wife, Chrissie Ortiz, was also arrested.
After they were released on bail, they faced continual police harassment.
Orta’s aunt, Lisa Mercado, said on Democracy Now!: “Ever since the the filming Ramsey did, it was constant harassment every day ... and it could be three, four or five in the morning. Police would ride by the home and shine spotlights on the windows.”
Ortiz added: “At four in the morning, we’re in bed, and the whole room lights up — what’s that? We look out the window and it’s a police car and put the spotlight into my window. What’s that for?”
In February, Orta was arrested again on fake charges. He is now in the infamous New York City jail on Rikers’ Island, known for brutality by the guards.
After guards put rat poison in some prisoners’ food, Orta refused prison food, knowing the guards were out to get him. He has been eating only what he can get from vending machines.
The local press on Staten Island, where Garner was killed, has gone on a campaign to vilify Orta and his family. With the continuous police harassment, the family has been forced to move out of Staten Island.
An online defense fund was started to raise money for Orta’s bail and his trial. A large amount of money has poured in, once the facts began to be known.
On April 9, bail was made from this fund, but the prosecutor refused his release, saying he had to investigate whether the funds were “obtained illegally.”