The "black lives matter" battle cry, bellowed by protesters across Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, and a raft of other cities where citizens have rallied against police killings and brutality in recent months, has reached the city of North Charleston, South Carolina this week in the wake of the Saturday shooting of yet another unarmed black man, Walter Scott.
Dozens of protesters who hit the streets at 9:30am chanted "no more, no more" as they crowded near North Charleston City Hall, some bearing signs that read: "The whole world is watching" and "Back turned, don't shoot."
The officer involved in the shooting death, Michael Slager, who is white, has been charged with murder after cell phone footage surfaced showing the 33-year-old firing eight rounds at 50-year-old Scott's back as he ran away from the officer.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced the charges at a press conference Tuesday evening and admonished the officer.
"When you're wrong, you're wrong," he said. "And if you make a bad decision, don't care if you're behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision."
At another press conference Wednesday afternoon at the North Charleston City Hall Council Chambers, Summey confirmed that Slager has been fired, but said the department would continue to pay the insurance policy for the officer's 8-month pregnant wife until the baby is born, saying it's the "humane thing to do."
The press conference was interrupted several times by protesters in the back of the chamber, who called for the resignations of the mayor and police chief, and shouted chants such as, "no justice no peace," and "the mayor's got to go."
Summey appealed to the community to maintain peace and order in the wake of the shooting, and mentioned that there was possibly more footage of the incident that will be revealed in due course.
Slager, who was denied bond at a hearing Tuesday night, could face 30 years to life in prison if found guilty of Scott's murder.
The graphic video of the incident, obtained by the Post and Courier, shows the moments shortly after Scott, a former Coast Guard officer and father of four, reportedly ran away from officers at a routine traffic stop around 9:30am Saturday morning.
Police reports indicate Slager had stopped Scott over a broken taillight on his Mercedes-Benz. When Scott fled from his car, the officer chased him to a grassy empty lot and fired a Taser at Scott, which failed to stop him, the reports said.
In the shaky three-minute clip, shot by an anonymous witness, the two men look to be grappling at each other's hands. Scott, dressed in a green t-shirt and black tracksuit pants, is then seen bolting away from Slager, but takes less than 10 steps before he is gunned down.
Slager fires seven shots rapidly. The eighth is delivered after a brief pause.
A lawyer representing Scott's family told reporters Tuesday that he was struck by five of eight of the bullets the officer fired. Four entered his back, and one swiped his ear, the lawyer said, according to the Post and Courier.
The video then shows Slager raising his arm to radio for backup. "Shots fired and the subject is down," the officer relayed to dispatchers, according to police reports.
"He took my Taser," Slager said.
In the footage, the officer can be heard after the shooting yelling at Scott to put his hands behind his back, before he handcuffs Scott, who is face down on the ground. Slager is then seen walking back to the scene of the scuffle and picking something off the ground. The officer then returns to Scott and drops an item on the grass near the man, the footage shows.
Police stated that officers who arrived at the scene attempted to revive Scott until paramedics showed up. In the video, Slager and a back-up officer can be seen checking Scott's pulse and lifting his t-shirt to examine his injuries as he lies dying on the ground. However, at no time were the officers filmed attempting to administer CPR.
In a later statement from David Aylor, Slager's attorney at the time, the officer claimed he "felt threatened" and said that Scott tried to wrestle his Taser away from him during the struggle. On Tuesday, the day the murder charges were revealed, Aylor told the Post and Courier he is no longer representing Slager.
Charleston County Sheriff's Maj. Eric Watson said that at the time of the traffic stop, Scott was wanted on a Family Court warrant for failing to pay child support. The only other charges brought against him was nearly 30 years ago when he was arrested on a 1987 assault and battery charge, Watson said.
Separate investigations into the incident are being conducted by South Carolina's Law Enforcement Division and the FBI and Justice Department. the Justice Department has been responsible for investigating several civil rights suits against a raft of officers involved in the killings of unarmed black men in recent months.
Local authorities have thanked the witness who came forward with the cell phone footage, which they said has helped them determine an appropriate response. Mayor Summey said Tuesday evening "it would be difficult for us to ascertain exactly what did occur," without the video.
"We want to thank the young person who came forward... because it has helped us resolve the issue," he added.
But the issue is far from resolved for protesters, Scott's family, and Slager, who now faces a murder trial.
Activists and Scott's attorneys have questioned whether murder charges against Slager would have been brought against the officer so quickly, or at all, if the video had not surfaced.
"What happened today doesn't happen all the time," Chris Stewart, a lawyer representing Scott's family said. "What if there was no video? What if there was no witness?... This wouldn't have happened."
Stewart added that the family intends to file a lawsuit against Slager, the police department, and city of North Charleston, which will include claims that the parties violated Scott's civil rights.
Authorities' responses to this incident has drastically differed from other police killings of unarmed black men in recent weeks, especially from events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, where separate grand juries declined to indict the officers who shot and killed teen Michael Brown and suffocated Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold, respectively. In the latter case, even video evidence of the incident failed to have an impact on the jury's decision.
These incidents are among dozens that have brought millions of protesters together around the US, who have protested for months against systemic racial bias and excessive use of force by police officers around the country. Several civil rights and advocacy groups and religious leaders who have rallied supporters under such slogans as "black lives matter" and "no justice, no peace" have organized these demonstrations.
North Charleston is representative of hundreds of city police departments across the country that are ethnically and racially underrepresented by the members of the community they serve. In North Charleston, South Carolina's third-largest city, African Americans represent nearly half of the population of roughly 104,000, but account for less than 20 percent of the department's officers, according to Justice Department statistics.
Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters
Slager, a former Coast Guard officer who joined the police department five years ago, is part of the some 80 percent of white officers on the city's police force. The department had received two complaints against the officer in that time, including one alleging he shot a Taser at a man in September 2013 for no reason, the Post Courier reported.
The department's Police Chief Eddie Driggers apologized to Scott's family Tuesday, saying: "It's been a tragic day for many, a tragic day for me."
"It is not reflective of this entire police department," he added. "One does not throw a blanket across the many."
Scott's family said that despite the police department's sympathy and action against Slager, bringing murder charges against the officer won't undo the death of Scott, who was buried Wednesday morning.
"All we wanted was the truth," Scott's older brother Anthony told reporters. "Through this process, we've received the truth... We can't get my brother back, and my family is in deep mourning because of that."
"Every time I close my eyes, all I see is my brother taking those bullets," another brother, Rodney Scott told reporters. "I can't sleep."
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