, WASHINGTON, Apr 8 – Protesters took to the streets of the US city of North Charleston on Wednesday after the latest in a series of police killings of black suspects was caught on video.
A police officer shot Walter Scott, 50, repeatedly in the back on Saturday after a scuffle that began with his being stopped for a broken tail light in his car.
A passer-by recorded a video of the chilling incident, in which Scott is seen being shot as he tried to run from a white police officer, then is handcuffed as he lay fatally wounded.
South Carolina state police arrested the officer, 33-year-old Michael Slager, and he was charged with murder on Tuesday. The charge carries a sentence of up to life in prison or the death penalty.
A group of protesters stood outside city hall and briefly blocked traffic Wednesday morning, chanting and holding signs with slogans such as: “Stop racist police terror.”
“The defendant did shoot the victim multiple times in the back after an altercation. All this is based upon video evidence and the investigation of the State Law Enforcement Division,” a court document said.
Scott’s father, also named Walter, said the family was devastated by his son’s death, but was grateful that the video evidence had surfaced to show the police officer’s role.
“The way he was shooting that gun, it looked like he was trying to kill a deer or something running through the woods. I don’t know whether it was racial or something wrong with his head or what,” the father told NBC’s Today Show.
“I thank God they had the video. God has my back. When I saw it, my heart was broken. I said, ‘It can’t be.’ I saw it. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
His father said Scott may have fled because “he owed some child support and I believe he didn’t want to go to jail again and he ran away.”
Several killings of unarmed black men by police officers in recent months have sparked sometimes violent protests across the United States with demonstrators alleging racism in the nation’s police.
Officers have rarely been charged in the shootings, even when the incidents were recorded.
In this case, Slager says into his radio after the shooting that Scott had taken his stun gun, The New York Times said, quoting police reports.
However, the video shows wires from the stun gun extending from Scott’s body, implying that the victim rather than the police officer had been hit as the two men scuffled.
As Scott, who was heavy-set, tries to flee, Slager draws his handgun and shoots eight times toward his back. Scott falls after the last shot.
The officer later approaches Scott, who is on the ground, telling him to put his hands behind his back, before putting him in handcuffs.
Slager appears to pick up a device that had fallen during the altercation and drop it by Scott’s body.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina expressed his dismay after seeing the video.
“The horrific video is very difficult to watch and deeply troubling on many fronts,” Graham said.
“I have full confidence this incident will continue to be investigated by the relevant authorities, the legal process will proceed, and ultimately, justice will be done.”
– ‘Bad decision’ –
North Charleston mayor Keith Summey described the shooting as a “bad decision,” local newspaper The Post and Courier reported.
The victim’s family spoke out at a news conference after the officer’s arrest and called the unidentified person who filmed the video a hero.
“If there wasn’t a video, would we know the truth? Or would we have just gone with what was reported earlier? But we know the truth now,” said Scott’s brother Anthony in remarks broadcast on MSNBC.
They remembered Scott as a Dallas Cowboys football fan and loving father of four.
Scott was hit by five bullets — three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear, said family lawyer Chris Stewart, quoting the coroner who examined Scott’s body, according to the Times.
The US Justice Department released a statement saying it would “take appropriate action in light of the evidence and developments in the state case.”
– A string of shootings –
The killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August was a catalyst for a recent surge in protests and a renewed debate on racism and police tactics.
A jury chose not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer for the shooting. Since then, other killings by police have prompted protests in cities from coast to coast.
In December, two New York police officers were killed by a gunman who had boasted he was going to avenge police abuses.
Police officers have enjoyed significant legal leeway in the United States and prosecutors and civilian grand juries have often proved reluctant to indict them over excessive force.
The US Justice Department has launched investigations into a number of police departments after shootings.
It unearthed what it called damning evidence of racism in the Ferguson police force after Brown’s shooting.