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.
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.”
*Here are some previous high-profile shootings of unarmed black men which have stoked accusations of racism and police brutality.
July 17, 2014: African American father-of-six Eric Garner, 43, dies after being held in a police chokehold while he is being arrested for selling individual cigarettes illegally in New York. A coroner declares the death a homicide, but a grand jury opts not to charge the white officer involved, unleashing demonstrations in several cities.
August 9: A white police officer kills an unarmed black teenager, aspiring college student Michael Brown, 18, unleashing sometimes violent protests and heavy-handed police tactics in Ferguson, Missouri. The later decision not to indict the police officer, Darren Wilson, prompts riots in Ferguson and raises racial tensions.
August 11: Ezell Ford, 25, an unarmed black man who is mentally disabled according to his family is killed by Los Angeles police officers as he walked in the street. His autopsy shows he was shot three times, including once in the back at close range.
November 20: An unarmed black man, Akai Gurley, 28, a father of a young daughter, is shot by an Asian-American officer who opens fire in a dimly lit staircase at a Brooklyn, New York apartment block. On the day of his funeral on December 7, New Yorkers take to the streets to denounce the spate of police killings. The police officer, Peter Liang, was charged with manslaughter.
November 22: In Cleveland, Ohio, a video emerges of US police officers shooting dead Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy carrying a replica gun, just seconds after confronting him.
Ohio was also the scene of another fatal shooting in August, when police responding to a 911 call shot and killed a black man, John Crawford, in a Walmart store while he was carrying a toy gun sold there.
March 6, 2015: Tony Terrell Robinson, 19, is killed in Madison, Wisconsin, by a police officer. The killing comes on the eve of the commemoration in Selma, Alabama of the 50th anniversary of the brutal repression of a protest demanding civic rights for blacks.
March 9: In the state of Georgia, a white policeman kills an unarmed black man, Anthony Hill, 27, who appeared to suffer from mental problems according to the police, who said he jumped on an officer, naked.