Justice must be found in Walter Scott case

By Isaac Simon

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

The shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina this past week has once again focused the nation’s attention on police violence.

When Walter Scott was stopped this past week for driving with a broken taillight, neither he nor the police officer knew what was going to happen next. According to the police reports that were filed, Scott, 50, fled the scene as officer Michael T. Slager went back to his patrol car to look up his record.

Slager then proceeded to pull out his Taser, using it on Scott to no avail. According to the same report, Slager recalled a struggle between himself and Scott over the Taser.

The problem is that this part of the account cannot be verified. In fact, with the numerous contradictions purported by Slager, much of this account is false. This fallacy is a scenario all too familiar in our society: white on black crime with very little basis. Slager fired eight consecutive shots to the back, killing Scott.

Unlike the situation involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, where the full story will never be clear, there is a key difference in this incident. What makes this situation different is the video.

It is hard to know where to begin. Slager clearly stated that the two of them struggled over the Taser. The video, however, paints a different picture, which shows that the shooting took place after the Taser fell to the ground. Also, after it became clear that Scott was dead, the video shows the officer bringing an object (the Taser) and dropping it alongside his body, so as to cover up the fact that he did, after all, make a mistake.

The Supreme Court said officers are within their rights to use deadly force against a “fleeing suspect only when there is probable cause that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others.” Clearly there was no “significant threat” being posed if the officer had to place the Taser beside him.

The issue here is this really underscores the issue of police credibility. Furthermore, it makes one wonder what lengths these police reports go to defend those in the line of duty.

Also, it is clear that Scott was struggling to get away. It was more of a hobble than a run. The physically fit officer Slager would not have a problem chasing him down. Moreover, if the supposed fight over the Taser actually occurred, should one’s fate be decided on the sole basis of that one incident? Does a person deserve to die because of an entanglement like this?

The police are there to serve and protect the people. With that comes the implicit assumption that they are trustworthy. The last several months have eroded that credibility and the Scott case puts an exclamation point on it. The problem is that this decline in police credibility is the result of a video shot by a pedestrian passing through a neighborhood.

Without the video, the questions surrounding Ferguson would only carry over and there would only be the police report to go off of. This is not to say that police credibility was perfect before Ferguson – police corruption has a long history in this country. But the demand for changes in protocol must stay part of the public dialogue. This means police commanders must answer to the community and not to their fellow officers whose work they too often cover.

The death of Walter Scott, a father of four, only furthers the argument that police officers shoot to kill unnecessarily.

In the case of Eric Garner in New York, they choked to kill. Officer Slager has been charged with murder. As a verdict awaits, we wonder how long this issue will be kept on the national agenda before the ongoing trend of racial injustice is reversed. We can no longer just talk about fighting crime – we must put the word “justice” back in the phrase “criminal justice.”

Isaac Simon is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at [email protected]