Yet again, it has happened. Another unarmed black man was gunned down by a white police officer Saturday April 4 in North Charleston, S.C.
Walter Scott, a 50 year-old resident of North Charleston, S.C, was shot at eight times and killed as he fled from a police officer, an encounter that started as a routine traffic stop.
The officer, Michael Slager, was charged with murder the Tuesday following the murder. The quickness at which this charge came down is heartening, but it comes nowhere close to repairing the damage that has been wrought the past few years by police-involved shootings.
Slager claimed that he shot Scott after they were wrestling for his stun gun, but a bystander was videotaping the encounter. The horrifying video shows Scott fleeing, and at a range of approximately 15 to 20 feet before Officer Slager opened fire.
Slager later in the video appeared to pick an object up from the spot of the original scuffle and place it near Scott’s body, presumably to strengthen his case that he feared for his life.
That is central to this issue. Police officers seem to have a get of out jail free card by saying they feared bodily harm or death from a suspect, and if it’s the suspects word versus a police officer’s, or the suspect is dead, the officer is likely to get away with it.
Thankfully in this case, someone on the scene was videotaping and caught the officer red-handed. Who knows whether or not George Zimmerman would have been convicted, or Darren Wilson indicted if someone was on the scene with a camera rolling.
In our history classes growing up, we learned about the atrocities committed in our country by Americans, and learned about times of terrible racial prejudice such as the Jim Crow days. Will we want to be looked at one day as the generation that stood idly by as unarmed black men are gunned down almost indiscriminately by the very people who are supposed to serve and protect us?
Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and now Walter Scott. These names are imprinted on the American consciousness, or at least they should be. And it should not take another killing to re-spark the debate.
No amount of anger or retribution will bring the dead back to their loved ones, but the least we can do to honor their memories is to ensure this never happens again. Ensure that when a police officer uses excessive force, he or she is held culpable.
If what that takes is purchasing body cameras for every single law enforcement officer in the United States then so be it. Some will complain about the monetary cost of that, but you cannot put a price on preserving the sanctity of life, and making sure that all citizens, especially minorities, feel safe.