The following commentary/essay on the shooting of Walter Scott by now former policeman Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina is from Nigel Scott, Esquire.
*I hate to say it, but having watched the video of North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager summarily executing Walter Scott by shooting him four times in the back, I’m not even half as outraged as I should be. To be sure this cold-blooded murder is an indefensible outrage, but sadly I’m used to it.
Having tried cases, both as a prosecutor and now as a defense attorney, I have read enough police reports to know that officers will routinely invoke the magic words (“furtive movements”, “reaching into his waistband”, “I feared for my life”) knowing that they’re given the benefit of the doubt by both the courts and the public- meaning a jury, if they go to trial.
This isn’t to suggest that police officers never reasonably (and justifiably) fear for their lives, I’m quite sure that they do. However, give anyone a built in excuse, and the benefit of the doubt whenever they use it, and the result is a recipe for abuse.
None of this should come as any surprise of course, that cops abuse the trust given to them, except one would think it is judging from the comments seen on social media and in response to the many articles now chronicling the shooting. People (we’ll leave it at that for now) are shocked… SHOCKED.. that police officers sometimes shoot people without justification, and/or that they lie.
While I’m disgusted at the criminal actions of this officer, I reserve most of my contempt for the people who are acting like this is some aberration… a horrible outlier, a random, haphazard convergence of malignant forces, conspiring to result in this singular act of criminal police behavior. Really? People honestly believe that this situation is that isolated?
Ever heard of Amadou Diallo? Returning to his New York City apartment late at night, Mr. Diallo was confronted by strange men with guns, wearing civilian clothes and emerging from an unmarked vehicle.
Desperately trying to get into the vestibule of his building, police opened fire shooting forty-one times, striking Mr. Diallo nineteen times. He was killed for “reaching into his pocket,” according to the familiar police narrative, when in reality all he had on him was his wallet.
Sean Bell was shot and killed, and two other friends injured after police opened fire on them fifty times as they left a bachelor party for Bell, hours before he was to be married. All because an officer claimed he heard one of them mention a gun as they left the strip club where the party was held. Don’t be distracted by the fact that they were at a strip club, it could easily have been Home Depot, or Walmart. Think too of Richard Ramirez, shot and killed by Billings, MT PO, Grant Morrison.
“I knew in that moment, which later was determined to be untrue, but I knew in that moment that he was reaching for a gun. I couldn’t take that risk. … I wanted to see my son grow up.”
Those were Morrison’s words… he feared for his life. Presumably Morrison also feared for his life when he shot and killed Jason James Shaw two years earlier. That’s right, the same officer, responsible for 2 deaths in five police-involved shootings by Billings PD officers in the past eight years. But nothing to see here folks, just another justified police killing. Move along.
The common link in all of these cases is that the victims were all unarmed (a BB gun was found on Shaw’s body, make of that what you will), and in every instance the killing was ruled justifiable, or the officer was not indicted, or he was acquitted at trial. And this is but a sliver of the cases nationwide.
There are no comprehensive statistics for police-involved killings and whatever number we post would be rendered almost useless by the fact that the circumstances surrounding the shootings are seldom documented (was the suspect armed? How close to the police officer was he? etc).
What we DO know is that police officers rarely get charged, let alone tried and convicted. That in large part is due to the fact that the public, especially white Americans, find it hard to believe that police officers lie, or otherwise engage in criminal behavior. It takes hard, indisputable evidence for people to finally wake up to the fact that police officers are human, and that there are good and bad apples among the bunch.
That to me is even more disgusting than the shooting itself as it places such a ridiculously high burden on anyone who accuses an officer of misconduct. (“Where’s the video proof? You expect us to take YOUR word over Officer____ without a videotape to prove he’s lying??”)
The system is clearly broken and it won’t be fixed unless several hard truths are acknowledged and addressed, including the fact that cops are not infallible; the public must treat police officers with the same degree of skepticism and scrutiny as we would any other member of society; there also needs to be independent investigations and prosecutions when police kill; police training needs to be seriously re-examined, if not revamped; instead of military surplus vehicles and weapons, we need to outfit police officers around the country with body cameras; and perhaps more than anything else, it’s high time that the good police officers out there start turning in the bad eggs within their ranks.
An attorney in private practice in Philadelphia, Nigel S. Scott’s focus is on criminal defense and civil litigation. He can be reached at: [email protected].