If you thought a months-long spectacle of police violence against men of colour from Ferguson to New York to Los Angeles had changed the national climate so much that American cops might hesitate before using lethal force, you were wrong.
A white police officer is being charged with murder in South Carolina after a video surfaced Tuesday in which the cop can be seen shooting an unarmed – and fleeing – black man eight times in the back.
The video, first obtained by the New York Times and filmed by a bystander, makes for harrowing viewing. But this seems to be what it takes for a cop to face criminal charges – there must be a video of him shooting at, and killing, a suspect who clearly represents no threat.
On Sunday around 9.30AM, Officer Michael T Slager of the North Charleston Police Department pulled over a Mercedes-Benz for a broken taillight. The driver, 50-year-old Walter L Scott, allegedly took flight. Slager, 33, apparently gave chase, discharging his Taser before radioing in.
"Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser," the officer said, with police reports suggesting he feared for his life.
80 percent of North Charleston cops are white, despite blacks comprising nearly half the city's population – a ratio of the sort that is also found in Ferguson, where the feds found systematic bias against blacks by a white-dominated law enforcement apparatus.
After felling Scott with the last of his eight shots, Slager approached to handcuff the dying man – and appeared to drop the Taser near the body. According to police reports, officers then attempted to resuscitate Scott, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
Scott had a history of minor legal troubles, having been arrested ten times, mostly for failing to pay child support and appear in court, the local newspaper Post and Courier reported. According to Slager's former attorney David Aylor, who dropped his client late Tuesday, "When confronted, Officer Slager reached for his Taser – as trained by the department – and then a struggle ensued. The driver tried to overpower Officer Slager in an effort to take his Taser."
Scott is survived by four children. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the FBI, and the US Justice Department are all reportedly investigating the shooting. In the meantime, Slager, who was arrested Tuesday, remains a member of the force, albeit in an administrative capacity.
This post has been updated.
Follow Matt Taylor on Twitter.