The video of officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott and Slager's subsequent arrest and murder charge have left both the community and the North Charleston Police Department reeling. Though the department has been accused of racial discrimination in the past, community leaders say relations between the officers and residents had improved in recent years, making the latest incident all the more troubling. North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who has publicly said he's devastated over the matter, insists Slager's actions are not reflective of the entire department.
After video surfaced of officer Slager firing his gun eight times at unarmed Scott as he fled, the city patrolman was arrested and charged with murder on Tuesday. Slager initially claimed that he feared for his life because Scott had taken his Taser, but the video later revealed that Scott was running 15 to 20 feet away when he was shot, and then Slager appeared to drop his Taser near Scott's body after he was down.
Chief Driggers' reaction to the shooting seems to lend credence to that statement. At a press conference on Tuesday, a visibly emotional Driggers told reporters:
I have been around this police department a long time and all the officers on this force, the men and women, are like my children. So you tell me how a father would react seeing his child do something? I'll let you answer that yourself.
Driggers didn't rule out the possibility that Slager was racially discriminating, but he is confident that the officer's actions do not reflect the entire force.
It’s been a tragic day for many, a tragic day for me. It is not reflective of this entire police department. ... One does not throw a blanket across the many.
Slager's murder charge is the first in a long string of similar cases involving white officers shooting unarmed black men. In this case, the clear and indisputable nature of the shooting caught on camera has helped lead to the charge.
According to Charleston's Post and Courier, of the North Charleston Police Department's 343 sworn officers, only 18 percent are black, even though the city's population is about 45 percent black. The New York Times cited data info from 2007: White residents only make up 37 percent of the city's population.
Despite the racial disparity between the department and the city, Ed Bryant, president of the North Charleston chapter of the NAACP, told The Post and Courier that relations between the community and commanding officers had improved since 2013, when previous Police Chief Jon Zumalt left. However, there has always been tension between residents and the department's rank-and-file officers, which has led to past accusations of deliberately targeting poor black communities and using overly aggressive tactics. But according to Bryant, department leaders did make an effort to improve relations. "There has been a good conversation at the top," he told the paper.
The FBI and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division are currently investigating the shooting to determine whether Scott's civil rights were violated.