Odds are, you've already heard about the story that's galvanized attention across the United States over the last 24 hours, lending more fuel to the discussion of police violence in America. On Saturday, a 50-year-old black South Carolina resident named Walter Scott was killed while fleeing from police officer Michael Slager, shot in the back several times as he ran away. But this time there was no ambiguity about how things happened, because a courageous bystander caught the whole thing on video. So, how does the Walter Scott video differ from the initial police explanation?
To put it simply, they differ a lot. As detailed expertly by Talking Points Memo's Judd Legum, one of the scariest things about this story is how easily — in absence of the video, that is — the whole thing could've twisted around and make murky. After all, law enforcement officers are given a wide berth whenever they have concerns for their own safety, and the phrase "I feared for my life" is a very powerful thing.
And that's exactly the line that Slager and the North Charleston Police Department tried putting forward before the video was made public, as detailed by Charleston's daily newspaper, The Post and Courier.
A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him. That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.
So, what really happened? Be forewarned, the video is awful to watch — while Slager's legal fate is still in question, and it'll be for a jury to decide what to call it, I'm guessing almost anyone who watches it will see little more than a shocking, needless homicide.
Embedded above is The New York Times' upload of the footage. And whether you watch it or don't want to, it's pretty easily to explain what happens — a brief, seemingly split-second tussle between Slager and Scott before Scott takes off running. Slager levels his gun and fires eight shots at the fleeing Scott, who stumbles and falls prone on the ground after the seventh.
And Slager was apparently quick to recognize what had to be done. According to reports, he immediately got on his radio and told the dispatcher: "Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser." (Only the first part, "Shots fired," is audible on the video.)
Basically, the video shows plainly that whatever transpired between Slager and Scott, the shooting wasn't over a high stakes battle for control of a taser. Slager shoots Scott because he's apparently terrified of an unarmed black man slowly jogging away from him. And, even more suggestively, the footage apparently captures Slager dropping an item next to Scott's body. Some observers have accused Slager of attempting to plant his taser next to Scott, but it's entirely unclear what he's doing. Bustle has reached out to the North Charleston Police Department for comment on this.
In the end, we're all simply lucky that a concerned citizen recorded the whole thing. Because, as so many people have noted, in absence of this sort of video it's hard to puncture the credibility of a police narrative. Who knows what things would've been said about Scott otherwise? Past indiscretions leveraged against his life, talk of the grave danger that Officer Slager felt, breathless grand jury testimony — all of it rendered moot by a simple recording, showing Scott fleeing helplessly as he's shot.
It's impossible to know what exactly a video like this would've meant in the shooting in Ferguson teen Michael Brown, or for that matter a non-police shooting of an unarmed black youth like Trayvon Martin. But in any event, it means that Walter Scott and his family will be spared the indignity of a grand jury this time — Slager has been charged with murder outright.
Image: The New York Times