The video of a white police officer shooting Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, has been instrumental so far in ensuring the swift provision of justice in the aftermath of the Saturday shooting. Since the video surfaced on Tuesday, revealing that Scott was shot eight times in the back while he ran away, Officer Michael Slager has been charged with murder and fired from the force. But the videographer, a bystander and eyewitness to the event, remained anonymous until Wednesday evening. Since then, he has given several interviews. So, who is Feidin Santana, the man who videoed Walter Scott’s death?
Santana, a 23 year-old Dominican immigrant living in South Carolina and working as a barber, was walking to work on Saturday when he noticed a commotion in an empty lot. Slager had stopped Scott for a broken taillight in his Mercedes-Benz sedan — and Santana caught on video what happened next. “I saw Mr. Scott running on the same street I’m heading to my job,” Santana said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show Thursday. “Then I saw the officer chasing him. I just decided to chase them to see what was happening.”
Santana clearly felt a sense of moral responsibility as events unfolded — his voice is audible on the video as he swears in shock and calls the shooting “abuse.” On Thursday, he told Today host Matt Lauer that he thought Slager could see him filming. “I recorded the video so that maybe he can feel that someone is there,” Santana said. “There were just the three of us in that moment. I couldn’t tell what was going to happen, so I just wanted him to know that he's not by himself.”
The contents of the video were later described by North Charleston police chief Eddie Driggers as “sickening.” But Driggers only gained access to the footage thanks to Santana’s quick thinking on Saturday morning, and his resolve following the incident. Having captured the shooting on film, Santana met the Scott family and their lawyers on Sunday to turn over the footage. In his first interview, with NBC’s Nightly News, Santana described the meeting as “very emotional.”
Although Santana’s actions have been characterized as “heroic” by the Scott family lawyer, L. Chris Stewart, Santana himself seems to consider his actions a mere matter of common decency. “I thought about his position and their situation,” he said. “If I would have a family member that happen, I would want to know the truth.” Asked on Morning Joe how he summoned up the courage, he said:
I don’t know what happened to me at that moment to be honest. I’m a great believer in God. Maybe he put me there for some reason… Maybe I tried to act like a reporter or something.
But the decision did take courage, and a little time. Santana told interviewers that he did stop by the police office briefly, but left after being asked to wait. Once he’d heard how the killing was being portrayed, though, he was galvanized into action. “I knew the cop didn’t do the right thing,” he told NBC. In the days after he witnessed the shooting and passed on the footage, Santana kept a low profile, fearful for his own safety. In Thursday’s interview with NBC’s Today show, Santana spoke of his fear of repercussion. He said:
At some point I thought about staying anonymous and not showing my face and not talk about it… If I want to show my face, everybody over there, including the police officers, the department, knows who I am… I decide to show my face to the media because my life [has] changed after this. People know where I live, people know where I work, so my normal routine of just walking from my house to work [has] changed.
Santana’s lawyer Todd Rutherford said his client was immediately concerned about getting protection. “What does [Santana] do when the people who are supposed to protect us are the ones that are turned against us?” he said.
But despite witnessing the shooting and expressing a wariness of the police, Santana’s statements are far from vindictive. Notably, he has refrained from crowing over Slager’s murder charge. The charge, he said, was “not something that no one can feel happy about,” but was the correct decision. In measured comments, Santana told NBC:
He has his family, Mr Scott also has his family… But I think he made a bad decision, and you pay for your decisions in this life. Mr Scott didn’t deserve this, and there were other ways that can be used to get him arrested. And that wasn’t the proper way to do that.
Whatever else, Santana is clearly a fine upstanding young gentleman with a soft-spoken manner — and he has inevitably accrued an online fan base (who are, it appears, trying to rustle up a reward for his actions). The Washington Post reports that a Facebook page entitled “Fans of Feidin Santana” had appeared by Wednesday evening and garnered 777 “likes” by Thursday. The page’s cover image is a Maya Angelou quote: “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”
Early on Thursday, Santana posted a message to the page, proving himself worthy of Angelou’s words. He wrote:
Hey guys … as you can see my English is not my first language… But I’m very thankful of everyone support. Even though this is very new to me and my family but never imagined that this will turn with so much love (which make it a little bit easy for me). Thank you for everything! For all those kind words … thank you.
He closed his message: “We all equal, we all human, let’s love each other and stop all this killings in our world.”
Images: NBC News (3)