Presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Five words, yet it is one of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system. These days, perhaps, it should read “presumed guilty until proven white”.
Amadou Diallo. Manuel Loggins Jr. Ronald Madison. Freddy Gray, Kendra James. Sean Bell. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Alton Sterling … just a few of the African-American males who were unarmed when they were shot and killed by police officers. Add to that list Mr. Walter Scott, age 50 at the time of his death on April 4, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina. Mr. Scott was stopped at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot of an auto parts store, by Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager for a defective brake light. The video from Slager’s dashcam shows him approaching Scott’s car, speaking to Scott, and then returning to his patrol car. Scott exited his car and fled with Slager giving chase on foot. Allegedly, Officer Slager caught up with Mr. Scott, there ensued a scuffle, Mr. Scott managed to get away, Officer Slager shot him with his taser, Mr. Scott ran, and at that point Officer Slager fired eight shots. Five of the shots hit Scott, 3 in the back, one in the posterior, and one in the ear. Later, Slager would claim that Mr. Scott took his taser. He would also claim that Scott was coming toward him when, in fact, he was running away from him, and he claimed he feared for his life.
Rarely does a police officer face criminal charges after a shooting incident, but in the case of Officer Slager, there were extenuating circumstances in the form of an independent video taken by an eyewitness to the shooting, Feidin Santana, who was walking to work in the vicinity. The video clearly shows Scott running away from Slager as Slager fired shots. Upon receipt of the damaging video, there was no longer a question, and on April 7th, Slager was charged with murder. The mayor of Charleston, Keith Summey, said, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. If you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield … you have to live with that decision.”
Or do you?
The trial for Slager in a Charleston court room, the Honourable Judge Clifton B. Newman presiding, ended on Monday, 05 December 2016, in a mistrial when 11 of the 12 jurors voted to convict, but the twelfth said he could not “in good conscience consider a guilty verdict.” Seriously? You watched the video probably hundreds of times showing Officer Slager firing repeatedly into the back of a man who was running away from him, and you cannot “in good conscience” find that officer guilty of at least voluntary manslaughter??? Damn, but if that lone juror is not a Bigot with a capital B!
Nonetheless, justice for Mr. Scott may yet be served. There will almost certainly be a re-trial, but perhaps more importantly, Mr. Slager has also been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of “depriving Mr. Scott of his civil rights”. The grand jury said that when Slager shot Scott “without legal justification” in April 2015, he took away his constitutional right “to be free from the use of unreasonable force by a law enforcement officer.” In addition, Slager is also charged with obstruction of justice, with the grand jury saying that he knowingly misled state investigators by telling them that Scott, who was not armed, was approaching him with a taser. He was also charged with one count of using a weapon during “a felony crime of violence.” That trial will likely be scheduled for early next year.
Or will it?
It will be up to the next administration whether to pursue the federal charges or not. Mike Pence suggested that the federal trial was not necessarily set in stone, saying the next administration would have to decide if they will continue pressing that case. Jeff Sessions is slated to be nominated as the Attorney General under the next administration, if confirmed by the Senate. Jeff Sessions has a history of racism and has mocked African-Americans and those who worked on their behalf. Jeff Sessions who was denied a federal judgeship because of racist remarks, will be the one to decide whether a white former police officer who has blatantly lied and who was caught on video shooting a black man in the back not once, but five times, will face the consequences or go free.
This, then, is the face of justice in the brave new world in which we live. Those who have criticized and expressed disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement might look to the Walter Scott and the Freddie Gray cases, then ask themselves this question: Was justice served for these men?
Some will say that I have written similar stories before and that I am beating a dead horse. But I will keep writing these stories, informing the public, and speaking out against social injustices in whatever form they take. I will not cease, I will not bury my head or pretend not to see. I will speak out whenever I see this brand of racial injustice. It is who I am, and it is what I do.