South Carolina police murder of Walter Scott highlights racism and national oppression in the U.S.
Jacksonville, FL – On April 4, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed 50-year-old African American man. Slager, a white cop, pulled over Scott for driving with a broken taillight. Within hours, the North Charleston police began releasing statements supportive of Slager's claim that Scott had reached for his tazer, causing the cop to fire his weapon in fear for his life.
Within three days, however, Slager and the police's story unraveled before the eyes of the world. Cell phone video taken on the scene by an eyewitness clearly shows Slager firing shots into Scott's back as he runs away. Scott never reaches for Slager's taser, as the police said. When Scott is shot down, Slager seizes the opportunity to handcuff the dying man, call in his bogus story to his superior officers, and plants a taser on Scott's body as false evidence.
The video, taken by 23-year-old Dominican immigrant Feidin Santana, fueled protests against this latest police murder of an unarmed Black man. Having been caught in a lie, the North Charleston police arrested Slager on April 7 and charged him with murder.
The murder of Walter Scott is the most recent case of racist police violence to draw national attention and protests. In August 2014, the murder of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked a protest movement against racism and police brutality across the country. Similar cases, like the murder of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, emerged since that time.
Thousands of activists, particularly young people, took to the streets to demand justice around the slogan “Black Lives Matter.” In many cities, activists have linked these nationwide high-profile cases with local police crimes, like the Dream Defenders' campaign in Miami, Florida, to win justice for a mentally disabled Black man who was killed by police earlier this year.
In all of these high-profile cases of police killing unarmed African Americans, the officers involved were not charged. This includes the murder of New York man Eric Garner, who was choked to death by police while being filmed on a cell phone camera. Garner's last words, “I can't breathe,” became a rallying cry for the thousands of activists who took to the streets demanding justice. Despite clear video footage of the murder, a New York grand jury refused to indict the officer responsible for killing Garner.
Now, the murder of Walter Scott by South Carolina police has ignited further debate around the usefulness of body cameras on police. The non-indictment of the police officer who choked and killed Garner highlighted a major flaw with this demand, since the entire murder took place on camera. The racist criminal injustice system, which prosecutes African Americans and Chicano/Latinos more than whites for similar offenses, allows police plenty of legal loopholes to inflict brutality on oppressed nationalities. Furthermore, the grand jury system gives state prosecutors – many of whom are bought off during elections by the police – a tremendous amount of power to frame these cases in a way that usually benefits the police.
In Scott's case, the release of the video footage led to the prompt arrest of officer Slager. Although activists should welcome this positive development, an arrest alone is still a far cry from justice. Many of the same freedom fighters of the Black Lives Matter movement were active in the movement for justice for Trayvon Martin in 2012. While mass protests led to the arrest of George Zimmerman, the racist vigilante who killed Martin, the criminal injustice system found him not guilty on all charges, including second-degree murder.
The video footage of Scott's murder is significant, but the travesty of justice in Eric Garner case reminds us to not overstate the significance of video evidence alone. The key to winning justice for Walter Scott and all victims of racist police crimes is to continue organizing and building a mass movement against the system of national oppression in the U.S.
In places like Chicago, major groups in the Black Lives Matter movement have united around the demand for “community control of the police.” To better exercise this control, Chicago activists are organizing neighborhoods and communities to establish an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). The proposed CPAC in Chicago would have the power to appoint and dismiss the Superintendent of Police and issue subpoenas in investigations of brutality cases.
The growing popular outrage at racist police crimes and the criminal injustice system continues to fuel the Black Lives Matter movement. Activists and organizers have a real chance to strike a blow at the heart of this system by continuing to build the mass movement against racism and national oppression.
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