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Slager Jury Scrutinized Under Light Of Past All White Juries
11/9/2016 4:20:55 PM

The Charleston Branch NAACP held a press conference November 4 in opposition to the jury selection in the Michael Slager murder trial. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

The first week of the murder trial in which former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager is charged with the April 4, 2015 killing of Walter Scott started with haunting glimpses of past incidents that offered unsettling premonitions.

The jury pool for Slager who was video taped shooting Scott five times in the back as Scott tried to escape him started with some 600 potential jurors and was whittled down to about 200. Finally 11 whites and one black was selected for the panel of 12 who will decide whether Slager, who is white, was justified in killing an unarmed Scott, who was black.

The trial began October 31 with jury selection that initially was to be held in private. The process usually is conducted in open court. Challengers won their contest of the uncustomary proceeding and the procedure was held openly. But by Wednesday the 12 jurors selected included six white men, five white women and one black man. Friday Charleston Branch NAACP members held a press conference to address what they called “a troubling development”.

In a written statement branch President Dot Scott said, “We don’t question the legality of the jury seating … but history tells us what’s legal is not always right. We can’t ignore the glaring and outrageous fact that those who killed Emmett Till, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwermer, James Chaney, Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were acquitted by either all white juries or grand juries.”

When asked, Scott declined to speculate about the possible outcome of the trial adding, “History tells us that had it not been for the video, we wouldn’t be dealing with what’s going on now.” After shooting Scott, Slager maintained he did so in fear for his life. Referring to the video that surfaced three days after the incident, the NAACP president said, “The officer appeared to be in no danger.”

Black Lives Matter Charleston President Muhiyidin D’baha offered these comments, “America is on Trial in Charleston. Two white men (Slager and accused Emanuel AME Church murderer Dylann Roof) on trial for killing black people tell us we are going in the right direction with this nation fulfilling its promise of justice for all. Yet will the law treat them kindly? With the backdrop of this election, the rise of overt racism, and the failure of the social institutions to appear legitimate before the people- this is the time the Nation Soul will be tested.

“The characterization of Walter Scott as a coked up, deadbeat, violent criminal is (defense attorney) Andy Savage's way of connecting to the 11 white jurors. That coded language brings up the age old stereotypes: Black= criminal, ignorant, violent, and disposable. The defense is trying to justify the actions of a 'dutiful' police officer who believed he was in danger.

“The prosecution has to prove it was murder by SC statutes which means 'malice' or aforethought. To characterize a good police officer on duty as having malice or aforethought when he was 'scared' of a disobedient black man is a tall task considering that you must convince a jury of 11 white folks (9 with grey hair) and 1 Black man.

“We have two trials right now. The outcomes of them both will tell us where we are in this nation. Will the legacy of white immunity under Law continue? Will the killing of black men remain legal and lawful as long as you wear a badge? Or will justice reign supreme and the truth of this nation’s misdeeds begin to be repaired? The jury is our only hope for Justice. Pray that the Lord touch their hearts because the system is rigged and the law is always on their side.”

The Charleston Branch NAACP also is asking that justice be served. In reading its statement Scott said, “We hope for a just decision in spite of the jury’s racial composition. And we hope that the final decision will indeed reflect liberty and justice for all. Our community, state and nation are waiting to see if that happens or whether this will lead to another in a string of dubious acquittals of police officers in spite of the evidence."

North Charleston attorney J. Seth Whipper offered that jury pools starting out may reflect the community from which they’re derived, but often ends up looking quite differently for various reasons. Optimistically he added, “This jury could come back with a guilty verdict faster than one that’s all black.”

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