|Slager Trial Complicated Some Simple Things
12/13/2016 4:32:13 PM
By Barney Blakeney
Last week the murder trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager ended in a mistrial. Much of what’s been said about the outcome of the Michael Slager trial make things seem so complicated. Sometimes things are, but some things aren’t complicated at all. We make some things more complicated than they are because, as my brother from another mother Ellis Mack used to say, “Everybody’s got an agenda”.
From the giddyup, the Michael Slager deal wasn’t real complicated. The racial discrimination perpetuated by North Charleston police against black motorists is well documented. So when Slager who is white in April 2015 stopped Scott who is black, some basic realities kicked in – unless Scott was squeaky clean, he was gonna get a hassle from Slager. That’s just how it goes. It ain’t complicated.
But things got complicated. Scott wasn’t squeaky clean and chose to run from Slager rather than be jailed. That set off a series of events which transformed a simple situation into a much more complicated one. Introduce the taser, the struggle between the two men and the video recording of Slager’s fatal gunshots striking Scott in the back as Scott fled, and the simple act of a white cop stopping a black motorist was transformed into another of the most contentious police actions in the nation.
A lot of people had a lot of different agendas associated with the Michael Slager/Walter Scott incident. What started as a tragic event evolved into a complicated murder trial.
Personally, I wondered why Slager was charged with murder. To me, it seemed an obvious case of manslaughter. But again, everybody’s got an agenda – North Charleston Police Department, the prosecutor, the black community. One thing I thought odd was the city’s immediate choice in October 2015 to pay off Scott’s family in a $6.5 million civil action.
Within a matter of months after Scott’s shooting, Slager in January this year was released from jail on house arrest after putting up $50,000. Things didn’t seem so complicated anymore. All that was left after that was to go through the mock murder trial. Slager had one of the best defense lawyers in the country in Andy Savage.
The month-long proceedings were complicated by a jury selection that placed the decision of Slager’s guilt or innocence in the hands of 11 whites and one black.
Additionally, there were the anticipated legal acrobatics. In South Carolina where no white police officer ever has been convicted of killing a black person while on duty, the practically all white jury all but insured Slager’s exoneration. The only thing complicated about it was black folks’ hope for a conviction on the murder charge.
I knew that was naïve, but again, everybody has an agenda. I did hope the jury would at least return a conviction on manslaughter though. That would have been the just thing to do, I thought. Wrong!
The simple truth of the matter is our community is not a just one. It is a racist, prejudicial, discriminating community in which injustice is the rule rather than the exception. In journalism I learned a writing tool that almost never fails – when writing a story, KISS it (Keep It Simple Stupid). Simply put, despite all the disingenuous idealistic exultations from “community leaders”, exacting true justice in the Michael Slager trial was a far stretch. Early in the trial National Action Network Vice President for Religious Affairs and External Relations Rev. Nelson Rivers said he had no expectation Slager would be convicted.
Charleston Branch NAACP officials Monday issued this statement, “As is the case with other like-minded organizations, the members of the Charleston Branch NAACP were both amazed and infuriated by the mistrial decision with regard to former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager. Like most citizens, we found it to be outrageous that clear evidence of what appears to be either manslaughter or murder did not lead all of those on the jury to reach a just decision.
“National experience in places life Baltimore, Maryland; Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio and New York City has shown that it’s all but impossible for a police officer to be convicted for the excessive, irresponsible and illegal use of excessive force. That’s also been true in Charleston, where there have been numerous questionable officer involved shootings but no indictments until the Slager indictment, which followed concrete video evidence of the shooting.
“We hope that the retrial of Michael Slager will be the exception to that pattern and we join with those who have already called for a speedy retrial. We especially hope that the State will be diligent in seeing that there’s not even the slightest hint of impropriety in the selection of the next jury. The people have a right to expect that justice will be done - from the selection of the jury to the presentation of the evidence to the eventual verdict. If that doesn’t happen in the case of Michael Slager, then the slogan adopted by our community - “Charleston Strong” - should be changed to “business as usual.”
Complicated by all the issues of political correctness and personal agendas that are at play, I guess it is outrageous that the Slager jury came back as a hung jury. But when you keep it simple and deal with the reality of the issue, how can we be outraged at an anticipated outcome?
The racism and injustice that defines this community played itself out in the Slager trial.
Must we complicate things further with outrage and disappointment? I think not.
Now is the time for action. As we approach the anniversary of the successful Dec. 20, 1956 conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott we should be reminded of what it takes to eradicate injustice and inequality. It ain’t enough to be outraged.