April 4 marked the second anniversary of the North Charleston police shooting death of unarmed Walter Scott. Scott, who was black, was killed by Officer Michael Slager, who is white, after a routine traffic stop. Slager was arrested and charged with murder. His murder trial ended after six weeks in a mistrial last December. Critics say Scott’s death resulted from a culture of abuse and excessive force prevalent in the North Charleston Police Department. Some of those critics were asked if anything’s changed since Scott’s death.
Elder James Johnson, president of the South Carolina National Action Network said beyond a reduction in the disproportionate number of black motorists routinely stopped by North Charleston police officers – that number has been reduced by about two-thirds since Scott’s death – he’s seen little change in how officers engage with the black community. There’s no programming to engage black citizens beyond criminal activity, he said.
“What has ratcheted up is the racism coming from individual police officers as demonstrated by recent postings in social media and the recent beating of a suspect while in custody,” Johnson said. “We saw that coming with the support Slager got from officers who showed up to support him in court. It seems like the administration is unable to stop the racist epithets of its officers. How can the black community trust the police when there’s this constant display of racism,” he said.
Although the number of disproportionate traffic stops have decreased since the Scott shooting, displays of racism from officers has increased. That’s because the leadership that was in place before the Scott shooting remains in place now, Johnson said. The outcome from Slager’s trial and a new federal administration that seems to embrace racial discrimination has emboldened some police officers. That means residents can’t depend on those sworn to protect them, he said.
North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said the only change in the department he’s seen is the development of a new police review commission. There’s been no reform within the department either within its organizational structure or training. Without the transparency that’s been absent in the administration, even the review commission will be a dark uncertainty that shines little light on use of force, traffic stop procedures, knowledge of citizens’ rights and clear delineation of police authority, Bryant said.
Requests to North Charleston police for comments about this story were not made available by press time.