Walter Scott: Bittersweet Victory

By Beverly Gadson-Birch 

Like most Charlestonians, South Carolinians and the country, I have been following the Walter Scott case closely. What makes the Scott case so different from other cop killings of unarmed black men in America is “justice” was finally served. United States District Judge David Norton, sentenced Michael Slager, former North Charleston Police Officer, to twenty years in prison for second degree murder and obstruction of justice.  Slager will also have to serve two years of supervisory probation once he is released.

I can’t begin to put myself in Scott’s mother and his family’s shoes. I have a son and I can’t imagine life without him. And likewise, Scott has children.  Miles Scott, who thinks the world of his dad, told the court “he still can’t sleep at night” and “still can’t believe he is gone”. He spoke about his dad not seeing his grandkids and loving them as much as “he loved me”.  Miles asked Judge Norton for the strongest sentence possible because Slager “took away his one and only dad”. It’s one of those family influences called bonding that is passed down from generation to generation.  There really is nothing that can make up for the absence of an involved parent. Sons learn so much from their fathers. Fathers have a way of teaching their sons what they have been taught from their dad.

I recall the day Walter Scott was killed.  I was sitting in the Intensive Care Waiting Room at St. Francis Hospital, surrounded by family and friends, waiting for the doctor to come back with the results of my brother’s emergency surgery.  I didn’t know Scott but there were persons in the room who knew him and had attended school with him.  Immediately, the conversation centered around what a nice person he was and what could he have possibly done to be killed by a police officer.  As more news trickled into the room, we learned that Scott was stopped by Officer Slager for a broken tail light. How do we get from a routine stop to a murder is beyond comprehension.  I guess that’s why this case has captured the nation’s attention.  Scott ran and Officer Slager fired several shots, killing Scott.  Scott was killed during a period in this country when unarmed blacks were being murdered in record numbers by police officers without penalty.  Slager’s sentence is an exceptional legal textbook lesson for officers similarly charged.

The “sweet” part of this case is Slager apologized to the Scott family and Scott’s mother forgave him.  Now, here is where this case turns “bitter”. Slager, 36 years old, has an infant son born a couple of weeks after he was arrested. Like Scott’s son, his son will grow up without him and possibly graduate before he is released.

The lives of Scott and Slager families are forever changed.  While there certainly is victory and justice for the Scott family and the prosecution, there is no high five moment.

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