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Scott's Death Exposed Police Culture
4/15/2015 10:20:17 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

Walter Scott was shot in the back while fleeing Officer Michael T. Slager in a routine police stop for a broken brake light; or, at least that is what the officer claims. Was it the brake light that prompted the stop or was it the Mercedes with the spanking new expensive chrome wheels that first caught the officer’s attention? It’s difficult to fathom that a routine traffic stop could turn into a deadly encounter before most people had an opportunity to begin their day.

Speculations abound around why Scott fled the police when instructed to remain in the car. Regardless of the reason, the officer was not in any imminent danger and Scott did not have to die. The officer had enough information to track Scott down had he not caught up with him. There was also a passenger in the car.

North Charleston police officers are notorious for profiling black males. Traffic stops range from not signaling when turning, broken license plate or brake light and changing lanes too frequently. Many of these stops lead to arrests for outstanding warrants, failure to pay child support, driving under suspension and expired tags. Passengers are also subjected to questioning, illegal search and arrest.

It’s the culture of the North Charleston Police Department that has allowed harassment of motorists, particularly black males. According to statistics, North Charleston is 47% Black and 37% White. The city has had over 22,000 stops in 2014 and 16,730 were Blacks. That’s a whole lot of black folk being stopped. How many of the 16,730 were caught up in a routine stop, ticketed and received jail time? Most often traffic stops don’t end up with the driver being killed. It’s all about attitudes. If the officer’s attitude is negative, it produces negative results.

I visited the site where Scott was killed and retraced the route back to where he was pulled over. I am constantly reminded that it could have been my son. Like so many other Black mothers, I often have the “what not to do” conversation with my son if stopped or approached by a police officer. Are white mothers doing the same? Do they worry each time the phone rings at night that something dreadful may have happened to their sons? No mother should have to live under such stress in a free society. It’s the culture created by the North Charleston Police Department that led to the killing of Scott. It’s police officers Blue Code of Silence that has shielded them from prosecution. Over the years, thousands of blacks have been killed or incarcerated and evidence planted by “thug” officers for no reason other than they were black. In many of the cases, the officers were cleared and nothing placed in their records.

There are many good police officers who go to work every day and do an outstanding job. And, I applaud them for making our communities safer. It’s a tough job being a police officer. At the end of the day, officers deserve to go home to their families. In Scott’s case, it was not about a good cop going home at the end of the day but a bad cop being arrested for murder. It’s about an officer shooting an unarmed man in the back five times, tampering with evidence to corroborate his story, falsifying his report and then laughing while being advised on how the department’s investigation would be handled. The officer’s code of silence has been in effect so long, officers forget about their vehicle camera catching them in the act. Technology finally caught up with them. When a preventable death occurs, an officer’s first plan of action is to take the focus off of him and shift the responsibility onto the victim. Immediately after Scott was gunned down, his failure to pay child support surfaced as the possible motive for him fleeing the stop. Scott was not stopped for failure to pay child support. He was stopped because of a broken brake light. The child support issue was secondary to the stop. The information was made public to denigrate Scott and focus the public’s attention on Scott as an irresponsible father and child support dodger. That’s what you call “old school” strategy but new school strategy trumps “old school”. Cameras are everywhere. In most instances, they are not rolling when officers use unnecessary force in a stop or in apprehending someone accused of a crime.

In the case of Walter Scott, fortunately the camera was rolling. A citizen on his way to work took a brave stand and recorded the incident. Walter Scott’s death was a tragedy that will long be remembered. Another mother had to sacrifice her son before the wheels of justice turned swiftly. Because of the video, the truth has been revealed in even the darkest of places. If there was no video, Scott would be the victim and the officer a hero for bringing down a “thug”. It would have been business as usual in North Charleston and across this nation. Scott’s tragedy will change police culture and transform departments across America. The veil of secrecy will be lifted and the truth will be revealed.

My sympathy goes out to the Scott family.

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