Magazine article The New Yorker

What Videos Show

Magazine article The New Yorker

What Videos Show

Article excerpt

WHAT VIDEOS SHOW

In 2012, the city of North Charleston, South Carolina, needed a new chief of police to replace Jon Zumalt, who was moving back to Kansas after eleven years on the job. During that time, the city's crime rate, once one of the highest in the country, had fallen by nearly half, but some residents worried that the tactics that Zumalt and his colleagues had employed, such as aggressive traffic stops, were excessive. Others wondered whether, in a city that is almost half black, an African-American police chief would finally be appointed, but Mayor Keith Summey chose Eddie Driggers, a white former police officer and chaplain who happened to be his neighbor. "I don't know Mr. Driggers from Adam's housecat," Ed Bryant, the head of the North Charleston N.A.A.C.P., told the Post & Courier . Another association official said, "I don't know the new guy, but I hope we will get lucky."

They got to know Chief Driggers better at a press conference last Wednesday, when he and Mayor Summey took questions from reporters about the arrest of Officer Michael Slager, on charges of having murdered Walter Scott. The previous Saturday, Slager, who is white, had pulled over Scott, a fifty-year-old African-American, supposedly because a brake light on his car wasn't working. A video from Slager's dashboard camera shows him taking Scott's license and, while he returns to his car to check it, Scott running out of view; a passenger remained in the car. Scott owed child support, and as a result there was an outstanding warrant in his name. There are sounds on the video of a pursuit. A twenty-three-year-old man named Feidin Santana, who was walking nearby, saw Slager and Scott struggling and heard the distinctive sound of a Taser, and filmed the ensuing scene with his phone camera.

That video shows Scott, who was unarmed, making another break for it, across a stretch of grass. The Supreme Court found, in 1985, that police do not have a right to shoot someone simply because he is fleeing. (That decision, Tennessee v. Garner, involved a black eighth grader who had stolen a purse and ten dollars from a house, and was shot while climbing a fence to get away.) Slager, under no apparent threat or duress, fires eight rounds from his service revolver. Scott is hit four times in the back and once in the ear. As he lies face down on the ground, Slager cuffs him. The officer jogs back to where they had been struggling, picks something up--it may have been the Taser--and drops it near Scott's body. He then radios, "Shots fired and subject is down. He took my Taser." A police-department incident report emphasized that Slager spoke these words just seconds after the confrontation, as if their immediacy were a sign of their honesty. Slager's lawyer said that Scott had tried to "overpower" him, and so Slager was forced to shoot. At that point, Santana had not released the video--he has said that he feared possible retaliation and wanted to see if Slager would tell the truth. Then he gave it to Scott's family, who made it public on Tuesday. Slager's lawyer quit the case after seeing the footage.

At the press conference, Driggers said, "I was sickened by what I saw." He and the mayor did not try to justify or even explain the shooting, deferring to state investigators. …

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