By Barney Blakeney
The federal indictment leveled against former North Charleston policeman Michael Slager, accused in the April 2015 slaying of Walter Scott after a traffic stop, represents a rarity in the dynamics of police relations regarding Black citizens. But it shouldn’t be viewed as a game-changer in what has become an epidemic of cops killing unarmed Blacks.
It’s rare that cops are convicted of murder even when there is overwhelming evidence, said Rev. Nelson Rivers National Action Network Vice President for Stakeholders Relations and External Affairs. Slager has been indicted both in state and federal courts for Scott’s alleged murder that was caught on video. Slager is shown shooting Scott five times in the back as Scott ran away from him.
North Charleston paid Scott’s family $6.5 million to settle a civil lawsuit, but Slager has been released on bond awaiting a trial that could come next year. Despite multiple questionable police shootings of unarmed Blacks both locally and nationally, it’s rare that officers are charged and even more rare that they are convicted. Even when convicted in lower courts, the consequences may be minor, Rivers said.
He cited the February 2014 police shooting of 68-year-old Ernest Satterwhite, who was shot multiple times in his driveway by North Augusta policeman Justin Craven as the unarmed Satterwhite sat in the car. The shooting was captured on video by Craven’s dash cam. Craven, who pled guilty, last month was sentenced to three years probation and 80 hours community service.
Getting federal scrutiny is key, Rivers said, because if a conviction isn’t obtained in state courts, there’s a chance for a federal conviction. But the unusual injection of federal indictments may not turn the corner on injustices perpetrated with impunity across the country, Rivers said.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s decision to seek an indictment in the Slager case may not impact future cases since her administration could end in January when President Barack Obama leaves office, he noted.
“In this case it’s the right thing to do and it’s a sign the Obama administration believes in justice. But we can’t say what will happen in the future. Obama’s administration is coming to an end. We don’t know what the next administration will do; if Lynch will remain as Attorney General or if another Attorney General will have the same commitment. It took overwhelming evidence to get this indictment. But it is a good sign,” he said.
Charleston County Sheriff Department Chief Deputy Mitch Lucas said Slager’s federal indictment may be having an impact on police officers however.
“With the mood of the country as it is, a lot of young cops are afraid and may be second guessing themselves. Making an honest mistake could end with them in jail. This is a massive paradigm shift. I don’t think anybody knows where we’re going from here,” he said.