By Herb Silverman
When South Carolina leads a national story, it’s usually because of a horrible hurricane or racial incident. There hasn’t been a major hurricane lately in my hometown of Charleston, but North Charleston recently became the focus of national and international attention when a white police officer named Michael Slager shot an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, five times in the back as he fled after being stopped for a broken taillight.
Since police investigations in South Carolina and many other states almost always exonerate the officer in a questionable situation, it was almost unprecedented for Slager to be arrested and charged with murder shortly after the shooting. However, because of the now-famous video taken by a passerby, I don’t credit South Carolina law enforcement for their prompt action. The video appears to show Slager taking target practice on a black man’s back, turning the “smoking gun” cliché into something literal. Were it not for the video, an internal police investigation might have exonerated Slager because he initially claimed to fear for his life during a struggle with Scott.
More typical is the incident with Mario Givens, another black man in North Charleston, who accused Slager of excessive force in 2013. Givens was awakened during the night by a loud knock on his door. Slager pushed open the door and saw Givens clad in a T-shirt and boxer shorts. Givens raised his hands above his head, but Slager tased him anyway, dragged him out of the house, threw him on the ground, handcuffed him, and put him in a squad car. Givens was accused of resisting arrest, but eventually released without charge because the arrest turned out to be one of mistaken identity.
Mario Givens later filed a complaint, and the department opened an internal investigation. Several witnesses confirmed Givens’ story to the police, but they were never contacted. When Givens went to the station six weeks later to inquire about his complaint, he learned that a senior officer had investigated the case for a couple of weeks and that Slager had been “exonerated.” Slager consistently earned positive reviews in his five years with the North Charleston Police.
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