Today, the ACLU of South Carolina, the North Charleston Branch of the NAACP, the Community Resource Center, Charleston Area Justice Ministry, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. release the following statement:
Over 18 months after the nation watched the highly-publicized video of the police-shooting death of Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man, the former officer responsible for his death, Michael Slager, will finally stand trial. While the jury composition of 11 white and 1 Black jurors is disturbingly unrepresentative of the Charleston County population, we hope and expect the criminal proceedings to be fair and transparent in its pursuit of truth and justice, and help the public understand how a routine traffic stop turned fatal. As the trial proceeds, however, we will not lose sight of the fact that the interaction between former officer Slager and Mr. Scott that fateful day was not an isolated incident in North Charleston, SC or elsewhere in our country. Residents have complained of excessive use-of-force and biased policing in North Charleston for decades.
Indeed, the Slager trial may uncover systemic policing practices that must be addressed, such as whether the officer stopped Mr. Scott to meet a departmental quota system of three traffic stops per shift, as his defense counsel argued in a pretrial hearing. We know that the police department has stopped a disproportionate number of African-American drivers in North Charleston and released them without a traffic citation or arrest. Although the number of traffic stops have decreased since Mr. Scott’s death, African-American residents continue to be targeted disproportionately. This must stop.
We call on North Charleston city officials to follow the lead of their colleagues in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD and join our request to the U.S. Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation of the North Charleston Police Department to determine whether its officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful policing. Pursuing murder charges against officer Slager, while important, will not result in the fair and responsible policing services that North Charleston residents deserve.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.