Today’s indictment of former South Carolina police officer Michael T. Slager by a grand jury in the shooting death of Walter L. Scott brings the nation – which has seen a recent spike in police violence against unarmed African-American citizens – and the North Charleston community one step closer to justice. The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, (Inc.) applauds the grand jury’s decision and looks forward to the type of open and transparent criminal justice proceedings that we should all expect when an innocent life is so tragically taken. Further, LDF believes that the indictment will help in addressing the escalation of police violence against unarmed African-Americans and set realistic expectations nationally of accountability for law enforcement personnel.
Slager was charged with murder just a few days after the incident when a video surfaced of him shooting at a fleeing Scott during a traffic stop. The shooting follows a troubling pattern that has placed the lens of police violence in North Charleston in the same vein that has captured the public’s consciousness in cities like Ferguson, Cleveland and Baltimore. Just last month six police officers in Baltimore involved in the death of Freddie Gray were indicted by a grand jury.
However, indictments do not always lead to convictions. “The recent acquittal of a Cleveland officer for the shooting death of unarmed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams demonstrates that an indictment does not guarantee a conviction,” says Monique Dixon, LDF’s Senior Policy Counsel. “Therefore, members of the public should be optimistic but cautious as we await and observe Slager’s trial.”
“This grand jury was presented with enough evidence to come to the right conclusion – that the altercation between Officer Slager and Walter Scott met the legal definition of what many people saw across the world with their own eyes: murder,” said LDF President & Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “We will continue to observe the trial with the full expectation of a favorable outcome.
While we are pleased with this grand jury decision, LDF maintains its commitment to broader reforms in law enforcement that are both systemic and long-lasting. LDF reaffirms its call for national data collection on use-of-force incidents as well as use-of-force, de-escalation, and anti-racial bias training. At a minimum, LDF calls for training that allows for officers to: (1) acknowledge and confront the attitudes and biases that shape their behavior; (2) give clear guidance on the appropriate use of force; and (3) offer training techniques to de-escalate encounters and engage in respectful policing, including identifying and interacting with vulnerable civilians including those with disabilities, such as mental health concerns, and youth. The effectiveness of this training must be enforced by police supervisors, including discipline or termination of an officer whose conduct is inconsistent with the training and results in a civilian’s death or injury.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) although LDF was founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. Since 1957, LDF has been a completely separate organization. Please refer to us in all media attributions as the “NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “LDF”.