Four years ago, on the fourth day of the fourth month of the year, Walter Scott was killed by North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager. The entire nation turned to North Charleston as footage of the horrific shooting forced us, once again, to confront the painful relationship between people of color and the police entrusted to serve us. As we look back on what’s changed since that fateful day, it’s clear that far too much has stayed the same.
Individual accountability for Mr. Scott’s murder represents one of the few positive developments in recent years. The North Charleston Police Department (NCPD) fired officer Slager and settled a civil suit with Mr. Scott’s family worth over $6 million. After a mistrial in state court, former officer Slager entered a guilty plea in federal court and received a sentence of 20 years, becoming one of the very rare cases where a law enforcement officer has been convicted for killing a civilian.
Unfortunately, systemic accountability has been more difficult to secure. A review of data from four years ago shows that Black residents were disproportionately stopped by North Charleston police. They comprise 47 percent of the population but account for around 60 percent of traffic stops each year since 2015. In response to Mr. Scott’s death and these startling statistics, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) hosted townhalls with the ACLU of South Carolina, North Charleston Branch NAACP, and Community Resource Center. Hundreds of residents showed up for the opportunity to tell their stories of being stopped and mistreated by officers in North Charleston and Charleston alike. North Charleston leaders sent letters to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division asking for a civil rights investigation. The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) held actions with hundreds of participants that called on the leadership of both North Charleston and Charleston to open themselves up to external, independent assessments for racial bias that would make transparent the policies and practices; offer recommendations for improvement; and engage the community in truly meaningful ways to build trust. Federal and local leaders initially ignored these demands.
Read the entire op-ed here.