If there’s a template for controversial police shootings—and recent history suggests that there is—then the death of Walter Scott at the hands of Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston has deviated greatly from the script.
Before and After the Video
On Monday, The Post and Courier noted, Slager had “served honorably in the military” before joining the North Charleston Police Department. Slager, 33, is a former U.S. Coast Guardsman and a five-year veteran of the North Charleston Police Department.” He has never been disciplined during his time on the force,” the paper pointed out, citing his then attorney David Aylor.
The turnabout in perceptions of Slager since Tuesday’s release of video of the shooting was dramatic. The graphic footage, which showed Slager firing at Scott as he ran away, wasaccompanied by a report stating that Slager would face murder charges for killing Scott, who was unarmed.
In the following days, reporters uncovered that Slager had been allowed to stay on the force despite a 2013 excessive force complaint filed against him, which stemmed from an incident involving the arrest and tasing of Mario Givens, another unarmed black man.
“At the time, Slager was searching for a suspect who was described as being 5 feet 5 inches tall,” CNN reported. “The African American man he confronted was 6-foot-3.” As the AP notes, the incident report filed by Slager and another officer, Slager wrote that he couldn’t see one of the Givens’ hands and thought he might be armed.
Slager is currently being held without bail. His wife, who is eight-months pregnant, will reportedly continue to receive medical insurance from the city until her baby is born. In aninterview with The Daily Beast, his former attorney David Aylor “said he dropped his client soon after” the video emerged.
The Broader Impact of the Video
Following the release of Tuesday’s video, much of the discourse centered around the impact of the footage in spurring such a public outcry.
Some have posited that without video footage, Scott’s death would not have entered the national consciousness. His father, Walter Sr., said as much during an interview with Today. “It would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others.” The Huffington Post wrote an article on Wednesday titled “Here’s A News Report We’d Be Reading If Walter Scott’s Killing Wasn’t On Video” to highlight the difference in coverage.
Sources of traditional and reflexive support for law enforcement officers in previous incidents also evaporated in light of the video’s release.
On Wednesday, the morning after the video of the shooting went viral, North Charleston Mayor Keith Sumney announced that not only had Slager been fired, but that all police officers would don body cameras in the future. Within the North Charleston Police Department, there was hardly the typical closing of ranks around Slager. “I have watched the video,” Police Chief Eddie Driggers said on Wednesday. “And I was sickened by what I saw. And I have not watched it since.”
Even on crowdfunding sites, where anonymity can provide a clinical distance, support for Slager hasn’t materialized. On Wednesday, GoFundMe, which previously hosted controversial crowdfunding pages for Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer, and the Indiana pizzeria that raised $800,000 after it said it would refuse to cater a same-sex wedding in March, rejected a crowdfunding campaign for Slager.
As of late Thursday morning, a replacement IndieGoGo campaign had only mustered a paltry $393 after one day, far short of the $5,000 goal. And while the circumstances are different, consider that the GoFundMe page for Officer Darren Wilson raised over $225,000 in just four days last September.