Jackson backs call for police shootings probe

The Rev. Jesse Jackson (center), president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, visits the site of a memorial to Walter Scott, who was shot and killed by former North Charleston policeman Michael Slager.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson walked slowly near where Walter Scott was shot to death and pointed in the distance.

“Where was the shooting?” Jackson asked.

James Johnson took him to the spot in the grass where Walter Scott fell after being killed by a North Charleston police officer as he ran from a traffic stop.

“His head was here,” Johnson said. “His body was over here.”

Jackson stood for a while, staring down at the flowers and candles and damp greeting cards covering the ground at the makeshift Craig Road memorial.

Hands on his hips, he breathed out.

Jackson then kneeled down and took the hand of state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston. Other men followed and Jackson said a brief prayer:

“God give Scott a resting place in his bosom. Forgive us as a people of our sins and the foolishness of our ways. Give us the power to stop killing. Choose healing over killing ... Amen.”

They stood up and Jackson turned toward the cameras and microphones.

“He meant to kill him,” Jackson said. “He shot him so many times. He meant to kill him.”

“It’s painful to see over and over again, the lynching of bullets, as opposed to the lynching of ropes.”

Jackson, a Greenville native, is in the Charleston area for several events related to the Scott shooting.

He and other civil rights leaders met with reporters and editors earlier in the day at The Post and Courier.

Johnson, a North Charleston community activist, said he will call for a U.S. Justice Department investigation of all officer-involved shootings in North Charleston for the past 20 years.

“Most of the shootings didn’t go to the grand jury,” said Johnson. Instead, a solicitor decided not to prosecute, he said.

“I believe a lot of it was covered up. All of it needs to be looked at again. What happened to Mr. (Walter) Scott hopefully will open that door,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he believed at least 13 shootings in North Charleston needed investigation but said that he would need to confirm the numbers. The probe could include all of Charleston County, he said.

Jackson said he would support such a probe.

Johnson’s call for a federal investigation of North Charleston police comes on the heels of officer Michael Slager being seen on cellphone video shooting a fleeing Scott and killing him April 4. Shortly after the video surfaced, Mayor Keith Summey said that officer Slager would be fired and charged with murder.

“The mayor’s swift action is to be commended,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t solve the problem.”

The video showed Slager shooting Scott in the back. Slager fired eight shots as the unarmed Scott ran away.

“They saw the execution. And the seeing was believing. There should be as many outraged white citizens about the killing as blacks,” Jackson said.

He said that another officer at the scene should have been arrested, too. “Both of them are equally guilty,” he said.

Justice Department spokesman Dena Iverson said the agency “will review any requests for an investigation but cannot comment further on the substance of those requests.”

The FBI’s South Carolina office has opened an investigation of the North Charleston police shooting concurrent with one by the State Law Enforcement Division, officials said.

A federal probe could involve possible civil rights violations by Slager in Scott’s killing.

Jackson spoke Thursday night to a crowd of nearly 200 at the International Longshoremen’s Association Hall on Morrison Drive. Before he began, the 73-year-old walked around the room and made a point to shake everyone’s hands and pose for photos with fans.

He began his speech by highlighting the struggle for civil rights in the ’60s and said even though “there is a new South today,” there is still more to fight for.

“We were always trying to make the whole country better, the whole South better,” he said of his earlier activism. “Walter Scott, by his death, has made us come alive again, but we cannot just stop at Walter Scott.”

Jackson called for a special prosecutor in the case against Slager and said the use of body cameras should be required of all law enforcement everywhere.

“Whenever the playing field is even and the rules are public and the goals are clear and the referees are fair and the score is transparent, we can win,” he said, asking people in the crowd to repeat that sentence after him. “That’s why we need body cams. So we can see.”

He said that black people in South Carolina are the “most targeted, most arrested, most profiled and most jailed,” and he called for an end to racism of all kinds.

“Racism is a sickness. We should try to get well,” he said. “If the walls come down, we can all grow.”

He added that Scott’s death was a wake-up call to the community and that “it’s time for a change.”

“There is no progress, no change, without sacrifice, without his sacrifice,” Jackson said. “Nobody has the right to kill anybody. We must stop the killing, we must stop the violence. We have to start learning to live together and not dying apart.”

Doug Pardue and Glenn Smith contributed to this report.