N. Charleston avoided being a Ferguson

A law enforcement officer watches from an armored vehicle after a device was fired to disperse a crowd during a protest over the killing of Michael Brown last August.

As black men killed by white officers, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Walter Scott in North Charleston have become symbols of enduring police abuses.

Unlike the Ferguson shooting, which almost immediately flared up into racial protests and violent clashes that lasted for months, Scott’s death has not plunged North Charleston or any other South Carolina community into rioting.

While there are similarities in the two deaths, North Charleston has so far remained peaceful, primarily because of differences in how the two cities acted in the aftermath, observers say.

North Charleston quickly released the name of the officer who was involved in the shooting, something that police in Missouri did not confirm for some time.

It allowed the Charleston media to examine police officer Michael Slager’s performance record, including previous allegations of wrongdoing against him.

North Charleston police have not taken to the streets in force, much less deployed the military-style hardware that critics charged as a contributing factor in turning Ferguson into a battlefield.

Before Brown was shot by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in August 2014, few Americans knew about the Pentagon’s 1033 Excess Property Program, which put thousands of armored vehicles previously used in Iraq and Afghanistan into the hands of civilian police forces.

That program led to a national soul-searching and President Barack Obama calling for a review of the program.

None of that sort of equipment is in use in North Charleston, where authorities said they did not increase their street presence Saturday after Scott was shot and killed.

Some, however, say a major reason there was not more of a protest in the North Charleston aftermath is that society has become desensitized to the killing of black men in America by cops or by others.

“Ferguson was sort of the first one of these series of white police officers shooting black people, so it was a little more dramatic and it got a lot of attention,” said Michael Cremedas, a media professor at Syracuse University. “But in recent months as more and more of these happened, they seem to get less and less attention,” he added.

North Charleston community organizer James Johnson said many minority residents in North Charleston already had little expectation of being treated fairly by police.

“People don’t trust the North Charleston Police Department, not at all,” he said.

He credits the calls for calm from Scott’s family and other leaders Sunday for the situation not getting out of hand, as it did in Ferguson.

“This is a whole different case than Ferguson,” Johnson said, pointing to the release of a cellphone video showing Scott’s killing and Slager’s near immediate arrest on a murder charge.

The main difference is “they’re still denying that they murdered Michael Brown,” he said.

Mayor Keith Summey credited community outreach efforts and his police department asking the State Law Enforcement Division to take over the probe of the officer-involved shooting. The city is not required by law to call in outside agencies, but it is considered common protocol.

“First of all, we admitted there was a screw-up on our part,” he said. “We’ve done that ... and we’re moving forward from there.”

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551