Walter Scott’s death at the hands of a North Charleston police officer should serve as the foundation for all police abuse cases across the nation, according to one of the family’s attorneys.
Chris Stewart, standing a few feet from where the 50-year-old’s body is buried, said Monday that many examples have been set in the last year by the family, the city of North Charleston and the state Legislature.
He and attorney Justin Bamberg gathered with many of Scott’s family members at his gravesite at Live Oak Memorial Gardens to mark the first anniversary of his shooting death. They brought flowers and released blue and white balloons symbolizing love, hope and justice — and Scott’s fondness for the Dallas Cowboys.
Family members tearfully took turns laying flowers on the memorial and comforting each other with big hugs. They stood for a moment of silence and held hands to pray before speaking out about what the day meant for them.
“This day a year ago shook America to its core,” Stewart said. “Every single American, every single person in the world, witnessed murder.”
He said there never would have been justice or any steps taken toward justice if it hadn’t been for the cellphone video a bystander took of the shooting.
Michael Slager, the former officer who shot Scott, is charged with murder and scheduled to go to trial in October.
Scott struggled with Slager after fleeing a traffic stop on April 4, 2015. As Scott ran away, Slager fired at him eight times, hitting him five times from behind.
Bamberg and Scott’s brother, Anthony, addressed some of the changes they have seen as a result of the police shooting, such as body camera legislation and a decrease in North Charleston traffic stops but said there is more work to be done.
“We’re at a point right now where community relations and law enforcement relations are strained, and we have to work on building that back,” Bamberg said. “I’m hopeful that we won’t have to have another incident like this for change to continue.”
Scott said his family won’t be completely satisfied until they get justice from the judicial system. He thanked the city for its swift action in charging Slager and condemning the shooting but said it wasn’t enough.
“We also want to see change all across South Carolina, Charleston and all across America so that this doesn’t happen to any other family again,” he said.
His mother was a little more emotional as she talked about her middle child’s death.
“I don’t want another mother, another family to have to go through what we’ve gone through,” she said. “There needs to be a change. We are all human beings. It doesn’t matter what your nationality is, we should love one another.”
A little while after that gathering, community activists convened for a news conference at the empty lot on Craig Road in North Charleston where Scott was killed. As they stood in a prayer circle, the owners of the property called police to have them removed and then aggressively forced the media to leave, even grabbing one man’s video camera.
Their attorney, Mark Peper, did not respond to an email request seeking comment.
The group walked just outside the fence line and continued as planned. James Johnson, a local leader with the National Action Network, said he plans to write a letter to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey to ask him purchase the property and turn it into a memorial park in Scott’s name.
“We want this to be a memorial park where people can come every year for the anniversary and wouldn’t be kicked out by the owners,” he said.
He was joined by the Rev. Nelson Rivers, another NAN leader; Ed Bryant, president of the NAACP’s North Charleston chapter; and Thomas Dixon, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Tim Scott. The property owners told them that they were selling the lot for $1 million and had already offered it to the city.
Other activists lined part of the fence with stuffed animals, T-shirts, flowers and the police tape that they said they saved from the original memorial where Scott was killed. They posted signs asking for special prosecution and declaring “Black Lives Matter.”
Johnson, Rivers and Bryant asked for more change in North Charleston, including programs for revitalization, less aggressive policing and a culture shift in how officers treat members of the community.
“We will not settle for anything less than that,” Johnson said, vowing not to let the city and Mayor Keith Summey “get away with anything anymore. ... We will shut this city down.”
Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.