The anger from Ferguson, Missouri, spilled into North Charleston on Monday afternoon as attorney Malik Shabazz ignited a mistrust of the swift murder charge against the police officer who fatally shot Walter Scott and encouraged people to continue escalated protests.
“We can’t trust nothing until it’s all the way done,” said the president for Black Lawyers for Justice, adding that his organization has been “disappointed over and over again by this justice system.” “To us, a charge doesn’t mean anything, we want to see that charge stick. We want to know that this prosecution is going to be vigorous, fair, just and right now there’s a lot of doubts.”
Patrolman 1st Class Michael T. Slager was charged with murder within hours of local law enforcement seeing video footage released by a bystander of him shooting at Scott’s back eight times as he fled from a traffic stop.
The video was released three days after the April 4 shooting.
Shabazz’s voice boomed Monday evening outside North Charleston City Hall as he spoke of racism across the state.
A crowd of a few dozen hung on his words, speaking their approval out loud and shaking their heads in agreement.
A number of protesters stood behind him with signs asking for a special prosecutor and declaring that “black lives matter.”
“Our people here today in South Carolina have been oppressed,” Shabazz shouted. “Their mouths have been muted, their voices have been silenced, the pain and the hurt in their hearts have been crushed and we are here to tell you ... that that day is over. It’s time for you to stand up and speak like a man, speak like a woman and deal with these issues of injustice.”
Shabazz, a lead organizer of protests in Ferguson who once led the New Black Panther Party, criticized President Barack Obama for not doing something about rogue law enforcement. He also spoke of the unrest in Ferguson since a white police officer was not criminally faulted after the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who is black.
“This is much bigger than Walter Scott, but this is the last straw,” Shabazz said. “This is the last straw, listen to me well and understand why we have traveled here and why we will remain here. Mr. President, you have a problem that has gotten out of control.
“We’re not going to be hunted down like deer and hunted down like dogs and sit here crying and whining — we’d rather die and have somebody else in self-defense die than take this kind of abuse in the hells of North America, do you understand?”
Shabazz shot down any criticism that he may be making “too much” out of Scott’s death by asking anyone to show him where in America “white men are dropping like flies.”
“We are at war,” he declared, later clarifying to say he meant philosophically at war. “The black man is an endangered species. It’s almost like some kind of whale about to be extinct, some kind of rare animal or rare bird that is nearing extinction, hunted without protection and we are shot and killed again like dogs or like deer — target practice. Soon we going to start shooting back.”
After a long pause, he added, “in self-defense.”
Shabazz said he did not encourage violence, but did not discourage civil disobedience or make a call for peace. He said he had plans to investigate North Charleston and would consider all legal options depending on his findings.
He did not have any plans to meet with city officials and said he was not interested in engaging in conversation with them. He said he supported Scott’s family attorneys and had plans to meet with family members privately later in the day.
The press conference came on a day when protests following Scott’s killing had already escalated. About 18 people affiliated with Black Lives Matter blocked two entrances to North Charleston City Hall on Monday morning by continuously walking back and forth in the crosswalk.
Some cars managed to get through, while others gave up and found an alternative entrance.
The protesters chanted “black lives matter,” “justice” and “if Walter don’t get it, shut it down.”
A North Charleston police officer pulled up to the protesters outside City Hall around 8:30 a.m. Monday with his blue lights flashing, urged the crowd to stay off Mall Drive and in the crosswalk and drove off.
A much bigger crowd that included protesters from Ferguson, Mo., shut down a section of Remount Road late Monday afternoon, employing the same tactic of walking back and forth in the crosswalk.
The afternoon protest was much more tense, with frustrated drivers blaring their horns. About 50 people chanted, “If we don’t get it (justice), shut it down.”
A North Charleston police officer stood at a distance filming them with a video camera. After a while, officers set up on either side of the crosswalk to divert traffic away from the scene.
“We ran into this same thing in Ferguson, and we’re going to do the same thing here,” Larry Miller of Ferguson said between demonstrations in the road. “We’re going to change the demographics here.”
Another group gathered in silent protest outside the Medical University of South Carolina around noon Monday.
Shabazz’s press conference, which was initially reported in a release to be a “mass demonstration,” prompted the Charleston County Republican Party to rescheduled an executive committee meeting that was planned at City Hall until April 20.
Monday’s protests followed a surprise statement at High Cotton restaurant in downtown Charleston Sunday afternoon. A crowd of protesters walked into the upscale diner during brunch, spread out in a circle and read a four-minute statement calling for justice after the shooting.
Shabazz addressed that demonstration and said he supported the protesters.
“As much as it may have been uncomfortable for those there eating and dining, it is much more uncomfortable for us. Somebody’s got to make it uncomfortable,” he said as the crowd clapped. “They were comfortable during segregation, they were comfortable during apartheid, eating their lunches and their brunches. Somebody got to shake the pot, somebody got to stir this thing up. So I say to all the young people that are in town, keep it up.”
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/ mboughton.