Anticipation built in Judy Scott’s face as an American flag that had been draped over her son’s casket all morning was folded in front of her.
Her second son, Walter Scott, was killed by a North Charleston police officer two months after his 50th birthday. On Saturday, she watched as he was lowered into the ground with yellow flowers decorating his cadet blue casket at Live Oak Memorial Gardens cemetery in Charleston.
Judy Scott mumbled prayers to herself, at times looking in the direction of the skies, while shaking her head in disbelief. She closed her eyes when she was handed the flag and clutched it tight as the crowd watched.
It was exactly a week ago, on April 4, when Walter Scott was shot and killed while running from Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer who pulled over Scott for a broken brake light. Slager has since been fired from his job and charged with murder.
But before Judy Scott, along with the rest of her family and friends, said goodbye to the father of four, they celebrated his life at a “Homegoing Service” at W.O.R.D. Ministries Christian Center, inside the same walls he frequented to sing, praise and pray.
Scott lay in a closed casket for most of the ceremony at the Summerville church. A blue and white flower arrangement in the shape of a star to his right had a ribbon that read “beloved son.”
Those who attended the service, which lasted nearly two and a half hours, showed and voiced frustration and sorrow over Scott’s killing. Pastor George Hamilton fueled the crowd’s anger when he dubbed Slager’s actions “overt racism.”
“Walter’s death was motivated by racial prejudice,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to hate somebody to shoot them in the back.”
But family members who addressed those who attended the service said they hoped Scott’s death would trigger changes in police practices nationwide.
“I know that my family was chosen to be a catalyst of change,” said Keya Grant, Scott’s cousin. “His memory and his life will not be in vain.”
Both of Scott’s brothers, Rodney and Anthony, thanked those who took the time to come to the service. Scott’s daughter, Samantha, also read a poem for her father.
“I cry every time I think about you,” she read. “Every breath I take, I’ll remember that you gave it to me.”
A picture slideshow brought tears and sighs of distress to many. But it was the sight of Scott in his casket that made many break down once it was opened, and everyone was allowed to walk to say goodbye one last time.
Tensions had been high for most of the morning, even before the service started. Dozens of family members and friends arrived early to ensure seating inside of the church. But as the crowd grew, its members became anxious and started to push each other, hoping to make it inside as rain clouds loomed.
Many were left standing outside of the service, and some were forced to leave when heavy rain poured. But among those who made it inside were U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford and Jim Clyburn. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and state Sen. Marlon Kimpson were also present, in addition to state Reps. Seth Whipper and Mary Tinkler; Gov. Nikki Haley’s chief of staff, James Burns; and Director of Public Safety Leroy Smith.
The crowd was cut nearly in half when the service continued about 20 minutes away at the cemetery. Daniel Garner, 47, was among those who made it to the burial, after hopping on a train from Philadelphia to see Scott, his fellow seaman in the Coast Guard, for the last time.
“We called him ‘The Renaissance Man’ because he always took care of himself so well,” Garner said of Scott. “He was nothing but a family man. I never met a more honest man.”
After the funeral, the rain began to fall.
Shortly before 5 p.m., dozens gathered near the grassy lot on Rivers Avenue where Scott was killed.
The makeshift memorial at the lot had grown since the news of Scott’s death spread around the world. Bouquets of flowers, American flags, candles, stuffed animals and handwritten cards to Scott’s family adorned the lot’s chain-link fence. Charles Dash, a former Marine, took pictures of the site on his cellphone. He had traveled all the way from the Bronx on Thursday to attend Scott’s funeral.
“I was compelled to be here,” he said. “This man here, he helped South Carolina more than anything anybody can do from a black point of view. ”
Here, pastors and religious leaders from local churches organized a march down Remount Road. As thunder cracked, about 50 people walked in silence through the rain.
Carol Washington had come from the funeral, too. She went to the same high school as Scott, St. Andrew’s Parish High, but graduated four years behind him.
“Where is the heart?” she asked. “There is only one judge and that’s God. We try to let justice prevail, but it doesn’t always work.”
The procession ended about a mile away, at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, with a prayer service led by 17 local pastors and Bishop L. Jonathan Holston, the Episcopal leader of the South Carolina United Methodist church. The rain stopped; the sky cleared. On the front lawn of the church, beneath two sprawling magnolia trees, the crowd prayed and sang hymns to beat of a West African djembe drum.
Ernestine Brunet, who just turned 82, left her family’s birthday party early to be in attendance; they hadn’t even had a chance to cut the pound cake yet. She gripped her cane in her right hand and held on to her sister’s arm as she marched to the church. She said she managed to walk one long city block before she had to hitch a ride with a pastor.
The Rev. William Wrighten, of Washington United Methodist Church in North Charleston, was among the pastors who helped organize Saturday’s service. Come Sunday morning, he’ll give his own congregation a sermon — a message, he said, of love, hope and reconciliation.
“Sometimes in life it takes a tragedy to bring a blessing. Sometimes it takes rain followed by sunshine,” Wrighten said. “So although we lost a member of our community in a tragic way, it has brought the community together and hopefully, there will be systematic changes.”