Days after a former North Charleston officer pleaded guilty in Walter Scott’s death, a billboard voicing support for police popped up more than a mile from the shooting site.
The “blue lives matter” sign has rankled some community members who say the message mocks the movement that brought light to controversial uses of police force nationwide, including Scott’s killing in April 2015.
Michael Slager pleaded guilty May 2 in federal court to violating Scott’s civil rights. The billboard, black with a blue line through the center, was installed Friday at Remount Road and Flanders Avenue.
“It’s an insult to the whole Black Lives Matter movement,” resident Devonte Holmes said while waiting at a bus stop near the billboard. “And they did it on Remount Road where the police shot that man. That’s disrespectful.”
The person behind the message, Scott Garland of West Ashley, has hoisted a cardboard sign emblazoned with the same words outside the courthouses where Slager has appeared. He attended Slager’s federal plea hearing last week.
Garland would not say Monday whether the sign’s placement was purposeful. About $500 was donated to the cause on GoFundMe.com, a fundraising effort that started two weeks ago.
“It’s nothing negative against anybody,” he said. “It was intended as a show of support to the men and women in blue.”
Slager, 35, pulled over Scott’s car near Remount and Craig roads. During a struggle, the officer said Scott grabbed his Taser, prompting his gunfire. A video showed Scott running away as Slager shot him.
Ashia Carson, 26, a North Charleston resident who watched the footage two years ago, stood Monday on a sidewalk and saw officers knock on a door across the street.
She spoke of the dangerous job they have, then looked up at the billboard.
“I mean, all lives matter,” Carson said. “Still, should they put that up there? A lot of people are going to be mad ... because of what happened down there.”
Local activist Thomas Dixon said the “blue lives matter” message detracts from the healthy scrutiny of police-involved shootings more than it bolsters support for law enforcement.
“There is no dispute that police officers’ lives matter,” he said. “But this just drives another wedge between law enforcement and the community.”
John Blackmon, president of the Tri-County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, applauded Garland's display.
"You have men and women who put on the badge and do their best every day to help the community," he said. "Now, you have a citizen stepping up and saying, 'Thank you.' There's nothing wrong with that."