The shooting death of Walter Lamer Scott on Saturday in North Charleston was a tragedy for Mr. Scott’s family and for the community in which he lived. North Charleston has responded in an open, forthright and decisive manner in its aftermath.
That response should persuade a heartbroken community that another tragedy need not follow in its wake.
City officials and leaders of the black community dealt with the latest chilling developments in a press conference on Tuesday, during which they called for calm as the investigation into Mr. Scott’s death goes forward.
It is a wise response to an appalling event that quickly became an international news story.
The State Law Enforcement Division charged police officer Michael Slager with murder on Tuesday, after video evidence surfaced that disputed Mr. Slager’s account of the incident. Mr. Scott, who was black, was shot and killed after being stopped by police off Remount Road on Saturday morning. Mr. Slager, who is white, said he fired after Mr. Scott took his Taser and attempted to use it against him.
North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers succinctly described the video at the press conference: “I saw a confrontation between an individual and a police officer and as the individual took off from the police officer, he was shot.”
“We went exactly by the book,” Mayor Keith Summey said of the investigation. “The lesson we take out of this ... is that when an incident occurs, give us the appropriate time to investigate, find out exactly what happened, and we will act accordingly.”
Mayor Summey said that the same consequences should apply equally to all those who commit crimes. “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. If you make a bad decision, don’t care if you are behind the shield or just a citizen on the street,” he said.
The video was taken by a bystander with a cell phone, and made available to Mr. Scott’s family and then to SLED.
Mr. Summey added, “The video was very demonstrative of exactly what happened. Without the video ... it would be difficult to ascertain exactly what did occur.”
The chilling account it provided serves as a compelling argument for the mandatory use of body video cameras by policemen.
It is important to draw clear distinctions between the way North Charleston has handled this shooting and a similar event that caused such anguish in Ferguson, Missouri. North Charleston leaders could not have responded more firmly after the release of the video.
North Charleston NAACP president Ed Bryant and other community leaders have urged calm since the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation and the wishes of Mr. Scott’s family.
While civil rights groups prepared a community response to the developments Tuesday, Pastor Thomas Dixon wisely urged that protests not descend into violence. “The smart reaction is to just gather and peacefully let your voice be heard.”
Heeding that advice is the best way to allow a grieving community to begin to deal with this tragic event.